You might want to think twice before reaching for that drink

You might want to think twice before reaching for that drink

This month has become known as “Dry January,” as people give up alcohol for the month to either help with losing weight or balance the amount drinking they did over the holidays.

Despite attempts like these, a recent study shows that that U.S. deaths due to alcohol-related liver diseases doubled between 1999 and 2017.

“Alcohol can affect all organs” shares Dr. John Brems, Hepatobiliary & Pancreatic surgeon for Advocate Health Care’s Center for Advanced Liver & Pancreatic Care, “From heart disease to the brain, liver disease to the pancreatitis, alcohol is a toxin to one’s body.”

Dr. Brems says that like any drug, people use alcohol to self-medicate an unresolved issue, instead of reaching out to their doctor.

He says that there are two types of alcoholics: People who binge drink on the weekends and people who drink every day.  There is a general stereotype that many alcoholics are homeless, but alcoholics can be very successful.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has estimated that 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol misuse also is an economic burden to society, costing the U.S. $249 billion in 2010.

Though men are at more risk to have alcohol-related liver disease, women are at greater risk to be affected. The stomach enzyme that breaks down the alcohol is different between males and females causing females to not metabolize alcohol as effectively.

However, each person handles alcohol differently. Some alcoholics can live to an old age and have no issues while others have transplants in their 20s. But overall, most people with an alcohol problem have a greater risk of diseases and cirrhosis or fatty liver. Cirrhosis is an end stage. Even if you stop drinking with cirrhosis, you can still get liver cancer. Patients need to have regular follow ups with their physician to make sure their fatty livers don’t produce cancer.

For the new year Dr. Brems recommends the following advice when it comes to alcohol:

  • Remember, alcohol is a drug. No matter what type of drink you have, it has consequences if not kept in check. Most of Dr. Brem’s patients are not surprised by the cause of their diseases, but they had been in denial that it could happen to them.
  • If your life centers around drinking alcohol, be honest with yourself about your relationship with alcohol. How often do you have it and how much? When do you tend to desire an alcoholic drink? And do you have triggers that cause you to pour a glass? View this checklist on the signs of being an alcoholic.
  • If you realize you have a problem or are on your way to becoming an alcoholic, reach out to your primary care physician or psychologist. They can listen to your concerns and recommend next steps for addressing family stress, friend pressures, depression and anxiety disorders in a healthier manner and lifestyle going forward.
  • For when you drink: Substitute water in between drinks at a gathering to keep hydrated, have people you respect hold you to drinking in moderation, and make sure you exercise and eat well to combat those carbs.

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About the Author

Jennifer Benson
Jennifer Benson

Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.