Changing Your Relationship with Alcohol

As Dry January comes to an end, many people will be reacquainting themselves with alcohol.

Whether or not you made it your goal to avoid alcohol last month, springtime is a great opportunity to assess your relationship with one of the most popular drugs in the world.

Alcohol helps us relax, as well as easing our way through social situations.

When we drink alcohol, brain chemicals are produced which reduce our inhibitions. Dopamine is also released, activating the brain’s pleasure circuitry. This is why alcohol can lead to addiction, as we’ll want to repeat the pleasurable experience.

But here’s a reality check – studies show drinking any more than one to two drinks three times weekly is associated with an increased death rate along with numerous health problems.

In this blog we’ll examine the health effects of alcohol and suggest some supportive strategies if you want to reduce your intake.

Alcohol and your Health

Most people can relate to the short-term effects of alcohol. Drinking can leave you dehydrated, headachy, reduce your sleep quality, raise your blood pressure and you’ll crave fatty and sugary foods.

Alcohol is loaded with sugar, meaning it contributes to weight gain, disrupts blood sugar control, and can raise insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Alcohol also irritates the cells all along your digestive system and can cause inflammation of the stomach lining. Alcohol consumption is often related to nutrient deficiencies, particularly of B vitamins, vitamin A, E and also zinc.

When alcohol is detoxified, the liver produces intermediary products which generate free radicals. These can damage the DNA of our cells unless we consume enough antioxidants from fruit and vegetables.

Alcohol and Your Liver

Alcohol is not your liver’s best friend.

The liver has a mammoth task. It not only filters harmful substances out of your blood, it also assists fat digestion, stores energy and converts many substances from one form to another so your body can use them.

If your liver is struggling because you drink a lot of alcohol, all these processes could suffer.

The liver rarely gives us noticeable symptoms until considerable damage has been done. Early symptoms of a struggling liver can include abdominal pain, nausea, appetite loss, tiredness and digestive issues.

Women appear to be at a higher risk of liver damage from drinking alcohol than are men.

Because the liver plays such an important role in hormone balance, even a modest intake of alcohol can worsen hormone imbalance, particularly by increasing oestrogen levels. These play a role in PMS, heavy periods, irregular cycles and some cancers.

Fortunately for us, the liver has an amazing capacity for regeneration, given the right circumstances.

Changing Your Relationship with Alcohol

Government advice is to drink alcohol on no more than three occasions weekly, amounting to a maximum of 14 units of alcohol per week. As a guide, a large glass of wine is 3 units.

It’s easy for alcohol to become part of your daily routine without you noticing. After a stressful day you may want nothing more than to collapse onto the sofa with your favourite tipple. There’s nothing wrong with using alcohol as a relaxant now and then, but if it happens night after night, it’s time to look at other ways of managing your stress.

Reducing your alcohol intake can bring many benefits including improved energy levels, a clearer head and better sleep, and you may even lose some fat into the bargain.

Try these strategies:

  • Aim for at least four alcohol-free days per week to allow your liver a chance to repair
  • Don’t binge drink
  • Eat a meal before drinking. Food can slow the rate of alcohol absorption.
  • Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water
  • Emphasise plenty of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables in your food choices. The antioxidants they contain can reduce free radical damage from alcohol metabolism.
  • Manage stress with yoga, tai-chi, meditation or spending time in nature. Stress can reduce dopamine levels, making us more reliant on the effects of alcohol.
  • Alcohol is an addictive habit. Changing your routine and finding distractions can help you from automatically reaching for a drink. Why not start an exercise class, relax in a warm bath or take up a new hobby?
  • Put the money you would be spending on alcohol towards something you really want.

Functional Medicine and Alcohol

If you are finding it hard to change your relationship ith alcohol, or you’re concerned about the effect alcohol may be having on your health, a Functional Medicine consultation will look in depth at your personal lifestyle, health history and any symptoms you may be having. Combined with functional testing to evaluate your nutrient status, liver, and digestive health, personalised nutritional and lifestyle recommendations geared towards correcting deficiencies and supporting your detoxification systems can help you attain your health goals. Contact me for details.