“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” — Saint Augustine
When most people think about the dangerous effects of alcohol, we typically hear the word “excessive” used with it.
For many, unless they drink every day or consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, then this typically doesn’t relate to them.
While this is true, what is often unrecognized is that the recommended guidelines for drinking are much lower than probably what most people would think.
It comes up at a rather modest “I’m not even warmed up level” of no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
While there are much greater threats to those who consume large amounts of alcohol consistently than those who drink much less, it has to be said that there are still dangers to consuming what is considered moderate if one is not careful.
There are three major things that could be affected and of which one should be wary.
It seems to be widely recognized that alcohol is the best aid in the world at putting you to sleep, but it is the absolute worst at keeping you there.
The event of the 2 am wake-up with the inability to go back to sleep is probably known by anyone who has consumed any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
To better understand this, one has to understand there are typically two different versions of sleep: Non-REM sleep in which your body is lowering its body temperature, breathing, and brain activity while preparing for deep sleep, and REM sleep in which the body’s heartbeat and breathing will actually quicken as we experience dreams during this important sleep stage of the night.
I was a bit confused about whether REM sleep and deep sleep are the same things, and this article does a pretty good job of explaining why they are NOT.
When individuals consume alcohol prior to going to bed, the body does tend to fall asleep faster and more deeply in the Non-REM stage of sleeping, but this greatly reduces the amount of REM sleep time that it gets each night.
This is so detrimental to our health because REM sleep is known as a mentally restorative type of sleep and is associate with our ability to learn things and our overall memory.
While it is true that excessive drinking has a greater effect on reducing sleep quality and time, there have been studies done showing that ANY amount of drinking before bed can result in this effect.
In one study, 4000 subjects were tested and saw that those who drank a moderate amount of alcohol still experienced a 24% decrease in restorative sleep, while those who drank high amounts experienced a 39% decrease.
The fear then becomes that a debilitating cycle takes place in which the less sleep you get each night the more you feel you need alcohol to help you get to sleep, and the worse the problem eventually becomes.
As you age, the ability to keep the pounds off becomes a bit more challenging, as your metabolism naturally slows down with time.
It is believed by some doctors that with each decade after the age of 20, your metabolism slows by about 10% per year.
Therefore, many of the things we used to eat and do have a much greater impact on our gaining of weight than they may have when we were younger.
Alcohol is one of those things.
First of all, alcohol is just empty calories. This pretty much means that it supplies the body with calories, but there are little to no nutrients included with it.
When in the body, however, it is typically used as energy before anything else. What this means is that the body will burn this before it will burn the glucose consumed from carbohydrates or the lipids from fats.
If the body has reached its energy need for that day and these two remain in the system, then they will usually remain there, as fat.
Second, as shared above, alcohol can make it more difficult to sleep.
And as weird as it may sound, there is a connection between getting good quality sleep and your body’s ability to feel satiated when you eat.
As shared in Why You MUST Get Sleep Right to Achieve Your Fitness Goals, lack of sleep is related to the increased levels of ghrelin (our hunger hormone) and decreased levels of leptin (our satiety hormone).
So when you take that nightcap and find yourself awake at 2 am, not only does this give you another chance to raid the fridge to kill time, you’re also more likely to feel hungrier and less full the next day…increasing the chances that your usual salad choice at lunch the just won’t get it done.
I will admit this last reason that moderate alcohol use can be dangerous is a bit like saying you shouldn’t buy a gun because you might kill yourself, but it has to be said.
There are some people who are born with certain genes that allow them to drink alcohol for their entire lives and never fall into the trap that it creates for so many.
Alcohol is an addictive drug, just like heroin, cocaine, or meth.
It follows the same pattern of large dopamine release in the brain, followed by a crash and intense desire to get that same dopamine hit in the future.
Strangely enough, it is our actual survival instincts to seek out things that give us pleasure to live longer that creates the desire to do drugs again and again.
And just like any good drug, alcohol is great at creating the need for itself over time.
However, it’s not as highly addictive as some other drugs and therefore appears much less harmful and accepted by society.
But, for the same reasons we are still trying to figure out why some people are more apt to get cancer at a young age than others, we are all born with genes that make us more or less susceptible to alcohol’s effects.
For some, this means that they can drink their entire life and never desire to go past that one or two glass moderate level.
While for others, the intense release of dopamine is so strong, (and as the kids say, “hits different”), the decision to stop at only one glass is no more realistic than the movie Tenet being understood WITHOUT constant rewinding and pausing. And even then, you may still be a bit lost.
Those who are predisposed to addiction due to genetics put themselves at great risk when they decide to have even one serving of alcohol.
For them, it is way easier to eventually get to a point in which it becomes excessive, which, in turn, will then take us back to the top of this article and cause a bevy of problems that make these moderate ones seem like child’s play.
Alcohol is one hell of a drug.
While it appears harmless with many studies touting the positive benefits of moderate alcohol use, more and more studies are starting to come out that no level of alcohol use is safe for your long-term health.
And while up to this point, you may feel that alcohol has been worth the effects or the possibility of the negative consequences above, the scary question you have to ask yourself is what if it’s not.