Alcohol Use

Dear Dr. B: Some time ago, there was a discussion in this newspaper about the health benefits of alcohol. The letters to the editor has left me confused. Can you help? What does the medical literature say? Yours: A Heart Patient

Dear Heart Patient: Mankind has known the use and abuse of alcohol for many centuries. In fact, the term alcoholism first appeared in 1849 in an assay written by a Swedish physician, Magnus Huss, titled “Alcoholism Chronicus”.

Alcoholism is considered a disease. It is a compulsive addictive behaviour. Alcoholism means excessive and repeated use of alcoholic beverages. Ten percent of the population is dependent on alcohol. It costs the health care system millions of dollars.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) said, “Alcohol is like love: the first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you just take the girl’s clothes off.” Where does the benefit stop and the harm start?

For many years, there has been scientific evidence to suggest that moderate amount of alcohol is good for our health. But physicians have been reluctant to publicize or promote this advantage. They are worried that some people will use this as an excuse to justify excessive drinking. The alcohol industry will use this to promote their products. And the promotion of the benefits will raise moral, religious and ethical issues and confuse and divide the people who otherwise would benefit the most.

But Dr. B, what are the benefits?

-There is overwhelming evidence that moderate alcohol drinking reduces sickness and death from coronary artery disease.
-Alcohol also favourably changes the blood lipid levels and makes the blood thinner.
-There is 24 to 53 percent decline in the risk of duodenal ulcer.
-It reduces death from stroke, reduces the incidence of blood vessel disease in the legs and arms, and reduces adult onset diabetes.
-Up to three drinks a day, alcohol reduces blood pressure in females but heavy drinking will have the reverse effect.
-Moderate drinking of wine, beer, and spirits can reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
-Alcohol alleviates the effects of stress.

Dr. B, what are the dangers of abusing alcohol?

-Alcohol is addictive – it’s a drug with complex behavioural effects that can be pleasurable or unpleasant, stimulating or depressing.
-Drinking during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome in the new born – a very serious condition.
-It can cause cirrhosis of liver, liver failure and pancreatitis.
-It can cause gastritis and bleeding .
-It can cause traffic or work related accidents – resulting in disability or death.
-Alcohol is implicated in more than 20 causes of death.
-It can cause cancer of the oesophagus, breast and other cancers.
-Alcohol abuse can destroy a person’s personal life, family life and capacity to earn a decent living.
-What is moderate drinking? Is it one, two, three drinks a day? Moderation for a non-drinker is different than for a habitual drinker.

Critics of alcohol use say that much of the protective effect gained from alcohol use in coronary artery disease can be achieved by other means – exercise, diet, avoiding smoking, and control of cholesterol level.

The question remains: Should the Canadian medical organizations and physicians publicize the benefits and the risks of moderate alcohol consumption to the Canadian public?

The best thing for you, as a heart patient, is to discuss your individual case with your family doctor or your specialist. I hope the information provided here will be of help.

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