There are a lot of mixed messages about the effects of alcohol. We've heard how moderate drinking has potential health benefits, and how heavy drinking can be detrimental to our health. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the environment, our family history, and even our diet can influence the way we process alcohol and the role it plays in our lives.
Here are several ways alcohol impacts the body, mind, and mood, along with a few tips on how to help you recover from a night of drinking.
Hidden Effects of Alcohol
From the moment you take your first sip of beer, wine, whiskey, or other alcoholic beverage, it starts to have an impact on your body. Its first stop is the stomach, where it irritates and inflames the stomach lining.
Next, your pancreas pushes into detox mode, pumping out extra insulin and attempting to process the alcohol as if it were a sweet treat. Unable to use the alcohol for energy, the body stores the empty calories as fat.
Then, there's the liver. This organ handles any toxins introduced into the body. It takes about an hour for your liver to metabolize one unit of alcohol. The reason we become inebriated is that a pint of beer or a large glass of wine contains approximately three units of alcohol — more than the liver can process.
Noticeable Effects of Alcohol
When we drink alcohol, it affects our central nervous systems. One of the first signs is a change in our behavior and emotions, such as:
- slurred speech
- reduced inhibitions
- slowed reaction times
- poor memory
- difficulty concentrating
- impaired motor skills
Alcohol can also influence our mood. Its impact is the most obvious the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Why? Because alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt the levels of happiness chemicals in our brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. Although you may have felt a "high" during a night out drinking, the next day you may feel depressed or anxious.
There is, however, a silver lining. Our bodies can bounce right back from a night of heavy drinking, and there are ways to speed up that process.
How to Help Your Body Recover
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing dehydration. This is the reason we sometimes experience headaches, dizziness, and nausea after a night of drinking. It's also why we should drink a few glasses of water before bed. It might seem counterproductive, especially if you're already going to the bathroom a lot, but it will keep you from getting overly dehydrated.
Alcohol can also cause a bad night's sleep — not the quantity, but the quality. You may fall asleep quickly, but you'll spend less time in restorative sleep and more time in REM sleep, the stage where your brain is very active. This can leave you feeling tired, lethargic, and distracted; so, if possible, use the next day as a day of rest and recovery.
The next time you plan a night out, consider ways to slow down the effects of alcohol, including eating a substantial meal before drinking and alternating alcoholic beverages with water to help prevent dehydration.
What Does It Mean for You?
Finding out how alcohol affects your body means you can be more mindful about the amount you drink and the consequences of consuming too much. If you can drink in moderation in a safe and responsible way, then enjoy it. However, if you find yourself binge drinking, or if alcohol is causing issues at home or at work, consider cutting back or avoiding it all together. The fact remains that alcohol affects different people differently.