Ethanol C2H5Oh: The chemical compound of alcohol. A substance which we ingest monthly, weekly, or even daily, for fun, a time-out, an escape. Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. But what is in it and why do we drink it?
Alcohol is made when yeast breaks down (ferments) the sugars in fruits, vegetables, or grains, and different alcohols are made by fermenting different ingredients.
Whether it’s a date, a celebration, a party, or a casual social event, alcohol is almost always a given. It is the social norm to ingest a substance which might make us feel silly and disoriented on almost every occasion.
According to researchers, human consumption of alcohol may have begun ten million years ago. Fascinatingly, scientists have noted that “The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting, fermenting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.” (1) Nowadays, that equates to the ability to consume alcohol as a means to deal with the stress of work, family fallouts, and overall unhappiness. Modern humans consume ethanol to help us dine on a fiercely competitive world and ever-increasing pressure to perform. So, it is reassuring to hear that, even ten million years ago, our ancestors also drunk alcohol to be numb to their unpleasant reality.
Is it reassuring though, or is it disconcerting? Is it not a depressing thought that we live in a world in which people feel the desire, the need, to ingest a destructive liquid in the face of life’s burdens? Can’t we encourage open discussion, compromise, and genuine solutions to our problems to help ourselves in a way which doesn’t require swallowing a harmful toxin?
Because it is just that, a harmful toxin, a poison. While at first the term ‘alcohol poisoning’ might appear to mean illness from gone-off or spiked alcohol, it is simply another term for ‘alcohol intoxication’, the effect of drinking alcohol. So, as a nation, a world, a society, we are willingly poisoning ourselves for fun and are very accepting of the fact.
Having brought this to your attention, I can now openly admit my truth - I too am far from teetotal. But over recent months, I have been asking myself why do I, why do we, put ourselves through the ordeal of drinking alcohol and all its unpleasant side effects, and what could the benefits be if we were to go alcohol free?
We can all agree that alcohol can be the perpetrator of minor inconveniences: stumbling out of the pub after a few too many and tripping on your own feet, showing up an hour late for a family dinner because you lost track of time, hunching over your toilet all morning being forced to have another look at last night’s two bottles of red wine. But when was the last time we actually stopped to think about the real impact alcohol was having on our personal development, bodies and mental health, and what areas of our lives could see some benefit from taking time away from the drink?
Physical health. It is no secret that the alcoholic beverage is not the healthiest concoction on the menu. Your body will thank you for saying no to that bottle of wine and sparing it roughly 600 empty calories, which do nothing for it nutritionally.
Alcohol can be damaging for the throat - statistics suggest that just under a quarter of cases of laryngeal cancer are caused by alcohol. (2)
Alcohol is the second most common cause of liver disease and the leading cause of death from liver disease in the UK. (2)
Mental health. Whilst drinking alcohol might make things seem better for a short while, excessive alcohol intake can cause depression and anxiety in the long term, as well as evoking addictive tendencies. This means that the longer that alcohol is used as short-term relief, the harder it is to stop turning to it for comfort. (2)
Money. Ten pounds for a cocktail at a bar is daylight robbery, but we pay it willingly. And the next day, we’ll begrudge ourselves a nutritious and delicious but ‘expensive’ salad because it is six pounds. Start totalling the amount you spend on alcohol per week, and you could be shocked. What could you do with the money if you put it all aside, instead of drinking alcohol every weekend? Thank me later.
Memory. As well as the “blackout” people experience after drinking too much, long term alcoholism can also have a more serious impact on memory. According to Alcohol Addiction Center, alcohol has a deleterious effect on brain cells, and it erodes the hippocampus, which means you can soon lose long-term memories. (3)
Clarity of mind. No hangovers. No “hanxiety” or “brain-fog.” No mornings of “What did I do last night? What did I say last night?” Only mornings of “I remember everything from last night. Nothing to dwell over, time to start my day.” Need I say more?
Improved sleep. While alcohol may help people to fall asleep quickly, sleep after drinking is not sleep of quality, and one often wakes up feeling groggy and confused. This lack of sleep has a knock-on impact to other aspects of life. The sufficient, high-quality sleep we are more likely to get after a night on the orange juice will have us waking up feeling fresh and energised.
Overall, moderation is the key, but keep in mind the addictiveness of alcohol. Often, we have the intention to drink only one, however, sadly, one leads to another, and another. But we are all human. If you enjoy alcohol, and drink it only seldom and safely, that’s great. We are all allowed our guilty pleasures. If, however, you are worried about your alcohol consumption and think that it may be affecting you negatively, speak to your GP. There is help out there.
1. Choi, C., 2014. Origins of Human Alcohol Consumption Revealed. [online] livescience.com. Available at: <https://www.livescience.com/48958-human-origins-alcohol-consumption.html> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
2. Guts UK. n.d. Alcohol & The Digestive System - Guts UK. [online] Available at: <https://gutscharity.org.uk/advice-and-information/health-and-lifestyle/alcohol-the-digestive-system/> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
3. Alcohol Addiction Center. n.d. How Does Alcohol Effect Your Memory: Short and Long Term? - Alcohol Addiction Center. [online] Available at: <https://alcoholaddictioncenter.org/alcohol/effects/memory/> [Accessed 16 June 2022].