Alcohol and the Bible
Does God approve of drinking wine or not?
What does the Bible say?
The Bible forbids the use of alcoholic beverages to induce drunkenness.
The prophets ere especially vigorous in their condemnation of strong drink, or alcohol. Isaiah mentions it eight times, and each reference is strongly negative. He pronounces a woe upon those who drink it (Isa 5:11) and notes that it would not bring mirth when God cursed the land (Isa 24:9). He points out that it causes staggering (Isa 29:9) and that false priests and prophets were two groups who especially used it (Isa 28:7). The prophet Micah noted that the people wanted precisely this kind of leader-one who would approve of its use (Mic 2:11). Proverbs 20:1 speaks of rage and brawling as two of its side effects.
Some more texts you can look up on your own. Leviticus 10:9, Deuteronomy 21:10; 29:19, 1Samuel 1:14, 1Kings 16:9-10, Psalm 69:2, Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:20-21,29-35; 26:9; 31:4-7, Isaiah 5:11-12,22; 19:14; 24:9,11; 8:1,3,7; 56:12, Jeremiah 25:27, Ezekiel 44:21, Hosea 4:11; 7:5,14, Joel 1:5; 3:3, Amos 2:8,12, Micah 2:11, Nahum 1:10, Habakkuk 2:5,15-16, Matthew 24:49, Luke 12:45; 21:34, Romans 13:13, 1Corinthians 5:11; 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Thes.5:7, 1 Peter 4:7.
We can use common sense to infer that ANY drug which lowers our mental capacity to choose right and wrong would also be something we should avoid. The Bible is warning us our choices can affect our whole life and our spirituality.
Is drinking, or other mind altering drugs - legal or otherwise, acceptable according to the Bible?
Is it ever OK to drink or take a mind altering drug (IE:strong pain killers, medical marijuana, etc.). First of all, mind altering may be misleading. It is important to realize there may be times we need to alter our minds to improve our ability to make right choices such as some one with manic depression disorder. They need drugs to help bring their brains BACK to a nature state. Some people with depression need medication to help their brain level and give them tools to make good choices. So the issue is not just about altering our minds, but rather impairing our ability to make choices.
So does the Bible mention any circumstances where it is ok to "drowned pain"? Yes, in fact. Proverbs 31:6 "Alcohol is for the dying, and wine for those in bitter distress." Again, the Bible supports science in helping people who have extreme pain. Thus with common sense we can see the Bible does not condemn morphine or other strong drugs for those who are in extreme pain. However, for emotional pain, or even physical pain for that matter, we should turn to finding the cure or solution to the problem, not just treat the symptoms.
What about Deuteronomy 14:16 and other verses encouraging drinking?
God did seemingly give approval of strong drink, Deuteronomy 14:26. But what about Deuteronomy 14:22-28? This text doesn't seem to fit the pattern; it seems to indicate that Israelites could actually pay part of their tithe in beer! Some have seen in this a modern license for beer or wine drinking. First, we should carefully note that Deuteronomy 14 is dealing with a special use under special circumstances. The chapter takes up the subject of the tithe in verses 22 and 23. In a later section, it speaks about what might be called "delayed tithe." It is here that alcohol occurs as part of the "delayed tithe." What is all this talking about? Deuteronomy 14 identifies the tithe as certain foods and drinks that the Israelite was to take to the sanctuary located centrally in the nation. When the tithe was paid regularly and on time, the products offered were to include newborn lambs and calves, freshly pressed oil, new unfermented wine or grape juice (tirosh), and grain. All these were fresh products that came from the harvest of the new agricultural year. But what was the Israelite to do if for some reason he couldn't get to the sanctuary with these fresh products? He was to make a substitution, and it is this substitution that verses 24-26 describe. Verse 24 presents the problem: that of an Israelite who was not able to get to the sanctuary on time. Verse 25 presents the intermediate solution: he was to convert his tithe into silver and retain the money until he was able to go to the sanctuary. Verse 26 gives the final step in presenting the delayed tithe. When he arrived at the sanctuary, the Israelite was to purchase some of the same agricultural products he should have brought earlier and eat the tithe meal before the Lord. But the products he purchased for the tithe meal must be mature to show symbolically that the tithe presentation was late. Thus he did not present a lamb; he purchased a mature sheep for presentation. He did not present a calf, but a mature ox. Instead of fresh grape juice (tirosh) he presented yayin, wine that had fermented with the passing of time. And he did not present grain; he presented beer that had been made from grain. In each case, the delayed tithe meal consisted of things chosen to correspond to and show the development of the agricultural product which should have been presented originally. Although not readily apparent, this actually involved an interest penalty since the ox would cost more than a calf and the sheep more than a lamb. Under these special circumstances, the symbolic substitution of aged wine for the earlier grain when presenting "delayed tithe" can by no means be taken as a license for unrestricted recreational use of beer-either then or now. Especially when alcohol is elsewhere condemned in the Old Testament. More on this topic by Bible scholars here.
Also, keep in mind, alcohol can be boiled off. Thus you could ferment grape juice to keep it from going back, then boil it to remove the alcohol. Since this custom is over 2500 years ago, we have little evidence either way. Did they actually drink it or did they boil it.
And of course what does science say?
"Research has shown that alcohol is harmful, even in small doses. Here are some of the potential physical damages that may happen: destruction of liver cells (e.g., fatty liver or cirrhosis), destruction of cells of the heart muscle (cardiac insufficiency and heart failure), destruction of brain cells, inflammation of the nerves (neuritis), etc. However, harmful effects are not limited to physical problems. There may also be mental-emotional damages such as a decline of memory, decline of productivity and performance, depressions, fear and disappointment with oneself, etc.
Alcohol is linked to family violence, accidents, and other problematic behavior:
Ronny A. Bell, PhD, MS, et al., of the department of public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says: "Alcohol is by no means a safe drug, nor something that can in any way be recommended for health promotion. Suggesting that alcohol is somehow beneficial is so outweighed by its toxicity as to be criminal."
Dr. W. Feuerlein of the German Society of the Investigation and Therapy of addiction has emphasized that even in small quantities alcohol is absolute dangerous for certain groups of persons such as persons suffering from an illness of the liver or pancreas, diabetics, those with epileptic seizures, and all those who are in danger of becoming alcohol dependents.
Dr. F. Portheine of the Academy of Occupational Medicine in Berlin has pointed out that alcohol is a neurotoxic substance which is harmful in smallest quantities. It reduces protective fear and stimulates daredevilry and primitive passions. The sense of responsibility suffers immensely." Source: from the Bible Research Institute, "The Christian and Alcohol by Ekkehardt Mueller.
There are studies that show red wine is healthy but the Bible says "wine is a mocker" Proverbs 20:1 (Didn't Jesus make wine?). When we break it down we find several things:
- "Wine is a mocker" is about mental health while the scientific studies relate to only ONE aspect of physical health - the heart (alcohol is actually a risk factor for certain cancers like breast cancer - more on alcohol here).
- We have since discovered red grape juice has the beneficial properties for the heart.
- Some foods can have some good qualities but that doesn't negate their harmful ones.
The next few section are from the book "Proof Positive" by Dr. Neil Nedley, and is used with permission.
Gastrointestinal Problems Relating to Alcohol Use
In considering the diseases and physical conditions that can result from this addictive drug, let us look initially at the part of the body where alcohol first exerts its effects—on the stomach and intestines. Alcohol is an important cause of a number of gastrointestinal maladies, as listed in Figure 5: Drinking Impacts the Gastrointestinal System.16, 17, 18
Cirrhosis of the liver ranks among the ten leading causes of death in this country. Many are not aware that nearly 25,000 Americans die each year from liver cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases.19 Esophageal varices are large veins that form in the esophagus (swallowing tube), usually due to cirrhosis of the liver. These veins may bleed profusely and even cause sudden death if they rupture.
Alcoholic hepatitis, another debilitating liver condition, can be caused by alcohol without any exposure to hepatitis-causing viruses. Alcohol is also the most common cause of pancreatitis,20 accounting for approximately 65 percent of the cases of this very painful condition. Pancreatitis involves inflammation of the pancreas, and is associated with symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Invariably, an individual with pancreatitis must be hospitalized. It is not uncommon for such a hospitalization to last a number of weeks, with part of that time in the intensive care unit. If the drinking habit continues, the person can progress from acute attacks of pancreatitis to chronic pancreatitis. The latter condition can result in a very painful existence, and often requires continual pain medications. The individual can even develop diabetes if the alcohol-induced process destroys so much of the pancreas that it is unable to secrete enough insulin.
Alcohol may also cause stomach inflammation called gastritis. This condition can become so severe that the individual develops stomach bleeding. Even moderate alcohol ingestion can be a factor that tips the balance in favor of gastritis in a susceptible person. Alcohol is one of the most damaging substances to the stomach's mucus layer. This layer provides the stomach with vital protection from its own acid environment.21 Whereas gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining, ulcers represent sores in the stomach lining. Heavy alcohol intake appears to increase the risk of ulcer recurrence.22 Giant ulcers can eat deep into the stomach wall and erode into an artery, causing profuse and life-threatening bleeding. Even in moderate drinkers, the use of alcohol weakens the defenses of the stomach, and increases the risk for both gastritis and ulcers. As an internist that has a dedicated interest in gastroenterology and gastrointestinal endoscopy, I see the aforementioned conditions caused by alcohol on a daily basis, and often many times a day. One of the most common discharge instructions that I must give to my gastroenterology patients is "No alcohol."
Immune System Damage From Alcohol
A large body of research studies proclaims that even moderate amounts of alcohol used by social drinkers should be regarded as damaging to the immune system. With growing concerns regarding both infectious diseases and cancer, the immune-weakening effects of alcohol are some of the most worrisome.
Some of the most sobering research comes from the AIDS literature. A number of research studies suggest that alcohol use increases the risk of AIDS.23 Certainly, alcohol weakens one's judgment so that proper precautions to avoid virus exposure may not occur.24 More importantly, perhaps, alcohol—even in "moderation"—is an immune system suppressant. Research suggests that a moderate drinker exposed to HIV has a greater likelihood of becoming HIV positive.25 Omar Bagasra, M.D., Ph.D. found that social drinkers developed increased susceptibility to AIDS virus infection following the consumption of four beers. Other signs of immune suppression persisted for three to seven hours after their bodies had metabolized all the alcohol.26
Let us examine more closely some of the effects of alcohol on the immune system. The B-lymphocytes produce antibodies in the blood. Alcohol impairs their normal function. It takes only two drinks to reduce antibody production by two-thirds, as shown in Figure 6: Light Drinking Weakens the Immune System.27 This represents a significant immune system weakening with social alcohol use. The study's author, Dr. Aldo-Benson concluded: "These and previous studies suggest that even small amounts of alcohol taken frequently are harmful; they can inhibit the normal immune function and could increase bacterial or viral infections."
Alcohol Consumption Increases Cancer Risk
A number of other studies confirm that the regular use of even small amounts of alcohol can harm normal immune function. The result is often an increase in infections. However, the immune system weakening effects of alcohol extend far beyond the B cells. A group of white blood cells called Natural Killer cells (NK cells) are also weakened by alcoholic drinks.28 These fascinating killer cells have long baffled scientists because of their innate ability to identify invaders and eliminate them. They do not use antibodies, nor do they use other types of chemical warfare like other white blood cells. NK cells are particularly important in dealing with viruses (such as HIV) and preventing the spread of tumor cells in the body.29 As expected, alcohol-induced NK cell impairment increases cancer metastasis (causing cancer to spread). This has been demonstrated in rat studies. The research raises the concern that in humans just one binge may dramatically increase the chance of spreading an existing cancer. Results of this research are shown in Figure 7: Alcohol Increases Cancer in Rats.30
Notice that twice as many new tumors formed in rats with a 0.15 percent blood alcohol level compared to the non-drinkers. (This level of blood alcohol is somewhat over the legal limit for human vehicle drivers, which is generally set at 0.10) However, rats with a blood alcohol content of 0.25 percent had eight times more metastatic tumors. Extrapolating these results from rat studies to humans seems valid because we know by actual epidemiologic research that alcohol significantly increases human cancer risk.
Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of human cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and rectum. 31, 32, 33 Even moderate alcohol use can raise the risk of some of these cancers. For example, in a study of over 7,000 women, as little as three drinks per week increased the risk of breast cancer. The more the person drank, the greater the risk.34 Alcohol consumption poses a significantly greater risk of cancer than minor chemicals in foods.35
Many experts feel that the harmful effect of alcohol on human cancers has been vastly underestimated. Some physicians have even raised concerns that some cancer victims may have been afflicted because of their behavior on a single weekend celebration. There are much better ways to celebrate than by voluntarily weakening the immune system, to say nothing of benumbing the mind. "Let's have a good time this evening," is the approach of some. But the results may be disastrous.
There are other aspects of alcohol use besides its immune system effects that are likely related to increased cancer rates. For example, there is good evidence that alcohol use increases estrogen levels in women.36, 37 Although this may sound helpful, it could also increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer. When it comes to cancers of the head and neck, chronic irritation from alcohol may also be a cancer risk factor.
Increased Risk of Infectious Diseases
In addition to cancer and chronic infection with HIV, alcohol can increase the risks of more mundane—but still potentially lethal infections—like pneumonia and tuberculosis.38 Certain types of pneumonia are more common in alcohol users, such as Klebsiella pneumonia and aspiration pneumonia. Klebsiella is a certain strain of germ that can cause aggressive lung infections. Aspiration pneumonia can also occur if a person becomes severely intoxicated. While in a drunken stupor, an individual who swallows his or her saliva down the windpipe can get this life-threatening pneumonia.
There are other reasons why the risk of infection is increased in those who use alcohol. Normally, a type of white blood cell called the neutrophil or polymorphonuclear lymphocyte (PMN) circulates with the blood until it arrives at a location where an early infection is present. It then leaves the circulation and wages war with the invader. Social levels of alcohol consumption weaken some of these white blood cell functions. Measurable effects begin at levels well below that of legal intoxication, as low as 50 mg per deciliter (0.05 percent blood alcohol). As the amount of alcohol ingestion rises, the ability of PMNs to go to the site of an infection and their ability to gobble up invaders becomes progressively impaired.39, 40 The more alcohol that is present, the more their performance suffers.41
Side Effects of Alcohol Consumption
Besides affecting the intestinal and immune systems, there are other far-reaching side effects from alcohol consumption. Some of these effects are shown in Figure 8: Side Effects of Alcohol Use.42, 43, 44, 45, 46
It is astonishing to me that the news media is so enthusiastic about proclaiming the virtues of drinking alcohol "in moderation" when there is such a long list of severe problems caused by both moderate and heavy alcohol consumption. Some of the problems listed in Figure 8: Side Effects of Alcohol Use can occur with as little as one drink of alcohol per week. Let us take a little time to more fully appreciate these alcohol-related conditions.
Alcohol and High Blood Pressure (Item 1 of Figure 8 see above)
The first malady in Figure 8: Side Effects of Alcohol Use, high blood pressure, may occur as a direct result of alcohol consumption. Women seem to be the most susceptible. For example, as little as two or three drinks per day increases the risk of high blood pressure by 40 percent in women.47 Dr. Norman Kaplan, an international blood pressure authority, has gone on record as saying that anyone with high blood pressure who even uses more than one drink a day "should be aggressively encouraged to cut down."48 For men and women combined, three to four drinks per day increases one's high blood pressure risk by 50 percent; six or seven drinks per day doubles the risk.49 Alcohol plays a very important role in the high rate of hypertension in our nation. Estimates are that up to 30 percent of all high blood pressure in American men can be related to alcohol consumption.50
The detrimental effect of alcohol on blood pressure imposes a particular burden on older individuals in our country. The most common causes of death and disability among Americans 65 years of age and older are diseases of the heart and blood vessels.51 High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for such diseases and it afflicts greater than 54 percent of those in this age group.52, 53 Although fewer Americans use alcohol after their 65th birthday, of those that drink, their risks of alcohol addiction are just as high as among younger drinkers.54
As we have seen, although heavy alcohol consumption does the most damage to blood pressure, many who consider themselves "light" drinkers are also at risk. The truth is that the more alcohol one uses, the higher his or her blood pressure tends to be.55, 56 I recommend to even my healthy patients that they avoid any drug that raises blood pressure: alcohol is no exception. Of course, avoidance of alcoholic drinks becomes even more important in those who already have a blood pressure problem. It simply does not make sense to be taking blood pressure medicine and drinking alcohol even in small amounts.
Alcohol and Stroke (Item 2 of Figure 8)
Increased stroke risks, the second item in Figure 8: Side Effects of Alcohol Use, plague both moderate and heavy drinkers. Many people are not aware that alcohol increases the risk of both common types of stroke. The two types are the hemorrhagic stroke caused by bleeding in and around the brain, and the thrombotic stroke caused by blood clots.
Some young person may say, "I am not a heavy drinker. I never have more than three drinks even on a weekend evening." Studies show that even three drinks can have tragic consequences, even in the young, as shown in Figure 9: Moderate Drinking and Stroke in Young Adults.57
Their risk is six to eight times greater with only three drinks. To die under the young age of 40 by self-destructive use of alcohol is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. Such levels of consumption are not unusual. A 1990 nationwide survey of some 17,000 high school seniors found that 32 percent of them reported episodes of heavy drinking (five or more drinks) within the last two weeks.58
This recent evidence on the dangerous effects of moderate drinking is extremely important. Previously some had suggested that moderate alcohol consumption lowers stroke risk;59 however, there are definitely problems with that position. First, there is no evidence that people already on an excellent lifestyle get any further benefit from alcohol when it comes to stroke prevention. Second, as we have just seen, a couple of extra drinks on the weekend dramatically increase stroke risk in younger adults. Third, one of the most devastating types of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, has been known for years to be increased by even very small amounts of alcohol. The famous Honolulu Heart Study found that even light drinkers of as little as one to fourteen ounces per month have more than twice the risk of having one of these bleeding strokes.60 The findings are summarized in Figure 10: Alcohol and Stroke.
Notice, it is not the blood pressure-raising effect of alcohol that accounted for these strokes. Even a social drinker with normal blood pressure experiences this increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke.61
Alcohol and Heart Problems (Item 3)
Although widely touted for its heart benefits, alcohol is clearly linked to several heart problems. Both chronic heavy drinkers and those who become acutely intoxicated run the risk of heart rhythm disturbances. Cardiac arrhythmias, as they are called, can be as minor as a vague fluttering sensation in the chest or as major as sudden death. In fact, the high rate of sudden death among heavy alcohol users is likely due in part to these dangerous rhythm disturbances.62
Cardiomyopathy is another dangerous and sometimes fatal heart condition which is linked to alcohol use. Cardiomyopathy literally means "heart muscle disease." I have seen many patients whose heart muscles do not work as hard as they should because of alcohol consumption. As a result, fluid builds up in the lungs and then in other parts of the body, and these patients are usually unable to physically exert themselves. When cardiomyopathy becomes severe enough, the only treatment available is heart transplantation. Although coronary artery disease can cause heart attacks and subsequent cardiomyopathy, current estimates are that 20 to 30 percent of all cardiomyopathy in our country is due to alcohol alone.63
Elevated Triglycerides and Alcohol (Item 4)
Alcohol, even in the relatively small amounts consumed by "light to moderate" drinkers, may cause significant triglyceride elevation.64 "Triglycerides" is the technical term for the main storage and transport form of fat in the body. Due to elevation in a blood fat carrier called VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), cholesterol values may be elevated by alcohol use as well. Like cholesterol, triglycerides when elevated appear to increase the risk of heart disease. If triglyceride levels are very high, they can also dramatically increase the risk of pancreatitis.
Alcohol and Sexual Function (Item 5)
The fifth side effect of alcohol is a particularly distressing effect of heavier use of alcohol—shrinkage (atrophy) of the testicles. This can actually feminize affected men. As a result they can acquire female characteristics like enlarged breasts. Long term alcohol use is also associated with impotence due to hormonal effects.65 Such results are ironic, particularly when many men think drinking is a "macho" thing to do.
For many individuals an even more frightening sexual specter looms on the horizon: homosexual tendencies may result from alcohol exposure in the womb. We have known for years that fetal exposure to alcohol dramatically increases the risk of problems with genital development in both male and female offspring. For example, in the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) over 12 percent of the children have genital abnormalities.66 Now there are serious concerns that the brain itself may experience impaired sexual differentiation—even when alcohol exposure has been relatively mild and has not caused FAS. The number of children affected is significant. Whereas up to 11,000 children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome each year, as many as 30,000 or more may have other alcohol- related problems that are not as distinguishable.67 All of this larger number are at risk for problems with sexual differentiation both of the external genital region and the brain. Of particular concern to the sexual differentiation question, animal studies show that male rats exposed in utero to alcohol have decreased male sex behavior, while female rats experience defeminization (decrease in female sex behavior).
Alcohol, General Metabolism, and Nutrition (Item 6)
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can occur in both heavy and moderate drinkers. In children, relatively small amounts of alcohol can be particularly dangerous in this regard. Dr. William Altemeier, director of the Pediatrics service at General Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, points out that because of hypoglycemia, severe irreversible brain damage can result in preteen children who are given relatively small amounts of alcohol.68 Normally low blood sugar is not a problem in healthy individuals who are not on medications. However, alcohol blocks the body's ability to produce sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis.69 Thus, if someone consumes alcohol after a period of fasting or limited caloric intake, blood sugars can fall to extremely low levels, and the brain—which runs primarily on sugar (glucose)—can suffer irreparable damage.
Ironically, drinking alcohol can also raise blood sugar levels. In fact, alcohol is a known cause of what is called impaired glucose tolerance.70 One of the mechanisms for such an occurrence is also counter- intuitive. You would expect that a depressant like alcohol would lower stress hormone levels in the blood, but it can actually raise those levels. With raises in stress hormones like norepinephrine, blood sugar tends to rise.71
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency (Item 7)
The heavier the usage of alcohol, the greater the tendency toward vitamin and mineral deficiency. From Vitamin A to zinc, almost every vitamin and mineral makes the list of being potentially interfered with directly by alcohol itself or by the damage it can cause to the liver, pancreas, and other parts of the digestive system.72 Some of the more common deficiencies involve magnesium, folic acid, and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin.
Chronic Fatigue and Ketoacidosis (Items 8 and 9)
Another side effect of alcohol that can affect productivity and performance is the chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition with its symptoms of "feeling wasted and worn out" may result from moderate alcohol consumption. Such a relationship may be due to immune system effects in the context of a chronic viral infection.73 Alcohol is also a cause of ketoacidosis, a metabolic disease that can be fatal.
Alcohol's Effects on the Bones, Joints, and Muscles (Items 10,11, and 12)
Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones, is also related to alcohol consumption. Another cause of orthopedic problems in drinkers is gout, a very painful arthritic condition that can also cause kidney problems. Still another alcohol-related condition affecting the musculoskeletal system is called rhabdomyolysis. This problem is often associated with certain toxin exposures including heavy exposure to alcohol.74 In rhabdomyolysis, part of the large muscles in the body actually dies. This often results in hospitalization, kidney failure, and sometimes even death.
Body Weight (Item 13)
A more mundane effect of alcohol relates to its relationship to maintenance of body weight. Alcohol is a concentrated source of calories, having nearly twice as many calories on a gram for gram basis as pure sugar (seven calories vs. four calories per gram). Combining this with the fact that alcohol accounts for 10 percent of the caloric intake of adult drinkers in our nation,75 the stage would seemingly be set for significant weight problems. It is, but for reasons other than you may think. The calories in alcohol do not seem to be efficiently stored as fat, so excessive use of alcohol does not seem to contribute to significant weight gain for this reason. However, many individuals who tend to be overweight will have greater problems with weight maintenance if they are using alcohol—even in moderation. Overweight people who wisely take special pains to limit their calorie intake (sometimes called "restrained eaters"), will tend to eat more if alcohol is on board.76
Alcohol and Blood Cells (Items 14 and 15)
In our comments on the immune system, we have already looked at the far-reaching effects of alcohol on the white blood cells. Anemia, which is a low red blood cell count, is very common in heavy drinkers. Even occasional users of alcohol can increase their risk of anemia if their alcohol use contributes to blood loss from their stomach or esophagus. Other blood elements called platelets (the body's clotting cells) are often decreased with alcohol use. As a result, affected individuals may bleed more easily.
Alcohol Aggravates Menstrual Cramps (Item 16)
Alcohol has been thought to be effective as a treatment for menstrual cramps. It appears to reduce the probability of having cramps, but research studies show that it increases the severity and duration of those that get them.77 It was found that drinking more than once per week doubles the odds of pain lasting more than two days. Researchers advise that alcohol "should not be recommended as a treatment [for menstrual cramps]."
Summary Of Physical Problems Associated With Alcohol
There are many more problems with alcohol than I have focused on here. However, what we have examined thus far should be sufficient to impress us with the broad range of adverse effects brought on by alcohol. The sad thing about these problems is that if Americans had recognized alcohol for what it was and avoided it, this extensive list would not even exist. As an Internal Medicine specialist, I deal every single working day with people whose illnesses are caused by alcohol and tobacco. People are hospitalized due to these abuses of their bodies more than any other lifestyle factors. If you could see through my eyes, you would be strongly influenced to emphatically say "no" the next time you are asked the question, "Want a drink?"
Drinking and Mortality
Increased risk of death from a variety of causes has been linked to alcohol use, particularly in heavy drinkers. However, moderate drinking also increases the risk of premature death. We will see data shortly that quantifies the increased risks of untimely death from alcohol use. However, a few more comments are in order regarding the relationship of heavier consumption of alcohol to death...
Alcohol and Decreased Mental Performance
There are some things that are worse than "death" in its general meaning. The national suicide epidemic makes this self-evident. What kind of situations do individuals find so unbearable that they would choose to take their own lives? We are all familiar with terminal illness and its connection with suicide. However, mental decline and social or work-related problems are all high on the list for suicide motivations.81 With this in mind, we need to recognize that alcohol has the capacity to undermine that which has the greatest bearing on who we really are—and that which gives us the most meaning in life. Alcohol, even in moderation, affects our brain.
Even small amounts of alcohol are well known to decrease a person's judgment, foresight, and moral reasoning. This probably relates largely to alcohol's dramatic impairment of the brain's frontal lobe where many of our highest intellectual and moral functions reside. With just a single drink and a low blood alcohol level of 0.02 percent, there is blunting of frontal lobe capacities with a decrease in judgment and inhibitions.82 Contrary to popular belief, many of our inhibitions are extremely useful and are best never compromised. Reservations against telling business secrets or making inappropriate comments to another person's spouse are just two examples of normal inhibitions that serve socially useful purposes. Furthermore, many think alcohol's mental impairment lasts only as long as alcohol is present in the blood. In reality, the effects remain long after the alcohol has left the blood stream. Studies done on drinkers over 24 hours after they have had their last drink show that abstract reasoning ability remains reduced.
In one study, over 1,300 social drinkers in Detroit were assessed. Men drank on the average of every third day and consumed two to three drinks. Women drank on the average every fifth day and generally consumed two drinks on those occasions. All assessments of mental function were done at least 24 hours after alcohol had been consumed. Nonetheless, in both men and women who drank at least once per week, abstract thinking ability decreased as alcohol intake increased.83
Worse than temporary impairing of reasoning, alcohol consumption often causes even more serious long-term mental impairment. Actual loss of brain cells with resulting brain shrinkage (technically called "cerebral atrophy") is known to occur in heavy drinkers. This has been directly observed with scans that can visualize the brain like CAT scans and MRIs.84 Fortunately, there is some good news about this condition. The brain shrinkage may be reversed with prolonged abstinence, especially in young individuals.85 Unfortunately, however, brain cells cannot be regenerated once they are lost. So this apparent reversal is likely due to new nerve connections rather than replacing lost brain cells.86 This leaves us with an important conclusion: time can sometimes help ameliorate mental damage done by heavy drinking, but a person will never be mentally as gifted after a history of heavy alcohol use. Of broader concern, there is evidence suggesting that alcohol consumption (regardless of age and quantity) may also hasten cerebral atrophy.87
Worse still, heavy drinking can sometimes lead to profound and irreversible neurological defects. Peripheral neuropathy, a painful condition of the feet, legs, and hands that progresses to loss of sensation in the limbs is common among heavy drinkers. Physicians are familiar with the diagnosis of Korsakoff's psychosis with its memory loss and disorientation. This condition occurs in heavy drinkers who also are deficient in the B vitamin, thiamin; 30 to 40 percent of individuals who develop this devastating brain wasting condition must be institutionalized.88 Heavy drinking potentiates a common cause of seizures, alcohol withdrawal seizures, and also potentiates the terrible life-threatening state of delirium tremens (DTs) where the alcoholic shakes uncontrollably and hallucinates and becomes a danger to himself and others.
Furthermore, there is no question that psychiatric problems and alcohol use go hand in hand. Alcohol abuse or dependence is more common in individuals with diagnoses such as schizophrenia, depression, antisocial personality, and anxiety disorders.89 These relationships pose the chicken or the egg question: which came first, the psychiatric illness or the alcoholism? It is likely that alcohol increases the risk for psychiatric illness for some of the reasons already mentioned, such as mental impairment and increased psychosocial stressors. However, it also seems to go the other way. People with psychiatric illnesses may be more prone to resort to alcohol in an attempt to deal with their problems.
We now have proof that drug or alcohol abuse causes specific brain damage that can be seen on a new high-tech brain scan called BEAM, which measures changes or disturbances in electrical activity in the brain.90 In a study of 111 subjects, major brain abnormalities were seen in the front and on the sides of the brain that increased with an increase in severity of substance abuse. Some studies have shown that up to 90 percent of substance abusers have psychiatric disorders. Some with such disorders use alcohol or drugs to gain relief from their problems, but it is now known that they are actually making their problems worse in the long run with such self-treatment.
One of the most dangerous results of both alcoholism and mental health problems is suicide. There is no question that this final and often desperate act is strongly linked with alcohol consumption.91
FOR more information and/or to read the entire book, "Proof Positive" please visit Dr. Nedley's website.
ALL 91 sources cited are listed in the book.