We've partnered with a team of health experts from The Lanby — an innovative NYC primary care members club and haven for those sick of the soullessness of American healthcare. Offering integrative, personalized plans and diagnostics, The Lanby empowers patients to discuss their health needs, concerns, and desired treatments confidently, which in turn gives The Lanby granular data and insight into the cause and effects of drinking. We asked them to debunk some of the myths and misconceptions around alcohol and give us the answers on why we feel moody, anxious, or even thirsty after we drink. Contains a lot of medical terms, so better read this sober!
Why do we crave alcohol at all? Is there any rule of thumb like ‘if you crave sugar, it must be magnesium deficiency’ or is it purely emotional?
We crave alcohol for a few reasons. Over time, the consumption of alcohol affects the brain's neurotransmitters. So when you are not drinking, you might begin to notice feelings of anxiety or other emotional distress, along with strong cravings for alcohol due to the brain’s altered chemical messengers. Then, drinking alcohol as a response to an action or event can form a habit association in your brain, making you feel the urge to drink in certain situations by association. And also there are internal and external triggers such as memories or being in a specific place that act as cues for you to desire a drink.
How is ethanol different from the other two types of alcohol and what makes it the only kind of alcohol fit for human consumption?
Ethanol is produced naturally when yeast and other microbes ferment sugars found in plants. Denatured alcohol is ethanol combined with other substances, which make it unfit for human consumption. It’s often found in cleaning products, fuels, and disinfectants.
Does alcohol mess with the brain’s reward system like other substances or why is it so hard to quit when you get stuck in a limbo?
Alcohol affects our neurotransmitter systems by activating a dopamine release. When someone is trying to quit drinking alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms such as being in a bad mood are directly due to the lack of dopamine that would be released when consuming alcohol. The dependence on alcohol to experience the dopamine release makes it feel hard to stop drinking.
How does alcohol impact our gut health long-term and does that negatively affect our mood? Are there any drinks that could assist in healing chronic gut problems?
Alcohol consumption can lead to acid reflux, leaky gut, gastritis, bloating, liver damage, and pancreas damage. As the body attempts to metabolize alcohol, it can overwhelm the GI tract and liver. The inflammatory response damages locally and systemically. Alcohol is also a top trigger for constipation. Not only is it a toxic substance, but when you drink alcohol it can increase the amount of fluid lost through your urine and lead to dehydration. Ultimately, poor hydration results in dry, hard, lumpy stools that are painful to pass. If you're not having regular bowel movements then it's going to greatly impact your overall gut health, which is not only uncomfortable, but also impacts mood. The sugar and gluten found in alcoholic beverages can also lead to digestive issues like constipation and dysbiosis, an imbalance of good/bad bacteria in the gut. Drinks made with ginger, lemongrass, and peppermint aid in digestion and can soothe discomfort in the gut.
Can you share why alcohol makes some feel sexually aroused?
Men and women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently. Drinking alcohol increases testosterone levels in females which in turn can boost arousal, but not for everyone. The psychological impact may outweigh the physiological response. The more you drink the worse your genital response and physical arousal. In males, alcohol decreases blood flow to the penis, increases angiotensin, a hormone linked to erectile dysfunction and depresses your central nervous system all impacting one's ability to get and maintain an erection. The effects are largely individual and are impacted drastically by the amount of alcohol consumed.
What is the science behind hangovers? Do you believe in hangxiety?
A hangover can look different for each person. A typical hangover can include fatigue, weakness, thirst, headache, muscle aches, nausea, stomach pain, vertigo, sensitivity to light and sound, anxiety, irritability, sweating, and/or increased blood pressure. The dehydration (thirst, fatigue, and a headache) is due to a suppression of the hormone vasopressin, which sends signals to the kidneys causing them to retain fluid. As a result, alcohol increases urination and excess loss of fluids. The nausea and gastrointestinal irritation is from the increased acid release and the alcohol directly irritating the stomach lining. Drinking alcohol causes inflammation in the body resulting in that overall sickly feeling. When the liver is metabolizing alcohol, it creates a toxic, short-lived byproduct called acetaldehyde, which contributes to the inflammation of organs including the liver, pancreas, brain, and GI tract. Feeling hangxiety is a real thing! Not feeling your best can lead to low productivity, lack of movement, and an unclear mind, which can make you feel anxious. The chemical withdrawal that occurs when the buzz wears off causes people to feel more restless and unsettled than before they drank.
And what about the effect of alcohol on our cortisol levels? Does it really take the edge off?
Our stress hormone, cortisol, is produced by the adrenal glands and involves a lot of intricate communication between the brain and the adrenal glands. When we are under chronic stress, the communication pathways get interrupted and your body releases excess cortisol. Maintaining the right balance of cortisol is essential for your health, while alcohol consumption causes a release of cortisol into your bloodstream. This can manifest as a feeling of short-term stress relief, but it doesn’t "take the edge off" for an extended period of time. Tolerance is built up with chronic alcohol consumption, and there are adverse health effects as a result. Dysregulation of cortisol also impacts sleep and overall circadian rhythm, which, over time, increases the risk for chronic health conditions.
All in all, why is drinking too much alcohol bad for you?
In moderation, drinking alcohol may work just fine for you. However, when drinking becomes a regular habit, it can begin to take a toll on your health and sabotage goals. Drinking alcohol too much can negatively affect your sleep, your mood, your skin, your hormones, and your digestion. Other negative effects include empty calories, the risk of impairing your ability to build the communication skills needed to have a healthy relationship, coping skills to navigate emotions, fears, challenges, etc.
The effects of drinking on:
SLEEP & HORMONES
While you may fall asleep quickly, the quality of your sleep suffers when you are under the influence. Alcohol affects multiple processes in your body that prevent you from getting high-quality sleep. Here are some of the ways alcohol impacts your body’s sleep systems:
- Alcohol inhibits the release of melatonin, your body’s primary sleep signal;
- reduces growth hormone release, which is essential for your body to repair and recharge itself overnight;
- increases the body’s level of cortisol, a stress hormone that elevates resting heart rate and stimulates the body, making it more likely you'll wake up throughout the night;
- disrupts your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle as alcohol impacts your brain and liver’s internal clocks;
- alcohol is a diuretic and increases urination, which may interrupt your sleep for extra trips to the bathroom;
- some research shows that alcohol is known to worsen breathing in individuals who have certain conditions, such as sleep apnea; reducing the oxygen entering the blood, and therefore, blood oxygen levels. There is also evidence that alcohol can disrupt the absorption of oxygen by hemoglobin, which results in lower oxygen saturation.
Alcohol interferes with gut bacteria in your body and can increase gastric levels and acid secretion, leading to constipation or diarrhea depending on the person, type of alcohol, and amount consumed. Alcohol also disrupts your liver's normal functioning, causing a build up of fats, toxins, and inflammation.
Too much alcohol is known to raise blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease.
Alcohol is a depressant, and it’s classed as a sedative-hypnotic drug, because it depresses the central nervous system.
Tips to reduce alcohol cravings:
- swap your beverage for a better alternative — it’s often just the act of having something to hold and sip on at a bar or dinner;
- keep alcohol out of the home - keeping a dry home takes temptation out of proximity;
- make plans that don't center around drinking: go for a walk, do an exercise class, grab coffee/matcha, go to a show/museum/movie;
- find other ways to relax: alcohol can take the edge off after a stressful day, but ultimately it’s a depressant and only offers temporary relief, which can result in making you feel even worse later. It’s also depleting as it interferes with sleep, so better opt for a relaxing bath, a massage, a nourishing meal, or a nightly meditation added to your routine.
If you didn’t get any of this, drink this for better focus and try again.