Alcohol is harmful to the body

Dear Editor,

I laud the work (writings and grass roots activism) of Messrs Annan Boodram and Nowrang Persaud and others who seek to address issues pertaining to alcohol abuse (as penned in recent letters in SN). Alcoholism has had a debilitating effect on society, and, therefore, all efforts must be directed at reducing its incidence. Those who imbibe need to know about the dangers of alcohol with the goal of reducing consumption. The message for them is to drink in moderation, not to get drunk as many do losing control of the senses and engaging in pathological or deviant behaviour.

As I (indeed every bio-chemist) learned during my laboratory training while pursuing an undergraduate degree in Bio-Chemistry, and in teaching Health Science for several years, alcohol has dangerous (poisonous) substances harmful to the body, and it also causes people to lose their senses when consumed in excess. The alcohol people drink (found in spirits, wine, beer, etc) is ethanol, that is also known as ethyl alcohol, to differentiate it from methanol or methyl alcohol commonly used by Guyanese outside the body (methylated spirits) although some are known to consume it, which is very, very harmful. There are also several other types of alcohol with extremely high danger levels, some of which can even cause skin cancer in those exposed for a long time even when breathing its fumes (it can also lead to lung cancer). In the US and several developed countries, ethanol is mixed with regular gasoline to run vehicles – an indication of the kind of poisonous substances that are in alcohol – the less you drink the better for the body.

Health experts say a drink a day is not bad, but too many drinks take a toll on the body. Some cultures (Middle East and parts of India) prohibit drinking and some cultures encourage (as in Italy, France, Germany, etc) drinking even among children. But in drinking cultures, people consume alcohol in moderation at dinners and social occasions, whereas in Guyana, people tend to drink till they are drunk. And that is the problem; heavy drinking damages the body in addition to presenting all the pathological effects and deviant behaviour described by several letter writers. Too many drinks present a high risk of liver disease, heart disease, kidney disorder, reduced vision, sleep disorder, depression, stroke, internal bleeding, cancer, malnutrition, osteoporosis, pancreas destruction, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health conditions – too many to describe that can lead to an early death. If one is diabetic (and Indians, in particular have a high incidence of diabetes for genetic reasons) alcohol makes managing it difficult. If one has high blood pressure HBP (and Africans, in particular, and a large percentage of Indians are known to suffer from HBP because of genetic factors), managing HBP is very difficult.  HBP can lead to stroke and death while diabetes can lead to malfunctioning of the kidneys and other organs leading to an early death. And if one is on medication, alcohol affects its effectiveness; people should not consume alcohol if on tablets.

If people imbibe too much, they are really drinking themselves to death, and that should be the focus of writers and health activists. In the US, for example, 25% of the deaths of people below 40 are attributed to alcohol, and males are two times more likely to die from alcohol than females – males drink a lot more than females. Health experts warn that drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems in the baby. Researchers also found that when drunk, people lose control over their mental faculty, and they do crazy or even criminal acts that could lead to the injury to or death of themselves or of others. Many drownings, sexual assaults, homicides, vehicular accidents, falls, physical injuries, suicides, etc, occur when people had one too many to drink. In Guyana, one reads in the papers that fights and killings are routine among drunks (even among best friends, family members and neighbours) as the brain loses control. One simply does not know what one is doing when drunk. Domestic abuse is rampant in homes where people drink heavily. Other personal problems emerge out of drinking  ‒ homes are broken up as a result of excessive drinking; people lose friends, a driver’s licence or a job, etc. There is shame and embarrassment among family members and the drunks themselves.

Clearly, there are too many health risks and family and habitat issues associated with drinking. As medical experts advise, light drinking (just a couple) can be good for the health, but having too many drinks is harmful to the body, the family and the community at large. Thus, work needs to be done at all levels to educate people about the dangers of alcoholism. In schools, the young should be educated about the dangers of alcohol; there are mandatory lessons in US junior and high schools.

Here are some tips for those who imbibe: to reduce the effects of alcohol on the body, avoid drinking on an empty stomach as food slows down the effects of alcohol on the body, and when drinking snack on something. Add plain or seltzer water to dilute alcohol; avoid the sugar of soft drinks which only worsen health. Also, avoid salty snacks which lead to more drinking. After a few drinks, call it a day. Keep yourself busy doing chores or physical exercises or playing games as these will reduce the urge for a drink. The less you drink, the healthier will be your life. It is considered normal social behaviour to offer people a drink when they visit someone’s home in Guyana and the diaspora. I always decline. Offer guests a delicious cup of chai or coffee as I do in my home, or request when visiting others. On recent visits to Europe and Asia, hosts first offer coffee or a chai. The same should be done in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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