It’s become clear to me that most people don’t understand the biological mechanisms behind alcohol withdrawal. When people hear about that, they automatically assume I’m talking about a “drunk,” whatever that means. The truth is, most people who drink, even if it’s only one drink, go through alcohol withdrawal. The difference is that the amount of alcohol and how the body reacts to it determines how severe the withdrawal will be.
On the one hand, if you only have one drink, your body can clear that amount of alcohol reasonably quickly, so the withdrawal symptoms will be barely noticeable. However, if you take heavy medications or have other major health problems, even one drink can cause noticeable withdrawal symptoms. However, if you have more than one drink or even move into binge drinking, the withdrawal will be much more pronounced and problematic.
Alcohol has an immediate effect on the nervous system and neurotransmitters. These are chemical messengers that help nerve responses travel down the network of nerves. Alcohol has an impact on both inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. Because of this, the nervous system has to adapt to the alcohol to try and maintain equilibrium. However, the way the nervous system adapts to alcohol causes nerves to be primed for excitation. So when alcohol is removed, the whole nervous system becomes overexcited, causing many uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms.
Most people think of the more severe result of alcohol withdrawal — someone with serious shakes, delirium, and seizures. While that’s true, most people just have uncomfortable symptoms without them becoming very serious. However, these withdrawal symptoms make future withdrawals more complicated. Also, repeated withdrawals have a serious effect on the brain, heart, and other organs. So someone who drinks a little too much each weekend is priming their nervous system for more complex withdrawals down the line.
It’s essential to understand this information because, for the most part, it isn’t talked about in the general population. Marketers of alcohol care very little for the health and wellbeing of people who drink their products. More so, doctors don’t always teach people about the more mild effects of alcohol. They rarely, if ever, tell people that they will always go through withdrawal after every experience of drinking alcohol.
However, this lack of information leads people to believe that alcohol is safe when it’s not. Alcohol is incredibly unsafe for anyone who has current health issues, people who take heavy medication, or people who can’t tolerate alcohol for whatever reason. These individuals should understand that even small amounts of alcohol can be unsafe and will cause withdrawal reactions. Withdrawal in these populations can cause further problems with their health and medications.
Mild withdrawal can cause:
- Increase in blood pressure
- Problems with the nervous system
- Dehydration, which can worsen other issues or complicate medication use
- Heart rhythm issues
- Increased urination
- Mental health difficulties
- Difficulties sleeping
- Problems with cognition
The problem is we never see these results or pay attention to them directly. Many people who drink may not feel great the few days after but rarely attribute it to alcohol. This is because they’ve been led to believe that nothing is wrong with having a drink or two here and there. But because the proper info is not getting to the public, most people ignore these symptoms and think they’re irrelevant. However, if you look at the list above, these are symptoms that occur with alcohol withdrawal, and all of them can be an issue for people who have trouble with their current health situation.
Even for healthy people, these mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms can cause people to feel unwell, which impacts their daily lives. It’s time we face the realities of even low-dose alcohol use. The truth is, alcohol is not suitable for anybody. Even the health studies that show a benefit for alcohol have been recently debunked. New studies are showing that low-dose drinking causes damage to the brain and heart. It can also wreak havoc on other body systems like the liver, stomach, intestines, and kidneys. Alcohol use and withdrawal will impact every one of those organs.
For example, the liver has a huge role in clearing and metabolizing alcohol. If you take medications that are hard on the liver, how will it do a good job if you add alcohol on top of that? Top medicines that affect the liver are:
- Statins — for lowering cholesterol
- Diabetes medications — for lowering blood sugar
- Painkillers — like Tylenol and opiate medications
- Mental health medications — for depression and psychosis.
Another example is the kidneys; alcohol increases urination during use. It affects a hormone in the kidneys that causes an increase in the amount of water excreted into the bladder. This is problematic because it can seriously increase the probability of dehydration. For people who may take dehydrating medication or have conditions that increase dehydration, then alcohol is strongly contraindicated.
Although this may seem straightforward, for many people, it’s not. Rarely has proper alcohol education been given to the general public. All they see is loads of ads on tv or the internet that make alcohol look like the best thing to do. Most damaging were the botched studies that said alcohol was beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Take note that these studies were significantly flawed, and new studies are proving the opposite. No amount of alcohol is healthy for anybody. Every time a person drinks, they go into withdrawal once they stop drinking, which can cause many health issues. This is a problem even for healthy people, but for those who have health problems, they really might want to think twice before opting to imbibe.
Here is the research and reports I used to write this article:
Alcohol and Society 2014 — The Effects of Low Dose Alcohol Consumption
No safe level of alcohol consumption for brain health
Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol and the Nervous System
What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You About Alcohol and Mental Health
5 Signs Tour Body is Struggling with Alcohol Use
Mixing Alcohol with Medicines
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