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If you follow the news, or even just surf the Internet, you’ve probably seen mixed messages about alcohol use. One day, you hear that red wine is full of antioxidants and good for the heart. The next day, you read that alcohol is the direct cause of 7 forms of cancer.

Because the society we will live is built around alcohol consumption, people will believe pretty much anything when it comes to alcohol being “healthy.” If I were to ask about the negative health effects of alcohol, you would probably say liver disease, high blood pressure, hangovers, and addiction. While these are some of the most serious and well known, there are so many more unexpected health effects of alcohol. Many of them go unnoticed, or unheard of. Here are a few:

1. Permanent Brain Damage

Binge drinking and heavy drinking can lead to blackouts and memory loss. Long-term drinking in this matter can cause permanent brain damage. Alcohol affects the parts of the brain that control judgement, concentration, coordination, behavior, and emotions. Even moderate drinking is said to lead to short-term impairment. Long-term drinking has far-reaching effects ranging from slips in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that require lifetime care. Young people’s brains are particularly at risk because the brain is still developing during their teenage years.

2. Mood Fluctuations

Alcohol is often used to help people cope with difficult situations and emotions. We are convinced that it reduces stress and anxiety and helps us relax, but that’s just not the case. Ironically, alcohol can intensify our underlying feelings, bring about past memories of trauma, or bring repressed feelings to the forefront. It’s why many people feel sad, overwhelmed, and depressed the day after drinking. Extreme levels of drinking can occasionally cause a type of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. A condition called delirium tremens that includes tremors and confusion is possible when you stop drinking after heavy periods of use. If you’re looking for a mood stabilizer, alcohol isn’t it.

3. Changes Brain Chemistry

Alcohol changes your brain chemistry. Regular drinking decreases the level of the brain chemical serotonin, a key chemical in depression. Additionally, alcohol affects excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, resulting in a slowdown of your brain’s highways. Alcohol increases the level of dopamine in your brain which makes you think it makes you feel great. With ongoing exposure to alcohol, the brain actually adapts to the chemical changes so that the brain can perform more normally when alcohol is present in the body. Long-term chemical changes in the brain are responsible for many negative effects of alcohol, like alcohol dependence.

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4. Worsens Anxiety

Once the alcohol wears off, you might feel more anxious than before. Alcohol-induced anxiety can last for hours and even days after the alcohol is no longer in your system. In fact, long-term heavy drinkers may be predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder. Additionally, increased anxiety is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Anxiety is a frequent result of suddenly stopping drinking after a long period of heavy drinking. Other negative effects of alcohol use like blackouts, memory loss, and brain damage can also contribute to heightened levels of anxiety.

5. Decreases Restful Sleep

Many claim that alcohol helps them fall asleep. While this is essentially true, alcohol dramatically affects the quality and quantity of sleep. After drinking, a sleep-causing chemical in the brain called adenosine increases and makes you to fall asleep, but it then it quickly subsides, making you more likely to wake up before you’re really rested. Alcohol also can interrupt your Circadian Rhythm, block REM sleep, aggravate breathing problems, and wake you up for trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. You may fall asleep fast, but you will also wake up more frequently. The interruption of REM is especially problematic as it is the most restorative type of sleep and without it you’re left waking up feeling groggy and unfocused.

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