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Individuals often suffer from alcohol problems in combination with depression.

About 2 billion people across the world consume alcoholic drinks. Alcohol consumption can harm health as well as social relations, but the nature and the severity of the effects depend on both the amount of alcohol consumed over time, and the pattern of drinking.

Possible injuries, alcohol dependence, and chronic diseases can lead to losses in quality of life and to premature deaths.

Around 76 million currently have alcohol use disorders, such as excessive drinking and alcohol dependence.

Alcohol consumption can be measured by analysing production and sales statistics and by asking people about their drinking habits. Such surveys have mostly been conducted in developed countries. They can reveal heavy drinking episodes which would go unnoticed in overall statistics.

Individuals are alcohol dependent when obtaining and consuming alcohol takes priority over many other aspects of their lives that they previously considered more important. Alcohol dependence is consistently higher among men than among women. In some countries, alcohol dependence affects more than 10% of the population.

Alcohol can cause physical, mental and social effects, which are determined by both the amount of alcohol consumed and the pattern of drinking.

A series of diseases are entirely caused by alcohol, such as alcohol dependence and alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Alcohol consumption also clearly increases the risk of some cancers (including lip, tongue, throat, oesophagus, liver, and breast cancer). Depending on the drinking pattern, alcohol can have a damaging or a protective role in the development of diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

The fetus is at risk when the mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy. Effects range from slow growth to birth defects and mental retardation. Maternal drinking can also cause spontaneous abortion or premature birth.

Individuals often suffer from alcohol problems in combination with depression and alcohol can play a role in causing depression. The higher the amount consumed, the greater the number of symptoms of depression. However, these symptoms tend to decrease or disappear during alcohol abstinence.

Alcohol increases the risks of physical injury mainly from road accidents, but also from falls, fires, violence, etc. The risk of traffic accidents increases with the level of alcohol in the blood, even at relatively low levels. Alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, impairs the drinkers' ability to think and makes them more prone to emotional responses.

Overall, more life years are lost due to alcohol than "saved" through its beneficial health effects on the heart and blood vessels (when consumed moderately). In developed countries alcohol is the third most important risk factor for disease only exceeded by tobacco and high blood pressure. In developing countries with high mortality rates other risk factors such as undernutrition and unsafe sex are more important.

Alcohol can cause social effects and health effects (both physical and mental).

Social effects are for instance those that affect the behaviour of individuals, or how they interact with others. Although mainly health effects of alcohol are discussed here, it is important to note that social harm has a major impact on well-being, even if it cannot be easily quantified.

Health effects of alcohol have been observed in nearly every organ of the body. Indeed alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 60 diseases.

The effects of alcohol on health and well-being can manifest themselves as chronic disease, accidents and injuries, as well as short-term and long-term social consequences. Both the amount of alcohol consumed and the pattern of drinking determine whether there will be:

  • biochemical effects on cells and organs in the body,
  • intoxication, and/or
  • alcohol dependence.
  • Biochemical effects of moderate consumption can be beneficial, such as protection against coronary heart disease, but more usually harmful, leading for instance to damage to the pancreas.

    Intoxication is strongly linked to accidents, injuries, deaths, domestic conflict and violence.

    Alcohol dependence is a powerful mechanism that sustains alcohol consumption and its short-term and long-term consequences.

    Some diseases, such as alcohol dependence, are clearly fully attributable to alcohol. Others, such as cirrhosis of the liver are mainly attributable to alcohol, while others, such as breast cancer, are only partly attributable to alcohol. The extent to which alcohol contributes to a disease is expressed in "alcohol attributable fractions" (AAFs). In a similar way, it is possible to establish the AAF for road traffic accidents, based on the alcohol concentration in the driver's blood

  • .Enjoy a social drink in moderation with friends and family, an make it a joyous occasion, dont spoil it by overconsumption, which can lead to things being said, that are better left unsaid, and in some cases actual physical harm.

  • Drinking by yourself in moderation or occasionally is ok, but dependance on a regular basis is not, and may lead to depression and increased amounts consumed over a period of time, dependancy and the beginings of alcoholism.

  • Do you crave a drink on a regular basis, as one would a cigarette or any other kind of drug, if you do, you should look at your situation, and may possibly seek some assistance, before the problem gets out of hand.

  • Never Drink and Drive, the consequences can take and ruin lives.

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This article was published on Wednesday 08 August, 2007.

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