Dr Sacrifice Chirisa Mental Health Matters
There are risk factors that predispose an individual to alcohol use disorders. Below is a short list of some of the risks:

  • Steady drinking over time: Drinking too much on a regular basis for an extended period or binge drinking on a regular basis can lead to alcohol-related problems or alcohol use disorder.
  • Age: People who begin drinking at an early age, and especially in a binge fashion, are at a higher risk of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use may begin in the teens, but alcohol use disorder occurs more frequently in the 20s and 30s age range. However, it can begin at any age.
  • Family history: The risk of alcohol use disorder is higher for people who have a parent or other close relative who has problems with alcohol. This may be influenced by genetic factors.
  • Depression and other mental health problems: It is common for people with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to have problems with alcohol or other substances.

Social and cultural factors: Having friends or a close partner who drinks regularly could increase your risk of alcohol use disorder. For young people, the influence of parents, peers and other role models can impact risk.

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. In some people, the initial reaction may be stimulation. But as you continue to drink, you become sedated.

Too much alcohol affects your speech, muscle coordination and vital centres of your brain. A heavy drinking binge may even cause a life-threatening coma or death. This is of particular concern when you’re taking certain medications that also depress the brain’s function.

Excessive drinking can reduce your judgment skills and lower inhibitions, leading to poor choices and dangerous situations or behaviours, including:

  • Motor vehicle accidents and other types of accidental injury, such as drowning
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Increased likelihood of committing violent crimes or being the victim of a crime
  • Legal problems or problems with employment or finances
  • Problems with other substance use
  • Engaging in risky, unprotected sex, or becoming the victim of sexual abuse or date rape
  • Increased risk of attempted or completed suicide

Drinking too much alcohol on a single occasion or over time can cause health problems, including:

  • Liver disease: Alcohol can cause increased fat in the liver, inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis), and over time, irreversible liver cirrhosis.
  • Digestive problems: Drinking can result in inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), ulcers and damage your pancreas or leading topancreatitis.
  • Heart problems: Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and increases your risk of an enlarged heart, heart failure or stroke.
  • Diabetes complications: Alcohol interferes with the release of glucose from your liver and can increase the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Sexual function and menstruation issues: Excessive drinking can cause erectile dysfunction in men.
  • Birth defects: Alcohol use during pregnancy may cause miscarriage; it also may cause fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in giving birth to a child who has physical and developmental problems that last a lifetime.
  • Neurological complications: Excessive drinking can affect your nervous system, causing numbness and pain in your hands and feet, disordered thinking, dementia, and short-term memory loss.

This list is far from being complete. The take home message is alcohol does cause serious physical and mental problems. Next week we look at the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

  • Dr S. M. Chirisa is a passionate mental health specialist who holds an undergraduate medical degree and postgraduate Master’s degree in psychiatry, both from the University of Zimbabwe. He is currently working as a Senior Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and is also the current national treasurer of the Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA). He can be reached at [email protected]

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