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Drinking problems

Alcoholism is a condition that starts with acceptable social drinking.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 07, 2012 18:21 IST

Alcoholism is a condition that starts with acceptable social drinking. The number of students who just take a few drinks socially, has also increased, compared to two decades ago.

There are two separate types of alcohol-related problems; alcohol abuse - those who drink alcohol regularly although they may not be emotionally dependant on it, and 'alcoholism'- those who are totally dependant on it. Although it is important to remember this distinction, as far as the body is concerned, alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is a poison and should be avoided. Alcoholism affects more men than women and is on the rise amongst college students and adolescents too.

Ill effects of alcohol Alcohol affects everyone differently. Some get intoxicated with just one drink, while others may be able to handle three or four pegs before showing any adverse effects.

Social drinking is how it begins - to perk up, calm down, relax, celebrate, drown sorrows, etc. In time, the person gets dependant on alcohol. Over-indulgence in alcohol leads to memory loss, depression, difficulty in co-ordination, anti-social behavior, high blood pressure and breathing problems. Long term over-indulgence leads to damage to the liver, pancreas and the central nervous system. It causes metabolic damage to every cell of the body and suppresses the immune system. It disallows adequate nutrient absorption from the food that you eat, making you progressively weak and malnourished. Excessive amounts of fats accumulate in the liver, as the body is unable to digest them properly, leading to a fatty liver. Mineral and protein uptake is also affected leading to chronic fatigue and eventually cirrhosis (a condition in which liver cells die) and pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas), which leads to diabetes.

Alcoholics also face an increased risk of mouth, throat and stomach cancer. Smoking increases the risk of cancer by 50 per cent. Social consequences include poor job performance, road accidents and emotional damage to families. Women and alcohol

Women's bodies are more sensitive to alcohol than men's because alcohol gets retained in their body longer. They have a higher percentage of body fat compared to men, and less of the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol before it reaches the blood stream. Women develop liver disease and osteoporosis at a lower level of alcohol intake than men, due to alcohol's adverse effect on their bones. Alcoholic women are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other psychiatric disorders than men.

Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and birth defects and results in lower birth weight, retarded and stunted growth and limb, joint and finger deformities in the baby. Every drink that a pregnant woman consumes increases her risk of miscarriage and her baby's risk of being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Even moderate drinking may prove to be harmful in the first trimester of pregnancy. Next week: How to curb alcohol consumption.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.