Pick Your Poison

The Razor’s Edge, by Madeleine

I woke up in a tent, high up in the Appalachian Mountains, darkness creeping in through the unzipped flap that served as the door, when a heavily booted foot struck my ribcage. It was a harsh wakeup call, and I jolted into consciousness to hear drunken mumbling as a friend staggered through, his mind and body sluggish, the result of too much cheap beer.

Aside from the shock of being so rudely awakened, I felt anger and disappointment. I know the effect alcohol has on your body, and I have been unfortunate enough to witness the effects it has on your life. It destroys marriages, friendships, and careers. If you drink enough, you can even drink yourself to death. And either my friend did not know this, or he didn’t care. My anger stemmed in part from this, and in part from the fact that when intoxicated he could hurt someone, or himself, and he would never even know it. I went back to sleep that night wondering if he was going to throw up in the middle of the night and suffocate in his own vomit. He was so sick. I know everyone else in the tent was wondering the same thing. We just made sure he was in the right position, and hoped for the best. If he so much as coughed, everyone’s hearts leapt into their throats.

As you might have guessed, this month’s article is about alcohol. I’m sure you’ve all encountered it at least once at some point in your life, and probably more often than that. But before we go any further, I want to start with a disclaimer.

Drinking alcohol does not make you a bad person. However, whether you agree with it or not, is up to you to decide.

How does alcohol work and what does it do to your body?

When you take a sip of alcohol, it is absorbed into your bloodstream, where it is carried throughout your body, including to your brain. Being a depressant, the first thing you probably notice is your change in mood. You’ve most likely heard of the term happy drunk, because alcohol can be used as a social lubricant, but you know the drunks that end up sobbing at the bar? That’s more than likely to happen because of the nature of alcohol—it is a depressant, the use of which carries with it an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Heavy drinkers often have rosy cheeks, a red nose, or a red face entirely. This is because alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, and blood to rush just below the surface of the skin. Occasional drinkers experience this too, but heavy drinkers will sometimes suffer from it permanently thanks to stretching of the skin, which causes blood vessels to remain dilated.

Drinking also causes skin problems such as acne or dry skin (alcohol dehydrates your skin). Alcohol may also cause bloating because of extra calories consumed. Drinks such as beer and wine are high in empty calories.

Over drinking can irritate the stomach, causing stomach upset and possibly diarrhea. It also carries with it an increased risk of stomach cancer over time. Also, it can cause pancreatitis, in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, damaging to the cells.

You’ve probably heard of a hangover, the symptoms of which include, but are not limited to, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, nausea, sensitivity to light, and loss of appetite.

A hangover starts when alcohol blocks the production of vasopressin. This causes all the water in your system to be sent directly to your bladder instead of being of being absorbed by your body, causing frequent urination. This also causes rapid dehydration. During urination, sodium and potassium, which are vital for proper muscle and nerve control, are lost. Now the person not only has a headache from dehydration, but from low levels of sodium and potassium, and can develop fatigue and nausea as side effects. Your liver also needs water to process alcohol, doubling the negative effects of dehydration.

Probably the most well known side effect of heavy drinking, and the most deadly, is cirrhosis. Your liver processes alcohol (metabolizing it), but in doing so toxic byproducts are formed. These are more damaging to the body than alcohol. Cirrhosis is the consequence of chronic liver damage, resulting in scarring of the liver and causing poor liver function. The liver cannot heal itself once the damage is severe. Cirrhosis can lead to serious health complications, and ultimately liver failure and death.

In short, that is what happens when alcohol enters your bloodstream. That being said, drinking is not all bad. In moderation, studies have shown that drinking can help prevent dementia and diabetes. It also may have qualities such as stress reduction, longevity, and increased cardiovascular health.

Beyond that, sharing a drink with family and friends can be a great experience. In my family, drinking is a social affair. I have grown up watching my parents sit and have a beer while enjoying conversation with friends. Just one or two, which, if consumed within a reasonable time frame (it takes your body approximately one hour to process one beer) can be healthy. Not only that, social people are less likely to get sick than those who do not visit with friends, so there are health benefits to just sitting with a friend and talking.

Drinking can be a very enjoyable pastime if done with friends, and/or, with moderation. It’s when you drink too much that it turns ugly. The purpose of this article isn’t to educate you on all the possible effects of alcohol, good or bad, but to give you a general idea of what it can do so that when you are faced with the choice of how much to drink, you can make an educated decision.

Please don’t be that guy stumbling through at one in the morning, sick as a dog. Maybe he did it on purpose, or maybe he didn’t know any better. I didn’t ask. But when you are intoxicated, you’re not in control of your actions, and you put yourself and others at risk. And please remember, that although having too much once is forgivable, because it is a mistake, doing so again and again can and will destroy your relationships, and possibly kill you.

Don’t be that guy.

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own. Some of them have faces we recognize–the faces of family and friends, maybe even the face we see when we look in the mirror. I want to share with you the information I have about all these things, so that maybe you can recognize them and walk away from danger or help out a friend who doesn’t see it or saw it too late.” Visit her blog at http://yourstorydieswithyou.blogspot.com

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