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12 blogs of Christmas: Maintaining a healthy approach to alcohol

12 blogs of Christmas: Maintaining a healthy approach to alcohol

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The festive period typically means a time for celebration, looking forward to a break from work, and the added opportunity to socialise and unwind. A morning after hangover might be the furthest thing from our minds right now… but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about! The holiday season can be a fitting time for employers to raise awareness about being mindful of alcohol consumption, and can support employees in taking a balanced attitude to having a good time, without the bad consequences.

What does binge drinking do to the body? 

While we are all aware of the risks of injury – or embarrassment! – that can occur if we drink too much and become less aware of our surroundings, it can have both short- and longer-term impacts on the body. We know that binge drinking will overload the liver, which is trying to break down the alcohol in your blood, and that this is dangerous in the long-term. Other shorter-term effects of heavy drinking include:

  • Decreased blood sugar: Heavy drinking impairs the liver’s ability to release glucose into your bloodstream, which can result in low blood sugar. This contributes to a bad hangover.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine – as many of us have probably noticed on a heavy night out. This can lead to dehydration and unhealthily low levels of potassium, sodium, and other minerals and salts. Vomiting will exacerbate this.
  • Increased blood pressure: Binge drinking raises blood pressure, which can become chronic if binge drinking is consistent.
  • Negative impacts on mood: Alcohol can initially increase feelings of relaxation and happiness, but it is ultimately a depressant. It can therefore make people more emotional and reactive. Being hungover can also increase anxiety, as a depletion in mood-regulating brain chemicals can heighten stress and feelings of sadness.

Binge drinking over the longer-term has been linked to a number of medical conditions:

  • An increased risk of several different types of cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Anaemia
  • Musculoskeletal health risks: Long-term heavy drinking causes a calcium imbalance in the body, as well as disruption to the levels of vitamin D which are needed for calcium absorption.  A calcium deficiency increases the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Mental health problems: While a hangover can make us feel down in the immediate aftermath of heavy drinking, consistent binge drinking can make this a vicious cycle.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Alcohol can wear down the lining of the stomach and increase the production of stomach acid, which can contribute to ulcers. It may also have an impact on nutrient breakdown, leading to nutrient deficiencies.
  • Pancreatitis: Also linked to digestion, the pancreas releases enzymes which are essential to breaking down food in our system. Long-term binge drinking can result in acute or chronic pancreatitis, which impairs its function.

While nobody wants to be a party pooper, it’s worthwhile to share information with your employees about the serious impacts that excessive alcohol consumption can have on their overall health, in both the short- and longer-term. As an employer, you can promote awareness with resources for health information, as well as tips for maintaining mindfulness and moderation.

Reminders and resources can be particularly useful during the festive season, as a period when overindulgence is more likely. But it’s also important to remember that being conscious of good mental and physical health goes a long way to mitigate substance abuse issues in the long-term.  Tools for maintaining overall health include your employee wellbeing resources, such as your employee assistance programme for mental health support and stress management, nutrition counselling, and fitness engagement via any apps that you have available. For those employees who might need some more personalised support to manage their relationship with alcohol, then your group insurers may offer some early intervention medical resources or signposting to including addiction counselling.

As we head into this year’s holiday season, employers have a great opportunity to support their employees in taking a healthy approach to festivities.  This can be especially useful during peak party season and help ensure a healthy and happy holiday break. In the long-term, having these resources available can help to maintain a balanced approach to alcohol consumption, contributing to improved physical and mental wellbeing.