Alcohol is a fact of life for Americans. Even though alcohol is a drug that has ruined countless lives, it is advertised as a sophisticated, pleasurable, adult “treat.” It’s part and parcel of a relaxing evening with friends, it’s the core of the cocktail party, it’s an icebreaker at any gathering, it’s even donated by airlines to compensate for a flight delay. This benign acceptance of alcohol denies its dangerous properties and encourages you to make it a regular part of your life. If you want to enjoy optimum health, you can’t afford to let alcohol become a habit
This Week’s Goal
The nation seems to be divided into three groups of alcohol consumers, and about one third of them don’t drink at all or rarely have a drink, another third have up to three drinks each week, and the final third have four or more drinks each week. If you don’t drink then you can skip this week of the Makeover and move ahead to the exercise week. If you have up to three drinks weekly, you’ll find this week is easy, but I still suggest that you complete it in sequence. If you drink four or more drinks weekly, then this will be an important week for you because you may discover that alcohol has become a psychological addiction. You probably won’t find this week difficult, but it is very important from physical and psychological standpoints. Many tell us that this week is a real turning point because it encourages them to scrutinize a habit that they feel is essential to their business and personal lives, and discover a great sense of satisfaction in coming to terms with in a positive way.
The New Problem Drinker
No doubt a few of those taking this course are recovered alcoholics and some don’t drink at all but most are what we consider the new “Problem Drinkers”. These are not people who have a serious problem with alcohol, but rather people for whom drinking has become a part of their daily routine. They no longer think about whether they want to have a drink, and many acknowledge that they don’t even take a great deal of pleasure in drinking. At routine times of the day or evening they simply have a drink. Most of these individuals are convinced that the pressures of their work or lifestyle demands that they drink. Either they must have a drink because they enjoy entertaining, or they must have one because they need it to relax at the end of the day, or they must have wine with dinner because they can’t imagine enjoying a meal without wine. Most people who drink this way are not going to become alcoholics, though of course, some will. But they’ve made alcohol such an integral part of their lives that they’ve become psychological addicts. They suspect they may be drinking too much, but they don’t realize what effect it’s having on their health and they can’t find any reason to give it up.
The goal of the Makeover is to break the pattern of the new “problem drinker”. This week of the Makeover is geared to breaking an essentially psychological dependence on alcohol.
Alcohol in Action
Alcohol moves with enormous speed through your body and affects every single tissue and organ. Alcohol enters and leaves the stomach quickly and is taken up by the small intestine. It is absorbed by the bloodstream in sixty to ninety seconds, and moves quickly to the liver, where most of it is metabolized.
Once alcohol enters your system a variety of physical changes occur that have short and longterm effects on your health. Alcohol damages the following:
—The Brain and Nervous System: You’re familiar with these most obvious effects of alcohol: the slurred speech, aggressiveness, poor judgment, and increased risk of accidents. Thirty five to 64 per cent of drivers involved in fatal accidents were drinking, as are half of those who die in falls, 68 percent of those who drown, and 50 per cent of those who die in fires. A single drink can impair your ability to recognize familiar objects in motion, tell one colour from another, and recover from the glare of an oncoming headlight for a duration of five to six hours. In fact, it can take someone who’s been drinking up to forty seconds to recover from the glare of approaching headlights, while a sober person will recover in half that time. It’s easy to see why drinking makes you so vulnerable to accidents.
In addition, alcohol destroys brain cells, which, unlike the blood cells it also destroys, are irreplaceable. In a Danish study, when male alcoholics with an average age of thirty were tested for liver damage, only 19 per cent had evidence of such damage, but 59 per cent were discovered to be “intellectually impaired”. After a period of only ten years of drinking, they had irreversibly damaged their brains.
There is no question that drinking impairs memory. It seems to do this by interfering with the brain cells’ ability to build proteins, which are the basis of memory. Alcohol therefore damages your capacity for learning new things and your ability to remember what has happened in the past. Some researchers have even speculated that drinking is also an unrecognized cause of mental illnesses.
—Drug Metabolism: Many people are familiar with the deadly relationship between drinking and tranquilizers. It’s less well known that alcohol has an effect on many other kinds of drugs. In some cases, alcohol impairs the drug, in others it increases its effect. Either situation can be especially dangerous because either can occur after a single drink. Some of the drugs that alcohol interacts with include barbiturates, tranquilizers, anesthetics, morphine, antidepressant drugs, anticonvulsants, anticoagulants, antibiotics, and antihypertensives. Alcohol used in conjunction with other drugs was reported to be the most frequent cause of drug-related medical crises in the United States.
—The Gastrointestinal system: Alcohol consumption leads to gastric irritation and eventually to a loss of part of the lining of the intestines. This loss impairs the absorption of lactose, (the sugar found in milk), and ultimately results in an intolerance to milk and other dairy products. The damaged intestine is also less able to absorb certain nutrients, including thiamine and folic acid. A thiamine deficiency will affect the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates; too little folic acid will lead to anemia and an inability to replace worn out body tissues.
—The Liver: As the liver must do most of the work of metabolizing alcohol, it can suffer the most from the effects of these efforts. If you have more than three drinks each day, your liver will begin to accumulate fats. If you stop drinking, these fats will dissipate and your liver will recover. But, if you continue to drink, you increase the risk of contracting alcoholic hepatitis – the inflammation and destruction of liver cells.
—Cancer: People who drink regularly increase their risk of developing cancer. The link between drinking and cancer is not yet clear, but some connections include the suppression of the immune system by alcohol, the effects of malnutrition related to drinking, the effects of repeated tissue contact with alcohol itself, or perhaps the carcinogenic substances found in alcoholic drinks. The cancers that have been linked to drinking include those of the liver, mouth, esophagus, pancreas, intestines, prostate and lung.
Alcohol’s Secret Stress
All the health hazards of alcohol mentioned above are well researched and documented. Unfortunately, many people, particularly the new “problem drinkers”, find it relatively easy to dismiss them. They don’t really believe that they drink enough to impair the brain or liver, and they think that pollution or food additives are just as likely to cause cancer. But these people are ignoring one of the most subtle and damaging effects of alcohol: how it influences your ability to handle stress and how this reinforces your other bad health habits.
As we have discussed in earlier lessons, stress is more than dealing with an angry boss. Your body can create its own biochemical stress as a result of foods you eat or don’t eat, or simply as an amplification of its normal reaction to an outside stress. Alcohol, in addition to other effects on the body, also acts as a stressor. It has recently been discovered that when alcohol enters the blood, it stimulates an increased production of the stress hormone norepinephrine. We have learned that this hormone has an immediate and dramatic effect on the body as it mobilizes all your resources to fight stress. The fact that alcohol stimulates norepinephrine production suggests that regular drinking is taking its toll on your body’s ability to cope with other stressful areas of your life.
Alcohol and Blood Sugar
There is also a connection between alcohol and blood sugar that reinforces your bad habits. Alcohol is the most rapidly absorbed carbohydrate. It enters your system immediately and can create the same problems that a sudden overload of sugar does. If you have any problem with your blood sugar, as many people do, you may find yourself predisposed to drinking. Because of stress or a poor diet or irregular meals, you may discover that at certain times of the day you’re dying for an energy lift because your blood sugar is low. Your body has learned that alcohol will provide that lift. So, perhaps at lunch or before dinner you crave a drink. The drink makes your blood sugar soar and then, as we’ve learned, crash. The crash not only makes you feel tired and irritable and moody, it also makes you crave another high. This syndrome can encourage you to develop the bad habits of smoking, drinking, caffeine consumption and eating sweets – all of which will temporarily raise your blood sugar level.
You can see why at this stage in the Makeover, when you’ve given up caffeine and sugar and improved your nutrition and begun taking vitamin and mineral supplements, that you are better able to deal with the effects of drinking and to change your life pattern. You’ve loosened many of the ties to alcohol you may have had. But if you continue to drink habitually, it will be increasingly difficult to stick to your new good habits because alcohol will actually weaken your physiological resolve.
Alcohol’s Most Ignored Danger
In the previous lessons when we worked on nutrition and vitamins and minerals we’ve seen how good nutrition is really the cornerstone of good health; and indeed, suboptimum nutrition is responsible for a host of diseases as well as the vague symptoms we’re trying to abolish. Alcohol is one of the most potent destroyers of good nutrition – and that’s one of the most serious side effects. By impairing good nutrition, alcohol creates immediate symptoms as well as encourages the development of chronic disease.
Even if you eat properly when you drink, you still run the risk of nutritional deficiency, because alcohol alters the function of all the gastrointestinal tract organs. It interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients and vitamins. In fact, it has been suggested by some Doctors that drinking is the most common cause of vitamin and trace-element deficiency in adults in the United States.
As we have learned from the Nutrition and Vitamin-Mineral weeks of the Makeover, just a marginal nutritional deficiency can cause both short and longterm health problems. If you drink, you’re making it even harder for your body to achieve optimum health.
Beginning Your Alcohol-Free Week
Because your addiction to alcohol is more psychological than physiological, planning for this week is a simple matter of understanding and anticipating the situations in which you may want to have a drink. You don’t have to go shopping, but if it is your habit to have wine every night with dinner, then you could buy some seltzer to substitute for the wine. You do have to anticipate all the circumstances in which you would ordinarily drink, and you must plan ahead how to handle those situations. If you wait until someone is handing you a drink, you’ll be forced to make a decision on the spot and risk having “just that one” because it’s easier than dealing with refusal.
1. Enlist the Help of Your Friends and Family. If you usually have a drink after work with your spouse, try to convince him or her to help you by giving up the habit for at least this week. Make it a challenge based on common sense and better health practices for the both of you.
2. Learn to Say No. This can be very difficult to do. If you regularly drink with others and face the possibility of doing so this week, I suggest you prepare in advance how you’re going to say no. Fortunately, today more people are conscious of their health, so a decision not to drink will usually be accepted without question. But if you have friends or business associates who pressure you to join them in a cocktail or wine with a meal, you must be prepared. One graduate of the course told me that he found the best response was to say he was on the Miracle Makeover Course and then described the program for his interested associates.
3. Find Substitutes. This isn’t difficult to do. Plain seltzer with a lemon or lime wedge is the perfect drink to sip at a party; no one can tell you’re not drinking something more potent. An orange or apple spritzer can make a good before-meal drink. Just mix orange or apple juice half and half with seltzer. If you entertain frequently at lunch and often go to the same restaurant, you can do what one Makeover veteran did: Tell the waiter in advance that you just want a seltzer (or some other substitute) instead of a drink when cocktails are ordered. When everyone else orders drinks, you can just order “the usual”.
4. Find Substitute Routines. Many people rely on alcohol to help them relax at the end of the day. In fact, the habitual drinker is developing a tolerance and drinking increasing amounts. Therefore, you should never drink in order to unwind. Instead, do something else to relax, and make it a new habit. For example, take a before-dinner walk, have a friendly chat with your spouse or friend in planning out the evening’s activities, or do something on a hobby you’re interested in.
5. Avoid Situations that make it Hard to Resist Drinking. We all know that there are certain circumstances that encourage us to drink. Perhaps it’s when you get together with a certain friend. Perhaps it’s when you play cards with the boys. Maybe you can’t resist a beer at a baseball game. You know yourself best. In this first week of not drinking, you’re better off avoiding situations that will make it difficult for you to say no. I found when I stopped drinking, that I had to make new friends to replace the ones I had spent evenings drinking with. We no longer had the same interests and I was no longer willing to spend time with them. I found friends who shared my interest in health – many of them were people I met through my new interest in exercise – and it was no longer a struggle to avoid drinking.
The Antialcohol Biochemical Booster
Some people find it more difficult than others to give up drinking, though you should be in good enough physical shape by now. What with your improved nutrition, no sugar, no caffeine and with vitamin-mineral supplements you should be feeling the best you have for years, (perhaps the best you’ve ever felt.) Still some of you may need extra help to get through the week. We recommend the supplement glutamine.
A number of years ago Professor William Shive discovered there was a substance that seemed to protect cells to some degree from the ravages of alcohol. This substance was glutamine, an amino acid. Glutamine seems to help restore the nutritional imbalance that can cause alcoholic cravings in some people. Everyone’s body produces glutamine, but some people don’t seem to produce enough. If you’re one of those people, you may find that a supplement of glutamine will reduce your physical craving for alcohol and will help you get through this week and the rest of the Makeover.
You can get glutamine, called L-glutamine or glutamic acid, in powder form at a health food store. Mix it into fruit juices and drink it. Don’t use it in anything hot because heat reduces its effectiveness. We suggest you take 500 milligrams three times a day at meals. Continue to take it for one month. Remember that glutamine is a nutrient and not a drug, so it’s perfectly safe.
Tips from Makeover Veterans
So many say that giving up alcohol gives them more energy and vitality that they have more willpower to do things that they never thought they would be able to. When your mind is clearer you can much more easily make the right kind of spiritual and moral decisions that will positively affect other areas of your life. You can use this renewed energy and vitality for positive things – perhaps you would even like to help others with some of their problems like drinking or other things. “Wine is a mocker, and beer a brawler, whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” Prov. 20:1. There will be a moral vigor and strength that you will find upon determining to put God and your spiritual life ahead of the desire for intoxicants. Develop a good dependence – one which is based on reality. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36. Freedom to deny every hurtful habit or temptation is found in Jesus Christ. Only in Him can one be free from the manipulation of others or of our own carnal nature.
Also, the planning ahead is crucial when it comes to tempting situations like after work when the blood sugar is low and the hunger is high. Then it is very handy to have something quick and healthy to eat like cheese and crackers or yogurt and fruit to take the edge off that hunger. This makes it much more easy to resist the urge to go along with the crowd and simply settle for mineral water – and spare the hangover in the morning.