Effect of alcohol on the human body

I’ve have read in a variety of places that alcohol has no positive benefit whatsoever on the human body. I’ve heard the “drink a glass of red wine a day” argument, and that it’s the other ingredients in the wine that supposedly provide the benefit.

I’ve heard even the small amount in one beer/glass of wine will kill brain cells and cause damage to the kidney and liver; small amounts, yes, but even one beer a day over time, the damage adds up. Etc., etc., yaddayadda.

What’s the Straight Dope? What exactly does alcohol do to the human body?

Inconclusive. The evidence that small amounts of alcohol has any positive effects is pretty weak, but the evidence that small amounts of alcohol have any negative effects is no-existent. Or more concisely, it probably won’t do you any good but it sure won’t do you any harm.

All these dietaries studies are very hard to get definitive effects for unless they are very strong. It used to be thought that alcohol protected from heart disease for example, but larger studies excluding people who were teetotallers for pre-existing medical reasons showed no benefits at all. Then another study that also excluded people who were teetotallers as well as having other dietary restrictions, such as Muslims, showed that the effect existed after all. Last I heard someone was trying o find a dataset that excluded everybody who was a teetotaller for any reason at all beyond “I felt like it” as well as excluding everyone who drank for medical reasons and anyone who had ever drunk to excess. All of which goes to show just how hard it is to even gather data on these things.

But every study I’ve seen does agree that there are no health effects from drinking small amounts of alcohol. Remember the body can metabolise alcohol because it’s a naturally occurring food source. Not only is it found in fallen fruit but your gut actually manufactures it itself if you eat enough fruit. And like most naturally occurring foodsources our body has evolved to cope with it and even benefit from it in small doses. It’s only when we overdose that it presents a problem.

Well, I am an alcoholic, and this is what I can share:

after 8 years of (heavy) drinking I lost my feeling in my legs, later my left hand started to ache. Soon my legs started to swollen up (I think this was because my liver had had enough (I didn’t had the courage to go to a doctor)) , I got these weird reality-distortions, where inanimate objects tried to ambush me (only when I had hang-overs), I got panic-attacks, dream/hallucinations where I coudn’t tell reallity and imagination apart (another hang-over thing, when I tried to sleep only) and extreme fear experiences where my consciousness would disappear and only fear existed (they only lasted for a second at maximum, but i would ‘wake up’ instantely later hearing my self scream in fear)

thankfully these things have disappeared now that I am sober

Interesting. Thank you for your responses.

And BlackFish, I hope that it continues to go well for you. I’ve had friends and family members fight the same fight; I know how hard it is. Good luck!

thanks for your concerns Clothahump :slight_smile:

So, how much does it take before you overdose? Obviously alcoholism is not healthy. But what if you drink 20-30 beers a week. Hwo bad is that, and in what way?

Depends on which study you believe. The safe limits range from one drink a day to six or seven drinks a day over an extended period. One a day for women and two for men seems to be the most widely accepted. One important factor for the higher intakes seems to be time. Drinking 6 drinks over 16 hours seems to be much safer than drinking 6 drinks over 4 hours.

Unless you’re drinking steadily all day long you’ve got a very good chance of developing cirrhosis of the liver. That’s not good at any level.

I always seem to answer a question with another question, so I apologize for that to my fellow Dopers. However…

Isn’t it at least partially true that each individual varies widely? There are obvious differences in tolerance to alcohol, i.e., that men can handle more than women and that it’s weight dependent. But isn’t it also true that some people are just more sensitive to drugs than others and therefore might do more damage with less alcohol than others?

I guess my knee-jerk reaction to this question is that YOU don’t know how much YOUR body can take until it starts to show signs of damage. There may be generalities, but you could always be on one side or the other of the bell curve. Someone give me a cyber-slap if that’s demonstrably false!

That’s true, but it’s kind of hard to apply it to the real world. The same applies to the safe dosage of Aspirin or sunshine or almost anything else in this world. The safe dose always varies between individuals.

In reality all you can do is be sensible and take precautions that work for >95% of the population (which is essentially what a scientific result should demonstrate). If you are unfortunate enough to suffer adverse effects because you fall into that last 5% that may be rather unfortunate but you can’t practically live your life avoiding every potentially dangerous situation because there is a minute chance that you might be hypersensitive.

Ethanol, in and of itself, isn’t particularly beneficial to humans.

However, the things that are with the ethanol that distinguish wine, beer and spirits from each other can have beneficial effects. However, drinking too much beer in the pursuit of vitamins and minerals, or too much red wine for the antioxidants is not a good idea.

This site compares several beverages on purported health benefits and hazards.

The jury is still out on that, unless you have more recent knowledge. The health benefits of alcohol, if they exist, seem to be found regardless of what the alcohol is. Vodka, which is near enough pure ethanol, has the same benefits as red wine. That suggests that alcohol may well be beneficial to humans and that people attributing the benefits to antioxidants and so forth are barking up the wrong tree.

I asked a similar question in this thread and got some excellent answers from some of the board’s medical people. This post gives a pretty good rundown on how to figure what’s considered safe (or unsafe) for different categories of alcoholic beverages. I cut my drinking back drastically thanks to that thread and the excellent advice I got from it.

From one of the linked threads, here’s a pithy generalization from a fairly reputable source, The Lancet:

In a different vein… a small amount of alcohol can reduce tremors and small muscle movements. More alcohol messes it up again, but a small amount can actually “steady the hand”. (No cite except my PhD wife who explained it with words I didn’t understand.)