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Harmful habits

Forgot how to celebrate without harmful habits? 6 signs that may indicate your addiction

Image source: © Canva / Canva
Materiały Prasowe,
05.02.2024 14:27

Many individuals do start the New Year feeling unwell, extremely tired and overwhelmed by negative emotions. While for many it may be tempting to attribute such poor wellbeing to the busy pre-holiday schedule and preparations for the grandest celebrations of the year, the truth is such state can also be influenced by the harmful habits we get into during the festive time. It is very dangerous turning blind eye to the harm we inflict upon ourselves.

Knows how to have fun sober, but does not practice this

Although alcohol and other psychoactive substances are well known as being harmful to the body and soul, many individuals find it challenging to celebrate without their influence. Whether it is a glass of wine during Christmas or a big party on New Year’s Eve, at the end of the day you have to face consequences – starting a year not feeling as well as you’d like. Young people, in particular, exemplify this trend.

"In general, I rarely drink alcohol, but I cannot imagine such celebrations as the New Year without it. You get that false impression of moderate consumption, attempt not to overindulge, as you are aware that party would end, and life will get back to normal. However, the body reacts unpredictably, and you cannot anticipate it’s behaviour," shares Vilija (name changed).

The young woman agreed to share some specific challenges she faces as a result of excessive drinking.

"After parties or evenings spent with friends and alcoholic beverages, the next day I always feel sluggish and distracted, lacking energy and motivation, which leads to anxiety. I always experience that hangover anxiety for harming myself and my health for no valid reason," Vilija admits.

Miglė (name changed) offers similar insights.

"I think it would be fine to celebrate without alcohol, but still I welcomed this New Year with a glass of champagne. There is no need to conceal the fact that, like many others, the next morning, I do regret drinking at all. It is not about exceeding limits and getting wasted, it’s just that it takes me a few days to fully recover, to regain the freshness and mental sharpness that I need for my everyday life," shares the young woman.

According to Miglė, her peers echo similar sentiments.

"My friends and I frequently discuss that we as the young people could genuinely learn from various painful experiences and stories that we have heard, for instance, from older relatives and acquaintances. We are aware that sometimes even moderate amount of alcohol can entail not only short-term consequences, such as the fatigue I experience, but also pose significant health risks," she explains.

Dry January challenge - what do you know about this initiative?

If breaking free from bad habits that do harm your health or impair emotional well-being proves too challenging, it does not mean you have to give up trying to become a better version of yourself. January, as the first month of year, serves as an opportune time for change, and some widely known campaigns like Dry January, encouraging to abstain from alcohol for at least a month, does prove that. Every year, millions of people worldwide take this challenge. Is it equally popular in Lithuania?

"I’ve heard about this campaign many times, but I haven’t tried it myself. I think it would not be a problem for me because, as I said, I rarely drink alcohol. Maybe, I should propose this challenge to my friends and consider making a collective change, as I believe that a month without alcohol is sufficient to experience the benefits and may encourage to give up alcohol for once and for all," suggests Vilija.

Miglė admits she has not heard about Dry January.

"This is the first time I’ve heard about it, but I think it’s a very good approach and an excellent time to break free from bad habits. I would be interested in trying it myself, especially as there are so many non-alcoholic alternatives if you want to have a drink in social settings, for example", she remarks.

However, the girl recalled having had similar experiences in her life.

"It was not something intentional, it happened unconsciously, but I had one or even two "dry" months in a row. Reflecting on it now, I actually realise that I felt much better during those months. Perhaps, I should make another attempt and eliminate these bad habits not just for one month, but for a more extended period," she reflects.

As reported in previous "My Impact" publications, for several years now, the Dry January initiative has been engaging individuals who seek to change their drinking habits, enhance their physical and mental well-being and, last but not least, save money. Moreover, Dry January is not solely about sobriety. It is also a great opportunity to explore new leisure activities, cultivate healthier social connections and prioritise one’s health.

Alcohol’s damage to young people is irreversible

If you still lack inner will and desire to initiate significant changes, it is worth bearing in mind the irreversible damage that alcohol consumption inflicts to our bodies and health.

It is especially relevant for young people, because, as Žydrė Nutautienė, Head of the Kaunas Branch of the Children and Youth Rehabilitation Unit, has said, although recent surveys by the Department of Drugs, Tobacco and Alcohol Control in Lithuania indicate a slight decrease in alcohol consumption among young people, the issue remains relevant and concerning.

"Alcohol can cause irreversible damage to young individuals. Psychoactive substances, including alcohol, pose a particular danger for youngsters as they have a negative impact on their development, their psychological, social and physical well-being," she explains.

Nevertheless, as she noted, certain groups of young people are even more severely affected by this problem.

"The most vulnerable are young people at social risk, whose families or environments are impacted by the use of psychoactive substances. Young people who develop alcohol dependence are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders, face challenges in education, encounter difficulties in finding enjoyable activities," states Nutautienė.

The earlier alcohol consumption begins, the higher the risk of developing addiction is, she says.

"At first, it becomes a habit. After a while, the body adapts to the amount of alcohol it receives, and develops a faster tolerance. As alcohol consumption increases, the individual’s ability to control the intake and self-control efforts become severely impaired. Many patients often admit that alcohol calms them down, elevates their mood, helps them to forget their problems, or inhibits other "positive qualities". As these individuals have past experience when alcohol helped them to cope with bad emotions, when they find themselves in a similar situation, they tend to repeat the pattern of their behaviour," explains the expert.

Nutautienė also outlined the health effects of alcohol dependence.

"Regular alcohol consumption induces changes in brain areas responsible for perception, decision-making, learning, memory and behavioural control. The brain is an information processing centre made up of neurons and nerve cells. Networks of neurons send impulses back and forth and activate different areas of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system. These neural connections coordinate and regulate everything we feel, think and do," clarifies the head of the Kaunas branch of the Children and Youth Rehabilitation Unit.

In addition, she emphasized that all psychoactive substances impact the brain’s pleasure circuitry by flooding it with dopamine.

"Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in areas of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. Increased stimulation of this system leads to the state of euphoria sought by people who use psychoactive substances, including alcohol. Once the pleasure circuit is activated, the brain perceives it as something significant has happened that needs to be remembered, promoting a repetitive behavioural pattern," explains Nutautienė.

The consequences of alcohol use can be severe

In addition to the aforementioned risks associated with alcohol consumption, Nutautienė shares some other notable observations.

"Alcohol is detrimental to human cognition. Regular drinkers experience impaired memory, speech and logical thinking. The emotional state of an individual changes, he or she becomes impulsive - can become angry and aggressive quickly. The psyche of a drinker becomes unstable and difficult to predict," states the expert.

The negative effects of alcohol on a person’s health are extremely high, and this is further supported by the fact that this harmful habit damages almost all vital organs.

"Alcohol is one of the most carcinogenic and acidic substances, impacting the liver, pancreas, kidneys, heart muscle, and various other organs, with the brain being the most likely and severely affected. In the short term, the effects on the brain result in impaired memory, coordination, and vision, while in the long term, alcohol consumption leads to vitamin B1 deficiency, damage to brain cells and brain atrophy," says Nutautienė.

According to the expert, alcohol addict’s brain typically loses about a third of its mass, however, as it was already mentioned, the brain is not the sole organ that cannot function properly under the influence of alcohol.

"Extended alcohol consumption can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, or even cancer, as well as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, an elevated risk of stroke, and, finally cardiac insufficiency," Nutautienė explains.

There is no such thing as safe amount of alcohol

Although young people typically begin by trying alcoholic beverages that may be socially accepted as lighter or less dangerous, Nutautienė points out that this perception is misguided.

"Alcohol is alcohol, and the fact that alcohol conceals itself behind a pleasant taste and smell only makes the situation worse, as it encourages people to consume more," she cautions.

In addition, it is crucial to recognize that alcohol’s concentration in the body is determined by the quantity consumed.

"Hazardous doses of alcohol for children and adolescents are several times lower than for adults because they are underweight, so - even if they drink only a small amount – the alcohol concentration in their blood is high because the growing body does not yet have enough enzymes to break down alcohol," explains Nutautienė.

Therefore, for young people who still choose to drink, it is important to consider the risks involved.

"Drinking alcohol at a young age is very risky as it damages nervous system and its neurons, and, during adolescence, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for assessing situations, making important decisions, and controlling emotions and impulses, is still developing. Until the brain reaches full maturity, the risk of making irresponsible decisions is elevated. Hence, consuming alcohol while the brain is still developing can have serious and long-lasting consequences," Nutautienė emphasises.

Double damage can potentially be fatal

The issue of substance abuse, in addition to alcohol, is escalating rapidly among young people. This is yet another blow to the young person’s organism.

"The use of psychoactive substances can cause very serious damage to the body, sometimes even leading to psychosis. It often happens that young people are not aware what substances they have actually consumed. They may claim to have used cannabis, but diagnostic tests reveal presence of other substances, such as stimulants. Each psychoactive substance has its own effects on the body," the expert shares her experience.

Nutautienė also explained the consequences of using multiple psychoactive substances simultaneously.

"Alcohol has a mind-altering and psychoactive effect, while other psychoactive substances have a stimulating effect by activating certain brain centres. This means that the human brain is supressed for a few minutes and then stimulated for a few minutes. This constant fluctuation can be very exhausting, as the brain itself is not aware of the state it is trying to achieve. When the effect of one substance, whether stimulating or inhibiting, wears off, the effect of the substance that remains in the body can be intensified," she warns.

Sometimes, according to the expert, a person may not even perceive the effects of a particular psychoactive substance.

"If there is a significant amount of alcohol in the body and a stimulant has been taken alongside it, when the effects of the stimulant wear off and the blood alcohol concentration is very high, the person may lose consciousness and slip into a deep coma. This is due to the very potent effects of the alcohol, which the person did not notice because another stimulant substance was used," explains Nutautienė.

Not everyone dares to seek help

As Nutautienė emphasizes, unfortunately, individuals struggling with alcohol addiction may not recognise their illness for a long time or may hide it, and their relatives, unsure how to address the situation, only inadvertently contribute to the problem. Also, while it is important to seek help if you feel that your drinking is going beyond healthy limits, people often fear to seek for help.

"Part of the problem is the stigma that still persists. Society can be hostile towards addicts, not acknowledging it as a disease, but denouncing it simply as a lack of willpower," she explains and adds, that health is our greatest asset.

Nutautienė also outlined the signs that may indicate that you or your loved one became addicted to alcohol.

"There are six diagnostic criteria for addiction. The firs one is a strong desire to drink alcohol. The second is when the person loses ability to control or stop drinking (promises to drink one glass, but ends drinking many more). The third criterion is increased alcohol tolerance (often misinterpreted as an advantage, there is even a saying – "heavy drinker"). The fourth criterion is that alcohol withdrawal is followed by withdrawal symptoms (sweating, insomnia, high blood pressure, etc.). The fifth is when alcohol consumes so much time in a person’s life that there is no time left for work, family, and other activities. The sixth is when the person acknowledges his addiction and the harm that he or she inflicts to his health but is unable to stop," she explains.

According to Nutautienė, if at least three of these criteria are identified by a psychiatrist within the last 12 months, a person can be diagnosed with alcohol dependence.

Naturally, a young person who drinks alcohol may not even suspect that his or her relationship with alcohol has progressed the point of dependence. Parents who want to protect their children from this must be attentive to certain indicators.

"First of all, there are always warning signs that a young person is using psychoactive substances. A child may withdraw from others, their communication and emotions may change - parents often tend to attribute these changes to a teenage crisis. Parents need to take an interest in how their child spends time online. They can pay more attention to what their child is buying online (check e-banking system) and what websites they spend time on," encourages Nutautienė.

If a child has been poisoned or has used psychoactive substances, the expert advises relying on science-based methods of treatment rather than one’s knowledge and consult specialists. These professionals can be found in the emergency and/or toxicology wards of healthcare institutions, as well as in mental health centres and branches of the Republican Centre for Addiction Diseases.

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