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Long-term drinking effects overlooked

College for many is a four-year opportunity to party without real-world responsibilities.

Others are more diligent students with extracurriculars and such, but it’s safe to say that most college students have been stung by the short-term effects of one-too-many shots of vodka or Solo cups full of mysterious “Jungle Juice.”

It’s a familiar scene in movies and in real life: you wake up amid a tangle of sheets with a pounding head and a parched tongue.

When you stand up in search of a glass of water, you’re a bit dizzy…and you realize you’re still wearing shoes.

A few more hours of sleep, some burritos and two ibuprofen later, you’re back in action and that hangover is but a distant memory.

What never gets a thought, however, are the long-term physical effects of alcohol consumption.

For anyone who drinks heavily on a regular basis, or even those who binge drink occasionally, this knowledge is worth consideration.

Binge drinking, for the record, is commonly defined as more than 4 drinks at a time for women or more than 5 for a man, according to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

As we know, the liver bears the brunt of alcohol consumption, metabolizing 90 percent of the ethanol consumed. The remaining ten percent is excreted in urine and exhalation, according to a WebMD article about alcohol intoxication (www.webmd.com).

The liver can get “burned out” if its processing burden (of alcohol or other chemicals) is too heavy. Liver cells get scarred, blocking blood flow and preventing metabolic exchange, resulting in cirrhosis.

Excessive alcohol consumption also causes the buildup of large globules of fat in the liver, which can result in alcohol-related hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

Though it takes quite a few years of hard drinking to damage your liver to such an extent, it is probably a good idea to keep it working at full capacity because of its essential functions: the synthesis, storage and breakdown of various components of the body.

Heavy occasional drinking — more so than moderate regular drinking that totals to the same amount — has been associated with the accumulation of abdominal fat,

according to a 2003 University of Buffalo study.

This is not only undesirable from an aesthetic point of view — excessive fat around the torso is a risk factor for life-threatening conditions like heart disease.

A 2007 study tied binge drinking, particularly among adolescents and young adults, to heart disease and other problems.

The study found that those who had done a lot of heavy drinking early in life, despite reducing their intake later, were more likely to develop “metabolic syndrome.”

This refers to a group of risk factors that predisposes one to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Those who drank regularly and moderately, and did not reduce their intake as they grew older, were less likely to develop these problems.

Unfortunately, the study seems to show that a brief period of abandon when it comes to drinking (like that experienced during the college years) cannot be made up for by abstinence later in life.

Finnish researchers have hit the point home with a large 10-year study showing increased risk of stroke among binge drinkers, whose risk was 39 percent higher than non-bingers.

Researchers said they don’t exactly understand the connection between binging and stroke, but that large doses of alcohol are associated with acute cardiovascular disturbances.

Heavy drinking can have lasting psychological effects as well. For example, a recent New Zealand study has suggested that alcohol dependence and abuse greatly increases the risk of depression. Those qualifying as alcohol-abusive or dependent were found to be almost twice as likely to fit the criteria for major clinical depression.

Alcohol can lead to problems with long-term planning and decision-making. A four-year study at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that young (18 to 22) binge drinkers who started at an early age have as much decision-making trouble as chronic alcoholics.

Students who drank heavily and “who had longer histories of binge drinking, made riskier and less advantageous choices, which reflect problems associated with planning for the future,” the researchers said.

Alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on sleep, too, for both casual and chronic drinkers. For those who occasionally indulge, sleep comes easily when the drunken head hits the pillow, but the later stages of sleep are disrupted.

The brains of harder drinkers develop a tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol, causing these people to get less deep, restorative sleep.

Studies have suggested that many drinkers reach for the bottle more and more to get to sleep, increasing their doses of alcohol to compensate for the higher tolerance.

A 2004 study by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center shows that these sleeping impairments can last for months — or forever — after stopping drinking, which senior researcher Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D. said prompts former alcohol abusers to start drinking again.

source: The Collegian

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