Sure, you enjoy cocktail hour after work, or a few beers during the big games, but that doesn’t mean you’re a binge drinker…right?
You could very well be!
A growing number of Americans are falling into the class of ‘binge drinker’ – defined by the CDC as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above.”
For men, this usually equates to five or more drinks and for women, four or more, within a two-hour period.
According to a 2013 survey carried out by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 24.6% of US adults engaged in binge drinking in the past month; while 6.8% engaged in heavy drinking.
As if that wasn’t concerning enough, now even moderate drinking habits are being linked to a growing list of alcohol-related health concerns – from poor immunity to liver cirrhosis and breast cancer.
But when it starts affecting our physical and mental health, that’s when we need to sit up and pay attention.
Are your drinking habits starting to take their toll on your body? Read on to see if you recognize any of these signs that indicate they are.
You’re Sleeping Badly
Getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge at the best of times but, if you’re after having a few too many, it’s even more difficult.
You might be thinking ‘wait a minute, I sleep better after a nightcap’. But research says otherwise.
A 2013 review of 27 studies shows that, while alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, it actually reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the truly deep type of sleep that our bodies need for restoration.
The more you drink before bed, the more REM sleep is affected. Such disruptions lead to daytime drowsiness and poor concentration.
Another way alcohol can disrupt sleep is by causing or exacerbating sleep apnea – a condition characterized by pauses in breathing, or shallow breaths during sleep.
Twenty men were divided into two groups and studied over two nights. Group A was given a placebo on night one, and alcohol on night two; while group B was given alcohol on night one and a placebo on night two.
Alcohol was associated with significant increases in the occurrence of apneic events after drinking. What’s more, symptoms of disrupted sleep persisted for an additional night after that.
You’re Getting Forgetful
Can’t remember where you left your car keys? Forgot your mother’s birthday?
It’s time to ask yourself whether your drinking habits are to blame.
A study, published in 2014, suggests that heavy drinking can lead to a decline in memory, attention and reasoning skills up to six years sooner than it would by drinking less alcohol.
Over 5,000 men and 2,000 women were assessed three times in ten years, before tests on memory and mental function were carried out.
It was found that middle-age men who drink 2.5 or more alcoholic drinks a day are more likely to see a rapid decline in their memory and cognitive function than their moderately drinking peers.
Because far fewer women participated, researchers say they can’t assess the effect of alcohol on memory in women.
Just because you’re not anywhere near middle-age doesn’t mean alcohol won’t affect your brain function.
In 2011, Spanish researchers examined 122 university students, some of whom did not drink and others who engaged in binge drinking.
All the students were tested for logical memory, visual memory and verbal memory.
The main finding was a clear association between binge drinking in healthy students and a lower ability to learn new verbal information.
To boost your memory, lay off the beer and fill your diet with some of these foods instead.
You Visit Your Dentist Too Often
If you have to take quarterly trips to your dentist because of yet another toothache, then take a look at your diet.
2004 research, which evaluated the effect of alcohol on the severity of periodontal disease (gum disease) found that a significant relationship exists between the two.
The researchers found that the more alcohol drank per week, the higher the risk of suffering from gum disease – which can range from simple gum inflammation to major soft tissue damage and even tooth loss!
Don’t forget that alcohol contains huge amounts of sugar too – your teeth’s arch nemesis.
In an analysis of 12 different alcoholic drinks, the most sugar-filled drinks included cream-based liquors at 19.5 grams of sugar per 3.5 oz, sherry at 9.5 grams per 3.3 oz and cider at 20.5 grams per pint.
Yet another way that alcohol affects your teeth is by reducing saliva production – you may have noticed that your mouth is parched after a few beers.
Saliva is one of your mouth’s main defenses against bacteria. Without it, plaque and bacteria can build up and cause decay, along with bad breath.
Alcohol has long been linked with depression, although – much like the chicken and egg scenario – researchers weren’t sure which came first: depression or alcoholism!
Over a 30-year period nearly 400 men (who were 18 years of age at the beginning of the study) were examined.
Of those that developed alcohol problems, nearly 20% suffered at least one bout of major depression – the majority of which were only seen during bouts of heavy drinking.
The researchers behind the work believe that it’s even more likely that you’re depressed because you drink heavily, rather than you drink heavily because you’re depressed.
They also say that if you abstain from drinking, your depression is ‘very likely to disappear’.
The low moods experienced after hitting the bottle too hard could well be down to alcohol’s effect on serotonin levels – the body’s ‘feel good chemical’.
1991 research, which looked at blood levels of serotonin 45 minutes after consuming alcohol, found that it was significantly reduced – similar to the levels seen in patients with depression.
You Feel Stressed Out
Given that many people turn to alcohol in times of stress, it’s ironic to discover that it may actually cause more stress in the long run.
Aside from the pressure caused by being late for work due to only hitting the hay at 3 am, alcohol can cause your body’s stress hormone – cortisol – to increase.
A positive association between alcohol intake and cortisol levels has been found in older adults, says 2008 research.
For each additional unit of alcohol per week, there was a 3% increase in cortisol levels.
Another study examined cortisol levels in the saliva after 2 alcoholic drinks, and after 4 drinks, in 32 heavy drinkers and 23 light social drinkers.
It was found that a relatively high dose of alcohol produced a smaller increase in cortisol in heavy drinkers compared to light drinkers.
To make matters worse, stress is linked with serotonin – not enough serotonin and we can feel anxious, angry and panicked…all leading to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
You Have Dry Eyes
Wake up to sore, scratchy and dried out eyes after a few glasses of wine? That could be dry eye.
The National Eye Institute defines dry eye as a condition where your eyes don’t produce enough ‘tears’ to lubricate the eye properly.
It can be uncomfortable and painful and, if left untreated, can cause pain, ulcers or scars on the cornea, and even some loss of vision.
A 2012 study, carried out by the Hallym University College of Medicine, has found that drinking alcohol can indeed lead to dry eye.
20 healthy males, with no history of eye disease, were divided in two groups. One group was a control, while the others were asked to drink the equivalent of two beers over a two-hour period.
Within a few hours, alcohol was detected in the tears of all those that had enjoyed a drink.
In the morning, the traces of alcohol were gone but tear hyperosmolarity and a significantly shortened tear break up time were found in all of the men – both of which can lead to dry eyes.
The evidence suggests that even a small amount of alcohol can increase the risk of, and exacerbate, dry eye syndrome.
You’ve Got Skin Problems
Before you splash out on expensive face creams for your dry, itchy or red skin, give your body a break from booze and see if that makes the difference.
A 1992 Medical Council on Alcoholism report states that an early sign of alcohol misuse can be less-than-glowing skin.
They claim that, in particular, psoriasis, discoid eczema and superficial infections are more common in heavy drinkers.
And, if you are already a rosacea sufferer you’ll be compounding your problem.
This common skin condition that causes facial redness and bumps can flare-up after drinking alcohol.
Red wine is the worst offender, affecting 76% of patients, white wine affects 56%, beer 41% and champagne and vodka both cause problems for 33% of people.
Don’t forget alcohol’s sugar content, which is a big trigger for inflammation and acne.
Once you take a break from the beer, make sure to check out these miracle foods for glowing skin so you can get back to your best.
Your Sexual Performance is Off
It’s no secret that alcohol increases your libido – at least in the short term, until the ensuing sobriety, depression, stress and exhaustion kick in!
But how about your sexual performance? If you find you’re not up to it (no pun intended) after a night on the tiles, it might be time to cut down.
Both chronic alcoholism and even occasional excessive alcohol consumption ignite desire but impede performance in men.
The authors claim this problem isn’t psychological or hormonal but physical, meaning the damage may be irreversible.
Even so, women should be careful about drinking too much as it affects their fertility – even when engaging in light drinking.
A Danish study found that even drinking between one and five drinks a week – within the recommended guidelines – can reduce a women’s chances of conceiving.
And a 2009 study carried out at Harvard University, of couples undergoing IVF treatment, showed that women who drank over six units a week were 18% less likely to conceive, while men were 14% less likely.
You Have Cravings
According to the National Institutes for Health, Rethinking Drinking initiative, as you change your drinking, it’s ‘normal and common’ to have urges or a craving for alcohol.
While you might never admit you are craving alcohol, perhaps you rely on the thought of a post-work glass of wine to get you through the day.
If that’s the case, or if you are having a persistent urge for alcohol, it might signal a deeper issue and mean you need to reign in your drinking.
As tasty and enjoyable as wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks are, they’re not something to mess around with.
Too much alcohol can lead to a whole host of negative health issues – as well as the risk of developing alcoholism, something which already affects one in every 12 US adults.
So the next time you’re at a party, or come in the door from a hard day’s work in search of the bottle opener, just remember that you could be putting your body and mind in jeopardy!
And it goes without saying, if you experience the above symptoms or are otherwise worried about your drinking, consult your doctor.
Have you ever found that even moderate alcohol consumption has taken its toll on your health?