Friday, August 12, 2011

Alcohol and Heart Disease: Learning Healthier Behaviors

Alcohol and Heart Disease: Learning Healthier Behaviors
Most people don’t think of alcohol as a drug but it is. Alcohol abuse
has destroyed more lives, broken apart more families, caused more
diseases, and contributed to more auto fatalities than any other drug.
It is the major contributing factor in the growing epidemic of domes-
tic violence.
More than half of all adults drink, but, not everyone who drinks is
an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a complex psychosocial disease. Those who
drink risk becoming an alcoholic. It impairs your judgment and af-
fects the way you think, feel, and communicate.
The cause of alcoholism is unknown, but, like heart disease, there
are both controllable and uncontrollable risk factors. Having an al-
coholic parent is an uncontrollable risk. You are at risk if you are
angry, lonely, or sad or have few or no friends. Those who are poor or
under great stress are also at risk for alcoholism.
Alcohol addiction has four characteristics:
1. Alcoholism carries an overwhelming urge to repeat the experience of getting high on alcohol. At times, this urge
“Alcohol and Heart Disease,” Disease/alcohol_and_heart_disease.asp. © 2007 Women’s Heart Foundation ( Reprinted with permission. Women’s Heart Foundation is the only non-governmental nonprofit organization implementing heart dis-ease prevention and wellness programs in schools and is dedicated to improving survival and quality of life. Founded June 11, 1992.
  will go beyond the strength of a person’s will to resist, no matter how much risk or harm may be involved.
2. Satisfying the urge to drink becomes the top priority in the alcoholic’s life. This urge can become stronger than sexual needs, stronger than the need to satisfy hunger, stronger even than
the need for survival.
3. The urge to get high with alcohol becomes linked to all other aspects of life. Tension, depression, anger, and excitement can all trigger the desire to take a drink.
4. No matter how long an alcoholic has been sober, he or she will always be at risk for alcohol abuse. As time passes with sobriety, the urge to drink weakens and occurs less often, but it can return with ferocious and overpowering strength at any time.
Do you wonder if drinking may be a problem for you? Take this quiz to find out.
• Do you calm yourself down with a drink when under pressure at work?
• Do you ever have hangovers?
• Do family quarrels usually occur after you have had a drink or two?
• Does your family think you drink too much?
• Have you ever injured yourself or other persons after drinking?
• Are you often on, and off, the wagon?
• Have you ever driven while intoxicated?
• Do you avoid situations where it would be difficult for you to get a drink if you wanted one?
• When giving yourself a second or third drink, do you reassure yourself that you deserve it?
• If you know that you have to drive home in an hour, do you ever have a second drink anyway?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need to look carefully at how alcohol is affecting your life and your relationships with others. Discuss your concerns with your primary care doctor.
Alcohol and Heart Disease: Learning Healthier Behaviors
How much alcohol is “safe” to drink on a daily basis? For some, no amount of alcohol is safe to take in. It is highly addictive and, as tolerance level increases, control decreases.
Alcohol’s Effect on the Heart
Numerous studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption helps protect against heart disease by raising HDL ([high-density lipoprotein] good) cholesterol and reducing plaque accumulations in your arteries. Alcohol also has a mild anti-coagulating effect, keeping platelets from clumping together to form clots. Both actions can reduce risk of heart attack but exactly how alcohol influences either one still remains unclear.
On the other hand, drinking more than three drinks a day has a direct toxic effect on the heart. Heavy drinking, particularly over time, can damage the heart and lead to high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, (enlarged and weakened heart), congestive heart failure, and stroke. Heavy drinking puts more fat into the circulation in your body, raising your triglyceride level. That’s why doctors will tell you “If you don’t drink, don’t start.” There are other, healthier ways to reduce your risk of heart disease like eating right, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
What’s “Moderate Drinking” for one may be legally drunk for another. By nature’s design, a woman’s body metabolizes alcohol differently so that one alcoholic beverage in a woman is equal to two in a man. Alcohol remains in a woman’s body longer than in a man’s. Also, the older you are, the less efficient the body can metabolize alcohol. Many states have revised their drunk-driving laws and 0.08 percent is considered to be intoxicated. Women, especially women of small stature, must be alert to these laws and metabolic differences when drinking, and limit their alcohol intake accordingly.
Other Medical Consequences of Alcoholism
Studies show that alcoholics have a worse outcome after under-going surgical procedures. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Poorer outcomes may be attributed to a poorer general state of health with malnutrition and the depressant effects of alcohol. Binge drinking (consuming large amounts of alcohol infrequently, such as on weekends) places one at risk for atrial fibrillation which may also be a factor in surviving surgery. Still another factor is that heavy drinking affects the body’s ability to stop bleeding. A liver damaged by alcohol has trouble making clotting proteins. Alcohol interacts with many drugs—both prescription and non- prescription. Mixing alcohol with your medicine can lead to serious untoward effects.
Alcoholism increases risk of cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of the liver. Long-term heavy use of alcohol destroys the cerebellum of the brain, causing irreversible brain damage and resulting in slowed thinking, an unsteady walk, and slurred speech. Alcoholism contributes to many diseases, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, malnutrition, pancreatitis, stomach ulcer, fetal alcohol syndrome, and heart disease, just to name a few.


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