Light Drinking – What’s The Harm?

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft 

From our high school and college days on most of us are surrounded by people toasting or celebrating with everything from champagne to fancy cocktails. Throw in the constant stream of images bought and paid for by companies selling alcoholic beverages and it seems like alcohol is woven into the fabric of life in America.

Wine tasting

Unless someone has carried college-era bing-drinking habits into adulthood, they might think “light” drinking is just fine. After all, wine served at dinner is practically a given at social events. What’s the harm?

Actually, the folks at Tana Amen make a strong case that even light drinking has serious drawbacks. Citing a podcast by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, on alcohol and how even light drinking can have dramatic impacts on the brain and body, they point to several key findings from Dr. Huberman that may affect your attitude about light drinking.

Alcohol affects your entire body. “Booze is fat-soluble and water-soluble,” they write, “which means it works its way into all of the cells throughout your body, and it crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it attacks your brain too.”

Alcohol disrupts hormones. Many things naturally trigger a hormonal reaction in people. In a previous blog (“Red Flags, Jealousy and More in a Relationship“), I point out that “since time immemorial the poets have told us a simple truth: Love is blind. Scientists, with their modern sensibilities, give us the reason for the poetic insight: infatuation with a new love is actually a release of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, making us giddy and euphoric — and, not coincidentally, suppressing the prefrontal cortex that regulates rational behavior.” Tana Amen points out that something similar is going on with alcohol: “Booze triggers an increase in the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. But after those immediate effects wear off, dopamine and serotonin levels drop — even lower than they were before you had that drink. This is accompanied by an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Not a recipe for a healthy emotional state.

Alcohol makes for a lousy sleep. Although alcohol suppresses some neural functions so that you enter a relaxed state, the neural activity bounces back in a few hours (exactly when you don’t want them to!) which wakes you up for a period of tossing and turning.

Alcohol kills good bacteria. While many people are aware of and focus on some well-known negative effects of drinking (think liver disease), many people do not know that alcohol affects the good bacteria in the gut. “The bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain and that connection can promote either positive moods or negativity and anxiousness,” according to Tana Amen.” When you have a healthy balance of good gut bacteria, it helps with emotional health. When bad bacteria take over, you’re likely to struggle with moodiness, stress or anxiety.”

More about gut health. Not to get too technical, the Tana Amen article continues: “Your gut consists of approximately 30 feet of tubing (including your stomach) that winds all the way from your mouth to the other end. The gut is lined with a single layer of cells with tight junctions that protects it from foreign invaders. If those junctions become excessively porous, it leads to a condition known as leaky gut.” Alcohol can allow those junctions to widen which may allow toxins to pass through to the body.

So, although your college-age drinking days may be long behind you, it might be time to re-think your entire attitude to even light drinking. Read the complete Tana Amen article here.