Alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but responsibly so. According to a 2016 report by World Health Organisation (WHO), South Africa’s alcohol consumption rate is one of the highest in the world, which can be very dangerous to one’s health.

 Move! looks at how alcohol can affect the female body.

NEGATIVE EFFECTS

Dr Sophia Mokoka says a woman’s body has more body fat and contains a lower volume of water than a man’s body of the same weight.

When a woman drinks there is, therefore, less water to dilute the alcohol resulting in a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. She says the enzyme responsible for the initial breakdown of alcohol, alcohol dehydrogenase, tends to be lower and less active in women’s bodies than in men’s.

This means that a woman’s body is exposed to higher blood concentrations of alcohol. According to an online article by Quit Alcohol, which helps addicts to quit alcohol, titled, ‘The truth about what alcohol does to your body’, alcohol tends to make people feel more relaxed, happy and confident in a social space.

Alcohol can also have many negative effects on the body, and a few are outlined below.

Brain:

According to Quit Alcohol, alcohol can cause a lot of harm to your brain. “Those little moments you don’t remember from the crazy night before, that’s temporary amnesia. Keep it up and you can develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a memory impairing, vision-and-speech effecting, seizure causing disorder.”

Dr Sophia adds that when you are dependent on alcohol, you could suffer Brain Atrophy, a condition where your brain shrinks over time. “Your speech gets affected and you begin to have slurred speech. You could also start losing sensation, especially in your legs, and hands,” she says.

Infertility:

Quit Alcohol says when you consume alcohol your body releases endorphins, which are normally released upon exercising and having sex. Too many endorphins can cause depression, a lower sex drive, extreme fatigue and infertility. The effects of alcohol on fertility are great, and even moderate alcohol intake can affect infertility.

Pregnancy:

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy is also very dangerous, not only does it harm you, it can harm the baby too. It is recorded that South Africa has the highest rate of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the world. According to Dr Sophia, drinking alcohol during pregnancy is more harmful during the first three months of pregnancy.

“The consumption of alcohol can increase the chances of premature birth, miscarriage and still birth. Babies can grow up to have physical and learning disabilities. Signs of FAS always appear when the child is born,” she warns.

Behaviour:

The increase of alcohol in your body can also affect your behaviour, causing you to become aggressive and violent towards others. Alcohol can also cause some people to engage in unsafe sex. Many cases of domestic violence and car accidents occur while people are under the influence of alcohol. Cancers: Dr Sophia says drinking can put you at risk of different kinds of cancers such as breast, liver and stomach, to name a few.

Breast cancer:

Quit Alcohol says alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. “Estrogen levels are raised when alcohol is consumed, and an increased estrogen level is a risk of developing breast cancer.”

Liver cancer: According to Quit Alcohol, your liver is where alcohol gets metabolised when you drink more than one drink per hour on average. “The liver turns alcohol into something called acetaldehyde, which is toxic and can cause cancer.”

Alcohol is not the only possible cause of cancer, there can be other factors such as the environment, diet and a family history.

Stomach cancer:

Alcohol can cause the stomach to produce more acid than usual, causing gastritis. It can also create irritation and inflammation in the lining of the stomach leading to ulcers and bleeding of the stomach. When bleeding in the stomach occurs, you may experience pain in the stomach after drinking alcohol.

Phuza face and mkhaba:

In the townships, a person who has a phuza face is someone who drinks so much that it starts to show on their face. Dr Sophia says a phuza face is a skin defect caused by alcohol and dehydration from low water intake. Mkhaba is a potbelly usually caused by overeating but alcohol can also contribute to a big belly. “When you take in too much sugar, which alcohol has a lot of, or eat too many carbohydrates, it can or be stored as fat in your body,” says Dr Sophia. “People who drink also tend to have a large appetite and will eat more than usual, causing them to gain weight and develop mkhaba too.”

Heart:

Dr Sophia says alcohol can affect the muscles of the heart, causing poor contractility which means the heart cannot pump as much blood as it should. It can lead to heart failure and eventually death. Quit Alcohol also says that drinking can be hard on the heart because consuming alcohol raises your blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of having a heart attack, hypertension, raised cholesterol and a stroke. Bones: The deterioration rate of your bones can be accelerated by high alcohol intake, and increase the risk for bone fracture.

SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH ALCOHOLISM:

¦ Drinking alone or attempting to hide it from others.

 ¦ Not being able to place a limit on consumption.

¦ Missing family-based or business-related events.

¦ Feeling irritable when you have not had a drink.

¦ Relationship trouble stemming from alcohol use.

¦ Run-ins with the law, such as driving under the influence or public intoxication.

 ¦ Sweating and nausea, even when not drinking.