April 20, 2015

The irony of alcohol

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, so I thought it only fitting that I write a bit about this rather ironic substance.

It is ironic that alcohol is legal and is potentially so dangerous. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2013), 3.3 million deaths occur each year from some form “harmful use of alcohol.”
I always think about alcohol being legal when legalization of other substances are discussed. I actually vacillate on this issue, and alcohol and its history have a great deal to do with my indecision – although for the most part I do believe legalization of drugs would really send the wrong message to our youth.
…Back to alcohol proper:
Alcohol can lead to memory loss, as well as blackouts, seizures, muscle coordination issues, cluster and migraine headaches, severe dehydration, major organ damage, vitamin depletion – particularly the B vitamins, which can result in Wernicke's encephalopathy, and Korsakoff psychosis, neuropathy, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and as previously noted, even death. And mind you, I did not even mention vehicular or industrial accidents.
Besides Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, women in general succumb to alcohol-related illness faster then men. This has been related to lower water concentrations, and perhaps hormones (NIAAA, 2014). There have also been studies dating back to the mid-90's, that have looked at lower enzyme levels in women, particularly alcohol dehydrogenase (NEJM, 1995), which negatively impact gastric metabolism.
All in all, alcohol is an extremely dangerous substance that is ironically legal. It cost our world billions of dollars a year in health issues, and more importantly, results in millions of deaths. I for one am glad we have a month to raise awareness about this potentially lethal substance, and the brain disease of alcoholism.

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