What Effect Does Alcohol Have on a Person's Health and Life Expectancy?

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Nicola Cooper
Student No; cs329513

What effect does alcohol have on a person's health and life expectancy?

The consumption of alcoholic beverages dates back to approximately 10,000 years ago when ‘viticulture' (the selective cultivation of grape vines for making wine) is said to have originated in the mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. (1) It is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs in the world. Alcohol interacts with gamma amino bultyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, this is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in humans and is synthesized from glutamic acid. (1a) Since then the production of alcohol has flourished and evolved becoming a huge part of today's society.

However, in recent years much research has been carried out on the effects that alcohol consumption is having on individuals with much of the resulting data being extremely negative. So what is alcohol doing to our society's health, and is it having any effect on our life expectancy?

In recent years, especially since the introduction of ‘Alco pops', there has been a substantial increase in the amount of youths drinking alcoholic beverages. It is believed that on average, young people begin drinking at approximately age thirteen (2) with parental and peer influences being a major factor.

It is not just younger teenagers that have become accustomed to drinking; it would appear that drinking has become a culture, almost a way of life for higher education students, with events constantly being organised encouraging students to drink. Posters are exhibited outside lecture theatres, e-mails are sent to their university e-mail accounts, encouraging students to attend ‘the next big session'.

The dramatic increase in the amount youths are drinking is causing a considerable amount of concern. ‘We know that there has been a huge rise in heavy drinking among 16 – 24 age group. Because women are now putting off marriage and children until their late thirties, we are yet to see the results'. (3)

There are also concerns regarding what this is doing to women's health, particular their fertility, and it is feared that even though there has already been a dramatic increase in alcohol related illnesses and deaths, there well be yet another huge surge in these figures when today's teenage generation reach middle age.

So what are today's youths doing to themselves? The list of alcohol related illnesses is massive. Medical problems include damage to the nervous system, the liver, gastrointestinal system, the heart and circulatory system as well as the respiratory system (see appendix 1 for full list of medical problems relating to alcohol).

One of the most common illnesses is liver disease. In 2001/2 39,896 people were admitted to NHS hospitals suffering from alcoholic liver failure. (4) As this is the one of the largest causes of alcoholic related illnesses and deaths I will be concentrating on this area throughout the essay.

The liver plays a very important part in intermediary metabolism (carbohydrate, lipid, protein, hormone, drug vitamin and bilirubin) and has considerable functional reserve. (5)

The liver is the body's largest organ, it routinely performs over 500 known functions to regulate the body's cell's metabolism. It transforms toxins into harmless chemicals for excretion, and digestively absorbed nutrients into the proper biochemical forms your cells can use to function. Optimal nutrition is a function, not just of what we eat and digest, but of how well the liver bio-transforms incoming food nutrients into forms that the bloodstream can transport to all the body's cells, and that the cells can use to perform their metabolic functions. (6)

There are three types of liver disease; fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis. In people who drink heavily, a build of fat develops within the liver cells, this in it self is not a problem and may even be reversed if the individual were to stop...
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