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October 13, 2018

Can Drinking Beer Kill You?

drink coasterBeer is a major engine driving recreational activities in American society. Incredibly popular and relatively inexpensive, it is backed by a billion-dollar advertising industry that works relentlessly and unscrupulously to conceal the truth about its harmful effects, achieving their astronomical profits through a never-ending campaign of misleading imagery and subliminal messages. Attractive, scantily clad women sipping frosty mugs on Caribbean beaches, race car drivers celebrating victories in crowded saloons, and sweat-soaked cowboys cracking open a cold one after a hard day’s work on the ranch all push a profit-driven agenda, romanticizing beer’s universal appeal. However, none of these manipulative images and messages can hide the underlying truth— that beer is not a harmless recreational beverage and can be dangerous and even lethal.

SHATTERING THE MYTH

In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in reporting the negative health effects associated with beer. Mild to moderate drinking used to be viewed as innocuous, and even beneficial, by certain sources— including public health authorities under the influence (no pun intended) of the advertising industry. That outdated myth is being shattered by emerging evidence that proves no amount of alcohol is safe for consumption.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and approximately 90,000 deaths annually are related to excessive alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further reports that approximately 38 million people binge drink a minimum of four times monthly, with six dying daily from alcohol poisoning. In 2014, alcohol-related driving fatalities accounted for approximately 10,000 deaths, or 31 percent of total driving fatalities. A significant percentage of those deaths involved beer. Even when compared to the previous century, America’s alcohol epidemic is on an undeniably steep incline.

CUMULATIVE HEALTH EFFECTS

As such statistics clearly reveal, beer is not a benign or “healthy” beverage. Although the legal threshold for impairment is reasonably consistent with scientific findings, even one beer can have a negative, mind-altering effect. Individual variables such as age, sex, weight, and percentage of body fat all factor into the overall equation of what constitutes impairment. To put blood-alcohol content (BAC) into a clearer context, the following six-point scale can be used to determine the likelihood of unintended death or other debilitating consequences:

  • 04-.059 percent BAC – results in lower inhibitions and slightly impaired judgment
  • 0.1129 percent BAC – results in significant loss of judgment, impaired coordination and hearing, and slurred speech
  • 0.13-0.159 percent BAC – results in blurred vision, significant loss of balance and dysphoria
  • 2-0.249 percent BAC – results in loss of motor skills, disorientation, inability to stand or walk, and vomiting
  • 0.25-0.399 percent BAC – results in unconsciousness (black outs) and alcohol poisoning
  • 4 percent or higher BAC – results in a coma or death from respiratory failure

Once an individual goes on a beer drinking binge, only time can eradicate the harmful effects—assuming the excessive incident is not repeated. Popular home remedies involving curing hangovers with a fresh pot of coffee and an Advil, or simply “walking off” the remaining intoxication, are pure fiction. Once the body is sufficiently intoxicated, popping a pill or sipping your favorite dark roast won’t reverse the physiological and psychological consequences. Although in most young, healthy individuals, the body is naturally equipped to recover from periodic binge drinking, it cannot survive a sustained assault. What for many people begins as occasional party behavior at a best friend’s wedding or fraternity house initiation, gradually morphs into a debilitating disease with permanent, life-altering consequences.  

Once casual beer drinking escalates to the point of addiction, the following diseases are exponentially more likely to occur:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver – represents the most serious and deadly of the liver-based alcohol diseases. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of chronic drinkers develop cirrhosis after more than a decade of drinking. Cirrhosis is characterized by dead scar tissue that gradually accumulates and strangles the liver. Although reversible, once significant scar tissue develops, it frequently remains permanent to some degree.
  • Alcohol-induced hepatitis – inflammation of the liver that follows years and, in some cases, decades of excessive drinking. It frequently leads to irreversible scarring of the liver tissue and jaundice, if left untreated.
  • Liver cancer – the hijacking of the liver by malignant cells triggered by excessive drinking. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that throat, colon, breast, mouth, and laryngeal cancers are also associated with alcoholism, and may prove equally deadly.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) – a debilitating neurological disorder common in late-stage alcoholics. “Wet brain,” as it is colloquially known, is the result of progressively damaged neural pathways and entire brain structures. Although the effects of wet brain can be managed when caught early, once the disease progresses, it is almost impossible to reverse.

In addition to the major diseases associated with excessive, long-term beer drinking, singular episodes of intoxication can also result in death. Famed author Jack Kerouac, country legend Keith Whitley, and Hollywood actor William Holden all died as a direct result of complications from blood alcohol poisoning during acute binge drinking sessions. Legions more have been crippled and scarred, killed on highways and remembered by anonymous crosses, unlike their celebrity counterparts.  

SEEKING HELP

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, call a substance abuse professional today. Alcoholism can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or profession. Alcoholism is not just a mildly concerning habit— it is a chronic, relapsing disease with far-reaching physical and psychological consequences. Professional medical treatment is imperative to ensure optimal outcomes and reduce the devastating effects associated with its progression.

For more about alcohol addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:

Sources:

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Binge Drinking Among US Adults. Jan, 2003.

APA News and Journals. Frequent Binge Drinking Among US Adolescents, 1991-2015. May, 2017.

Frontiers in Psychiatry. Personality Traits Related to Binge Drinking: A Systematic Review. July, 2017.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Binge Drinking Episodes in Young Adults: How We Should Measure Them in a Research Setting. July, 2017.

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