Say three cheers to a healthy liver

Say three cheers  to a healthy liver

It is quite a common thing for the youth, and a number of middle-aged too, to indulge in binge drinking at  parties. But they must know their limits, warns Dr Kaiser Raja

Binge drinking is defined as episodic excessive drinking. It usually means consuming an excess amount of alcohol in a short period of time, usually in a few hours. The exact quantity of alcohol that one consumes during an alcoholic binge is usually more than 4-5 measures (pegs) in one sitting. The intention of such heavy consumption is to get intoxicated quickly. Binge drinking is more common in males, and during adolescence and young adulthood. Binge drinking is common in parties and groups, especially during festivities and celebrations.

Most binge drinkers are not familiar with the risks associated with such habit. Binge drinking is associated with profound social harm and it also leads to serious and often life threatening adverse effects on various body organs. Heavy regular binge drinking is associated with adverse effects on the liver, brain, heart, and pancreas. It also increases risk of alcohol induced psychiatric disorders. Acute intoxication is a well-known risk factor for suicide.  It is associated with accidents due to falls, traffic accidents, violent behaviour, and assault. It also increases the risk of unplanned and unprotected sex.

Fifty percent of all serious road traffic accidents are associated with binge drinking. One-third of all deaths due to road accidents are related to binge drinking. Binge drinking in adolescents and young adults increases the risk of chronic alcoholism in adulthood. A very common issue after binge alcohol use is a blackout, which is an alcohol related memory loss. This can cause shame, guilt, embarrassment, harm to personal relationships, injury, and loss of personal belongings.

The adverse medical effects of excess alcohol consumption within a short period can be serious and life threatening. Binge drinking at an early age is associated with permanent brain damage and memory deficits. Excess alcohol leads to acute inflammation of the pancreas that causes severe abdominal pain and repeated vomiting. One in five cases of severe pancreatitis are fatal. Vigorous and forceful vomiting after heavy alcohol use can lead to tears in the stomach and food-pipe leading to vomiting of blood.

The food-pipe can occasionally rupture which can be life-threatening problem. Excess alcohol can also cause rhythm disturbances of the heart and can even lead to a myocardial infarction (heart attack). It can also cause stroke (due to sudden bleeding in the brain) and sudden death.

A person who is heavily intoxicated and is vomiting can aspirate the vomited contents into the lungs and develop a severe lung infection. Individuals who regularly have binge alcohol intake are prone to develop a serious liver inflammation known as alcoholic hepatitis. This condition presents with progressive jaundice. Upto a third of all individuals who develop a serious form of alcoholic hepatitis go on to develop liver failure and die.

Safe alcohol limits are upto three measures of alcohol in one sitting in a whole day. This is roughly equal to 100 ml of spirit, 250 ml of wine or 750 ml of beer. Understanding social and medical risks and drinking responsibly is extremely important for all party goers. A moment of enjoyment and fun should not end with a catastrophic event for one’s own self and his/her family.
(The writer is a hepatologist)

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