There is no safe level of alcohol consumption

The pandemic lockdown has caused an increase in alcohol consumption. Studies show consumption at any level harms the brain.

As we all have struggled to exist and thrive through this time of COVID-19 and the isolation, it has provided one of the metrics we have seen is an increase in, substance consumption. With the multitudes of commercials seen on the television, heard on radio and seen online for treatment options, the impression is that everyone is on drugs. No doubt this is an exaggeration of a profoundly serious situation and the numbers are indeed up.

When we think of substance abuse, alcohol is one of those substances we need to look at. There is no doubt that consumption of alcohol has increased. It is considered one of those “soft” substances by some. Many have in their minds a distinct difference between people who abuse alcohol and people who are simply social drinkers. For years people have spoken of going home and getting a drink, drinking before dinner, drinking with friends and having a nightcap. Most drinkers believe these actions are normal, harmless life behaviors. There have been several news reports and articles touting the cardiovascular benefits of a glass of wine. Such reports have made alcohol consumption an okay endeavor for everyone. However, one’s heart is not the only organ we should be concerned about.

A recent research study in England examined the effects of alcohol consumption on the brain. The study was impressive in that it examined more than 25,000 patients. Researchers chronicled detailed alcohol consumption records on the participants. Approximately 700 never drinkers, 600 former drinkers and more than 24,000 current drinkers served as study participants. The median amount of alcohol per week was 3.6 ounces. The low-risk recommendation for consumption of alcohol in England is 3.95 ounces a week. Comparative U.S. data from 2014 showed that 30 percent of Americans do not drink, another 30 percent on average drink less than one drink per week, but more than 10 percent of Americans consumed 74 drinks per week. Data from January of 2020 show that consumption of alcohol was at a 30-year high. As one official quoted, “I think people sort of forgot all the problems with alcohol.”

The studies done in England used an MRI to image the brain. Researchers used those images to look for damage associated with alcohol consumption.

Their findings showed there was no level of alcohol consumption that was not associated with damage. Damage was defined as aging of the brain, less brain tissue volume, poorer performance on memory test and dementia.

The study also showed that alcohol consumption exacerbated conditions such as hypertension and obesity in research participants with these conditions. Those research participants who had hypertension and obesity saw an even greater adverse effect to their health if they engaged in binge drinking. This study also showed that the risk for alcohol-related brain harm did not differ based on the type of alcohol that was consumed. Therefore, it does not matter whether an individual consumed beer, wine or spirits. All can have adverse effects.

As we all struggle to cope with the effects of the pandemic and as we now see some light at the end of this dark tunnel, it is likely that we will need to find a healthier way to celebrate since this study shows that all levels of alcohol consumption can have adverse effects on our health. Please, continue to be safe out there.


Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at ideas@blandclinicpa.com.

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