Saturday 20 July, 2019

Your weekend drinking could have serious health implications

By Meisha-Gay Mattis 

Friday. It’s easily the most anticipated day of the week. People don’t blast #TGIF all over social media for nothing. You’ve been working hard all week, so as soon as you leave the office, it’s time to let your hair down and head out for drinks with friends.

You’re at the bar before the others arrive, you decide to get things going by ordering your first drink. Before long, everyone is there and the weekend is in full swing. You order your second and before you know it, you lose track of how many drinks you’ve had as the laughter gets louder and enjoyment peaks. To you it’s just one night, but bingeing or drinking too much on a single occasion can pack on the pounds over time and also affect your overall health.

We know that drinking too much can cause more than terrible hangovers, but lead to life-altering events such as accidents. Beyond that, constant alcohol consumption may affect your waistline, looks and memory as well as the health of your liver, brain, heart, pancreas and immune system. If you take into consideration the standard drink minimum, you will be better equipped to gauge whether that puts you at ‘low risk’ or ‘high risk’ for certain health conditions that accompany drinking.

What exactly is a standard drink? Based on research, it should only contain about 0.6 fl oz or 14 grams of pure alcohol. You may be shocked to find out that your average drink is way above standard:

- Beers—12 fl oz (about five per cent alcohol)

- Malt liquor—anywhere between eight to nine fl oz (about seven per cent alcohol)

- A glass of wine—five fl oz (about 12 per cent alcohol)

- Distilled spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, etc)—1.5 fl oz of 80­-proof (40 per cent alcohol)

According to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the US, a recommended four or less drinks on any single occasion and no more than 14 drinks on a weekly basis puts men into the ‘low risk’ drinking category. For women, it takes a recommended three or less drinks on any single occasion with no more than seven drinks per week to remain ‘low risk’. Anything above this puts one into the ‘high risk’ category.

Now that you have a better understanding of what constitutes a ‘standard drink’, can you safely say that you maintain your limit? Note that these do not reflect customary sizes as bars may use different serving sizes and some alcoholic beverages may come in larger bottles. Also, some individuals are equipped to handle the minimum requirement to be low risk while others may need to consume even less.

If you’re not careful, your caloric intake can escalate quickly with weekend binge drinking or constant heavy drinking, which can lead to weight gain. Research shows that people who are more likely to drink are also more likely to overeat by an average of 366 calories.* This compromises their health and puts them at greater risk of obesity. The US defines ‘binge drinking’ as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more for men within a few hours at least one per month. In the UK, it is defined as drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk. There is no known official definition in Jamaica, but based on both definitions, we have a keen understanding of what it entails, so we might want to put down the entire bottles of wine during our Netflix marathons or that six pack of beers during the Premier League weekend matchups.


Here’s how drinking too much can affect your body:



When we speak of consuming empty calories, we often think only of carbonated and sugary beverages, but alcoholic beverages also fall into that category as it has zero nutritional value and can quickly pile on the pounds. I’m sure we have all heard the term “beer belly” before and that in itself is self explanatory. Drinking also diminishes the body’s ability to burn fat, primarily because the body is occupied with trying to rid itself of the alcohol and until it’s all gone, your fat burning engine grinds to a halt. So you can forget about burning all the food you’re eating while drinking because your body isn’t even burning existing stored fat. Your entire metabolism is on pause. Although a glass of wine has been documented to show health benefits, the returns are diminishing after thereafter, so don’t overdo it.

See below the calorie content of some of your prefered drinks at the bar, along with serving size. Note that “standard drink” does not equate to serving size.

For the fun of things, see how much exercise is needed to burn calories from your favourite drink.


**Calorie burning is calculated on a low-moderate intensity basis and the figures are approximated. 


Immune system

Your immune system, which is your body’s defense mechanism, is exposed or put at risk with binge drinking, giving rise to increased inflammation or flare-ups of autoimmune disorders/ This can, in turn, make you more susceptible to pneumonia, acute respiratory stress syndromes, alcoholic liver disease and a reduced capacity to recover after physical trauma.



A lot takes place in the liver with heavy drinking as it becomes inflamed and unable to detoxify the body. Other conditions caused by excessive drinking include fatty liver, fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis.



Excess drinking makes your heart become weaker and contributes to one having an irregular heart beat. There is also the possibility of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke.



Binge drink puts you at greater risk for some types of cancer, including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast.



Over drinking can cause your pancreas to become inflamed and you develop pancreatitis, which is the swelling of the blood vessels in the gland that impedes digestion.



Additional side effects of constant or binge drinking is that it ages you. Your skin is dehydrated, so it looks wrinkled and parched. Drinking also affects your sleep. A little alcohol may help you ‘knock out’, but there's a rebound effect: once it leaves the body, you no longer enjoy deep sleep but more light sleep to wakefulness. The stress, dark circles under the eyes and puffiness wreak havoc on your looks and can add years to your countenance.



Just one single occasion of drinking may affect the delicate balance of your neurotransmitters, causing them to pass information slower than normal or make your feel extremely drowsy. Alcohol-related neurotransmitter disruption can lead to mood swings and memory loss. Ever wondered why you can’t remember what happened when you went on a drinking spree? It can also cause agitation, depression and other behavioural changes.

So, is that round of shots worth it? Or that endless line of mixed drinks in red cups at that beach party? When the health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, liver damage and weakened immune system overweights and heart benefits, you may want to put a cork in it and re-evaluate your cost for fun.

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email for more information or visit any of the following 

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