Greater Than Beer Money: the Real Costs of Drinking

Many college students have extensive knowledge when it comes to alcohol and its consumption: how to shotgun a Natty Light, which flavor of Rubinoff is the least nausea-inducing and which dorms throw the best parties on the weekends. But not all students who indulge in alcohol and binge drinking know the effect that alcohol actually has on their bodies.

Binge drinking is defined as “drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Photo courtesy of Andy Pixel / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Andy Pixel / Flickr

When drinking, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and circulated throughout the body. If a person drinks more alcohol than the body can process-- which occurs when college students binge drink--it not only makes them drunk but can also cause serious physical damage to their bodies. According to Healthline, women are at a greater risk for many alcohol-related diseases because their bodies absorb more alcohol and take longer to process it.

The liver is the organ that has to work the hardest to process alcohol, as the liver’s function is to break down harmful substances. Cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver, can result from chronic liver inflammation brought on by excessive drinking. Too much scar tissue can destroy the liver, leading to life threatening liver disease as toxic substances remain in the body because the organ can no longer do its job.

Alcohol abuse can also lead to serious inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis, which can lead to the destruction of this organ as well. A damaged liver and pancreas can cause unbalanced blood sugar levels, which is especially dangerous for people with diabetes.

Any college student knows that if a buddy is slurring their words and having difficulty standing up or walking straight, they’ve had too much to drink. Drinking heavily can cause changes in mood, problems thinking clearly, slurred speech and a lack of balance and coordination. This is a result of alcohol reaching the brain and interfering with the brain’s communication pathways, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In the short term, heavy drinking affects impulse control and the ability to form memories. Over the long term, binge drinking can shrink the brain’s frontal lobes and cause permanent brain damage.

Photo courtesy of McBeth / Flickr

Photo courtesy of McBeth / Flickr

Binge drinking--either on a single occasion or over a long period of time--can seriously damage the heart. Problems that can arise include high blood pressure, greater risk of stroke and heart attack, irregular heartbeat and stretching of the heart muscle. However, moderate amounts of certain alcohols like red wine can help to prevent heart disease thanks to antioxidants.

The immune system is weakened by alcohol abuse, making heavy drinkers more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis--not to mention the common cold and flu, which can be detrimental to a college student's well-being. There is also a heightened risk of developing cancer, including liver, mouth, throat, esophagus, heart and breast cancer.

The effects of alcohol aren't all bad, though; a new study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, has suggested that drinkers outlive nondrinkers. Although binge drinking is associated with higher risk for cancers, liver disease, heart disease and other problems, heavy drinkers have a lower mortality rate than abstainers. Moderate drinkers who indulge in one to three drinks a day have the lowest mortality rate according to the study, followed by heavy drinkers and lastly by nondrinkers.

Photo courtesy of B Rosen / Flickr

Photo courtesy of B Rosen / Flickr

Alcohol is a key ingredient in many social interactions and being social is essential for mental and physical health, one reason that may explain why drinkers are more likely to live longer. Nondrinkers show more signs of depression, possibly because they aren’t enjoying as many social interactions.

Hopefully the college students drinking this weekend will enjoy the benefits of a fun social scene and a longer life, while avoiding the serious health problems associated with taking too many shots of pink lemonade-flavored Ruby. Regardless of your chosen alcohol intake, please remember to drink responsibly for the sake of both yourself and those around you.

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