Does Casual Drinking Have Long-Term Health Effects?

Jazmine Bahr · Mar 12 2016

It’s common knowledge that doing anything to excess over time causes detrimental impacts on a person’s overall health. So! What about those of us who fall into the “socially acceptable” category of casual drinking?

Does this type of consumption produce any long-term health issues that we should be concerned about?

The answer might vary based on how you define “casual drinking.” For some, it means kicking off their shoes after a long days work and cracking a beer. For others, it’s enjoying a glass of wine to enhance the flavour profiles of their meal. And for others, it involves heading down to the pub after work with a few colleagues.

There are some studies which suggest that people who have one drink per day are healthier than both their teetotaling friends and their heavy drinking counterparts.

We begin to move into problematic territory when we classify our after work and weekend get together with friends over a glass of beer as “casual drinking.” These types of social engagements help us to unwind and to release the pent up stress from work.

Unfortunately, these times often lead to excessive drinking which can have a detrimental impact on our health. Excessive drinking can cause liver disease, brain damage, high blood pressure, and increase your risk of certain cancers. It also can reduce your natural inhibitions and lead to violence and socially inappropriate behaviour.

Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is not a stimulant; it’s a depressant. Therefore, excessive alcohol consumption often leads to feelings of depression.

The standard measurements for safe alcohol consumption are 4 drinks for men, and 3 drinks for women in any given sitting. A standard drink in the United States consists of 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in a 12oz glass of beer. But, it’s important to note that serving sizes are often more than one standard drink.

The major problem with excessive drinking is the inability of the liver to keep up with the detoxification process required to denature the alcohol so it doesn’t damage our health.

Generally speaking, our liver is able to process 1 standard drink per hour up to the recommended amounts for each gender. Beyond this point, the drinks begin to compound, and the liver is unable to keep up with processing these quantities. This is when people start to experience signs of intoxication as the liver works diligently to defend the body against what is essentially poison.

Overtime, excessive drinking leads to liver disease and the many chronic health concerns which are associated with a damaged liver. Your liver is an extremely important organ and is responsible for over 500 functions in your body. Unfortunately, when your liver is forced to work on alcohol consumption, it neglects many of its other important functions. The bottom line is this: your liver is far too important to your body’s health to damage it by overconsumption of alcohol.

Overall, the CDC advises that we limit our alcohol intake to 10 drinks for men, and 7 drinks for women, per week. Otherwise, we risk alcohol-induced damage to our bodies. So, do your after work and weekend excursions with colleagues and friends land you over the limit of “casual drinker?” If yes, you are playing Russian roulette with your overall health.

But it’s never too late to alter your drinking habits. Luckily, the liver is an incredible organ that has the ability to regenerate itself every 30 days. If given a break, from what you call “your harmless get together over a few cold ones” your liver can restore itself to prime health in no time at all.

As enjoyable as it may feel to let loose with your friends, it’s important to take the effort to play within the guidelines. Something that is so socially acceptable in North American society can leave us in a vulnerable position if we choose to ignore the dangers of excessive drinking.

Back to the original question: “Does casual/social drinking have a long-term negative effect on one’s health?” Not likely, as long as we stay within the standard measurement for safe alcohol consumption.

Here are some tips to help you reduce the risk of drinking too much when you get together with your friends:

• Set strict limits for yourself and stick to them
• Start with non-alcoholic drinks and alternate with alcoholic drinks
• Drink slowly and give you liver the chance to do its work
• Try drinks with a lower alcohol content
• Eat before and while you are drinking
• Find a buddy who will keep you accountable

If you are struggling to keep within the prescribed guidelines, consult a health professional to help you make lifestyle adjustments. You may also want to do some research on ways that you can help strengthen your liver’s health through natural remedies. Milk Thistle supplementation is a natural herb that can be taken daily to promote optimum liver health.