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How Does Alcohol Affect Your Weight?

Two or three piña coladas is like sweet, creamy bliss on the tongue, especially on those summer nights at the club where the crowd and the music are jumping.

However, quaffing sweet, large mixed drinks like these can wreck your waistline. Calorie-wise, it’s like binging on a fleet of cheeseburgers. Outrageously delicious, but awful for your health.

By excessively consuming alcohol, you are absorbing a deluge of empty calories with little nutritional value in return, disrupting your body’s natural digestive mechanism in the process.

Yes, alcohol does affect your weight, and it can do a whole lot more if you’re not careful.

Moderate Versus Heavy Drinking

When alcohol is consumed in moderate amounts, it does not pose significant risks. However, excessive and long-term consumption can absolutely ruin your health and well-being. Getting a “beer belly” will be the least of your concerns.

Before we get to the number of ways alcohol affects your weight, we must look at what moderate versus heavy drinking looks like from a clinical perspective.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans resource states that a single drink per day for women and up to two for men is defined as moderate alcohol consumption. However, the guidelines define one alcoholic drink as having 14 grams (g) or 0.6 fluid ounces (oz) of pure alcohol.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14 g — that is, 0.6 oz or 1.2 tablespoons —  are contained in the following alcoholic beverages:

  • 12 fluid oz of regular beer (5 percent alcohol)
  • 8 oz of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content)
  • 5 fluid oz of wine (12 percent alcohol)
  • 1.5 fluid oz of 80 proof distilled spirits (40 percent alcohol)

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Heavy drinking is considered binge drinking on a single occasion, and excessive drinking is something that occurs over time. The CDC also defines heavy alcohol consumption as drinking by pregnant women and people under the age of 21.

Binge drinking occurs when women consume four or more drinks on a single occasion and men five or more during a two-hour period.

Additionally, heavy drinking is eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more per week for men.

How Alcohol Affects Weight

When alcohol enters the body, it is converted into acetate. The body burns acetate first as a fuel source before it uses anything else, including sugars or fats, according to Healthline.

If you consume more calories than you need, those excess fats and sugars end up stored in the body. Also, alcohol offers the body “empty calories,” much like sodas, sugar cookies, and cakes.

For comparison, nutrient-dense foods on the opposite end of the spectrum include spinach, Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes, and edible seaweed.

So, while you’re filling your body with calories from alcohol, you are getting few, if any, nutrients in return.

Other ways that alcohol can affect your weight include:

  • The liver, which is about the size of a football and weighs 3 pounds, is charged with breaking down substances that enter the body, substances like alcohol. Heavy drinking can result in alcoholic fatty liver, which damages your liver and disrupts how your body metabolizes and stores fats, says Healthline.
  • Alcohol impacts digestion and nutrient absorption. Healthline states that alcohol can stress the stomach and intestines, which results in less digestive juices being secreted, which do not allow the proper breakdown of food. Movement through the digestive tract is also hampered. Both factors impact metabolism, ultimately leading a drinker to gain and carry more weight.
  • Because beer is high in simple sugars like candy or soda, it can end up stored as fat. That fat often accumulates in the abdominal area, hence the term “beer belly” or “beer gut.”
  • Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can cause you to make some high-calorie food choices, like plates of nachos, gyros, or pizza. According to Prevention, people eat 30 percent more food when they consume alcohol.

Heavy Drinking Dangers

Pounding out a string of beers at a sports bar or taking out a half a bottle of cognac every night to get over the workday can set you up for short- and long-term health risks.

Short-term Risks

The CDC states that heavy drinking can lead to the following short-term effects:

Injuries can come from car crashes, burns, falls, and drownings.

You can become a victim of violence or inflict it. Typical alcohol-induced violence includes homicide, sexual assault, suicide, or intimate partner or domestic violence.

This condition, which can be fatal, occurs when someone consumes toxic amounts of alcohol over a short period.

Risky acts can include engaging in unprotected sex or sex with multiple people. Such behaviors can result in unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

This includes miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) states the CDC.

Long-term Risks

Long-term, heavy drinking can bring on chronic diseases and multiple health and psychological problems:

Examples include liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and digestive problems.

Excessive, long-term drinking can cause liver, breast, mouth, esophagus, throat, and rectal cancer.

Dementia, or poor work or school performance can also result from heavy drinking.

Anxiety and depression are often associated with heavy, long-term alcohol consumption.

This includes strained relationships with family and friends, lost productivity, and unemployment.

This is a clinical term for alcoholism, yet it can also encompass alcohol dependence.

Why Professional Treatment Is Needed

If your alcohol use is heavy or you have been drinking over a long period, then it is vital you receive professional treatment.

Alcohol can produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when someone abruptly stops drinking. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hand tremor or tremors of other body parts
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Pallor
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

The life-threatening aspects of alcohol withdrawal manifest in a cluster of severe symptoms known as delirium tremens (DTs). According to MedlinePlus.gov, symptoms of DTs include:

  • Severe confusion
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Fever

How Professional Treatment Can Help You

Because of the multitude of dangers associated with alcohol, professional treatment for abuse or addiction can ultimately prove to be life-saving.

Treatment begins with outpatient detox, which allows for a gradual alcohol removal process.

Withdrawal symptoms that manifest are treated and alleviated by medical staff. Outpatient detox provides a safe and effective process where you do not have to put your life on hold.

After detox, you can enter an intensive outpatient program (IOP) where you can receive therapy and counseling from an array of evidence-based treatment and alternative therapies.

If your case is deemed severe, we can connect you to an inpatient program where you can receive comprehensive, full-time therapy and comfortable accommodations.

With either option, you will gain access to a variety of treatment services. Those services include:

  • Relapse prevention plans
  • Individual therapy
  • Support group work
  • Group therapy
  • Nutrition guidance
  • Family therapy
  • Exercise therapy

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). CDC – Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use And Health – Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). The Liver | Division of Viral Hepatitis | CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/theliver.htm

Health.gov. (n.d.). Appendix 9. Alcohol. Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-9/

Healthline. (n.d.). Alcohol and Weight: 8 Ways Drinking Slows Weight Loss. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-weight-loss#alcohol-and-weight-loss

MedlinePlus.gov. (n.d.). Alcohol withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

Praderio, C. (2019, June 10). The Crazy Reason Alcohol Makes You Eat 30% More. Retrieved from https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/a20475819/alcohol-makes-food-smell-better/

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