I tend to see red when ‘-ic’ is added to the end of a word. ‘Diabetic’, ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘alcoholic’, for example. It’s too easy to let the problem label the person. The Hogarthian gin-sozzled woman above, who seems oblivious to the infant falling off her lap, might deserve an epithet, but most of us drinking too much aren’t ‘-ics’. We just have a problem.
In the US, some addiction specialists add ‘highly functioning’ to the word that gets me all coloured, which almost makes it worse, as if malfunctioning is what’s expected. But they have a point. Most of us are getting on with our lives outwardly well, sustaining relationships, building families and profiting work. But inwardly, there may be signs for action which should make all drinkers take stock.
Playing a role in over 500 vital processes, the liver has its work cut out, so the last thing it needs is a daily boatload of booze. Amazingly, it does this largely uncomplainingly until a brick wall of fibrosis has built up that stops it dead in its tracks. The warning signs of the whites of your eyes turning yellow with jaundice and a tummy bloated with fluid need immediate attention from your GP or the nearest A&E department.
Thankfully, cirrhosis will only happen to the minority of drinkers. Loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness and and tummy pain could be the early stages of your liver playing up, but feeling ‘liverish’ can cover a multitude of ills. The bottom line is that if it persists, you should see your GP and they’ll arrange some liver function blood tests.
TV diet programmes are stuffed to the gills with participants complaining that they can’t lose weight. Calories expended minus calories consumed equals weight loss. Simples! But not if you’re drinking. Somehow glasses of white wine or a few G&Ts get confused with water. If you find yourself in the same sinking boat – and you’re sure you’ve done your sums correctly – add whatever you bought at the off license. Drinkaware even has an app for it. You might be shocked by the re-calculation.
And don’t forget summer holidays where all the good intentions go to pot while you’re at that all-inclusive resort. If you arrive back home half-a-stone heavier that won’t be just because of the mouthwatering food. Best to ditch the duty free while you’re about it.
“To sleep, perchance to dream.” That’s unfortunately unlikely if you’ve indulged in a two-pronged binge in front of a box set. Alcohol is terrific for bludgeoning you into a deep sleep, but it shoots the restorative REM sleep to pieces, so you’re more likely to have nightmares and feel shattered in the morning. You might even have forgotten the plot and need to repeat the exercise all over again. Curb the alcohol and you’ll be back in the happier land of Nod in no time.
Alcohol is an excellent dehydrator. That’s why it can be used for preserving biological specimens. The skin is particularly vulnerable to this and flaking and dryness results. Alcohol also causes small blood vessels in the skin to widen, allowing more blood to flow to the surface. This produces a flushed colour and a feeling of warmth, which can lead to broken capillaries on the face. Even if you’re not aspiring to doing the cat walk, the largest organ in the body requires better care than that.
Alcohol’s impact on the brain is just as insidious as on the body. Bathe any organ in ethanol and it’ll give up the ghost soon enough. There’s a direct toxic effect of alcohol on the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages, so forgetting things should make you sit up and think. Your brain might have started to shrink, too. Some doctors refer to it as the “pickled walnut” effect. Charming. But like the liver, it’s potentially reversible if caught early enough.
And while a glass of something may seem the ideal antidote for stress, the after-work drink will rapidly become a habit, with the short-term emotional anaesthesia switching to a state of low mood and anxiety, which will have you reaching for the bottle day after day. Try ‘the mindful pause’ for dealing with stress: pause, breathe for 15 seconds, question yourself and then take action with a character strength. That can be applied when you’re considering drinking, too.
Knowing your vitals
Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, so a finger on your pulse should be in any health check. Raised cholesterol is another hidden consequence of drinking. Online retailers like Amazon have easy-to-use blood pressure monitors for as little as £20. Some High Street pharmacies will measure your blood pressure and do a cholesterol check at the same time. If you don’t mind an at-home, finger-prick blood test, online company Medichecks offers a Health and Lifestyle Check that covers the liver, kidney, heart health and key nutrients, with GP advice thrown in for good measure, and all for £59. Your GP might even thank you for doing some of the hard work.
It’s all about taking back control from the drink and no one could argue with that.