Alcohol Consumption and Health

The president announced that the temporary ban on the sale of alcohol, to support the lockdown restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, would be lifted on 1 June 2020. Thousands of South Africans celebrated and stood in line for hours, fearlessly waiting to buy their favourite night cap. This begs the question…

How much is a healthy level of alcohol consumption?

Research scientists struggle to agree on the health benefits of alcohol consumption. While some research concludes that moderate alcohol consumption in healthy adult could reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, ischemic stroke and cancer, others claim that it has no health-related benefits at all. What most research can agree on, however, is that, while alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression which can ultimately boost your mood, it also harbours a lot of health risks when consumed excessively.

Whatever the case might be, dietary guidelines do not recommend that people who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason. This is because these results may very well only indicate that adults who are in good health engage in more social activities and enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol, rather than the notion that the alcohol has anything to do with making them healthier. Eating a healthy diet and being physically active have much greater health benefits and have been more extensively studied. On the other hand, if you’re a light to moderate drinker and you’re healthy, you can probably continue to drink alcohol as long as you do so responsibly.

So what is a healthy level of alcohol consumption?

Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults generally means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days. Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 355 milliliters
  • Wine: 148 milliliters
  • Distilled spirits (40% alcohol volume): 44 milliliters

What is considered heavy alcohol intake?

Excessive consumption of alcohol includes behaviour such as heavy drinking, binge drinking or self-medicating. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any single day or more than seven drinks a week for women and for men over 65, while having more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week is considered heavy drinking for men aged 65 and younger. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within the same time frame for men.

Effects of over drinking

Excessive drinking can have negative behavioural and mental wellness. Many people use it as a form of coping, and for severe mental illness they drink to cope with difficult feelings or symptoms of mental illness. It is often the reason why people with mental health problems drink, however, mental health professionals sometimes refer to this as ‘self-medicating’. Unfortunately, it can, make existing mental health problems worse.

When it comes to your physical wellbeing, excessive drinking can also increase your risk of serious health problems, including:

  • Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
  • Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Suicide
  • Accidental serious injury or death
  • Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Dealing with alcohol addiction

If you find yourself drinking more alcohol than usual you might consider evaluating the recent events in your life to identify the reason for the sudden change in your alcohol consumption behaviour. Consider seeking some mental health advice from a professional and analysing whether your alcohol behaviour could be a sign of alcohol abuse or addiction. For members diagnosed with addiction and mental health problems, Bestmed offers support by covering treatment in mental health clinics at 100% Scheme tariff – limited to 21 days per beneficiary, and treatment of chemical and substance abuse at 100% Scheme tariff – limited to 21 days or R30 760 per beneficiary when members use network facilities.

Tricks for drinking a healthy amount

For those trying to reduce their alcohol intake on their own, here are a few tips on how you can bring down the amount of alcohol that you consume on a regular basis:

  • Be sure to measure out that booze, especially wine.
  • Buy smaller wine glasses. Larger ones up your chances of drinking more.
  • Mix in sparkling water to make your drink last longer.

Be sure to check with your doctor about what’s right for your health and safety.

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