By: Michelle Symaco-Nicomedes, Literary Editor
Many teenagers consider drinking alcohol as a rite of passage, but some doctors warn about a host of health problems associated with heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages over many years.
In one of the worse cases, long term abuse of alcohol can lead to a comatose, said Dr. Maria Lourdes Razon, a general practitioner for 25 years.
She explained that drinking over time causes ammonia, an ingredient in alcoholic drinks, to build up in the liver that prevents it from functioning properly. The liver cleans up toxins in the body, but too much alcohol consumption over long periods could overwhelm this organ, she added.
And when the liver fails, it could lead to a condition called hepatic encephalopathy, which can induce a coma, Razon said.
Even if alcoholism does not make a person comatose, drinking too much for too long can also cause diabetes, the fifth cause of death in the Philippines, Razon also said.
“Alcohol is a form of energy, convertible to sugar,” another doctor said. He requested not to be identified because his expertise is general surgery. The sugar in alcohol is dangerous because it decreases the insulin’s effectiveness which leads to a high level of blood sugar, he added.
The surgeon also warned that alcohol is a depressant. It dulls the nerves and slows down reaction and other motor skills, he explained.
Other health issues
Drinking too much alcohol in the short run may not have a severe effect, but making it a habit can give a person a lot of diseases, one of these is liver cancer, the surgeon said.
A 2011 study by the US Department of Health and Human Services supported what the doctors said.
The US agency reported that 3.6 percent of cancer cases worldwide were related to drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol abuse can also lead to cardiovascular diseases, mal-absorption and chronic pancreatitis, the report added.
Medical sources said that cardiovascular diseases involve the heart, while mal-absorption is an abnormality in the absorption of food in the stomach, and chronic pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas.
At least one Filipino, too, has stories to tell about the health problems that can be caused by alcohol.
A 54-year-old housewife recalled her husband’s experience. She also asked not to be identified because she did not feel comfortable about other people knowing about her family problems.
In 2007, her husband almost died from cardiac arrest that was triggered by a sepsis attack, a severe infection that spreads through the bloodstream.
“Siya ang namamahala ng lahat. Ngayon na hindi ko na siya makausap mahirap na patakbuhin ang bahay at i-supervise ang anim naming mga anak [He used to take care of everything. Now, I can’t talk to him, and it is a burden on me to supervise our house and our six children],” she said.
The woman said that her husband had been drinking alcohol since his teenage years until he had his attack at age 49. His physicians told him that he suffered from chronic pancreatitis, which led to a sepsis then to cardiac arrest.
Fortunately for him and his family, he was revived. Today, five years after, he remains bed ridden and is still undergoing physical therapy.
“Miracle ang nangyari sa kanya kasi sa lahat ng doctors niya, wala kahit isa na nagsabing mabubuhay pa siya [What happened to him was miracle, because none of his doctors thought that he would survive],” the housewife added.
Besides the potential of health threats, people who drink for many years, like those who started when they were just teenagers, also encountered social problems later in life.
Underage drinking is a problem that existed since the 1980’s.
In the book Alcohol and Teenagers that was published in the US in 1987, American author Jane Miner said that underage drinking was a problem that teenagers and parents faced and that it poses mental and health consequences.
Miner wrote that 63 percent of young people in the US have had a drink by the age of 14.
Teenagers drink for a lot of different reasons, the book adds, saying that the main reason why teenagers drink is because they perceive it to be a mature activity, that drinking is a part of growing up.
Alcoholism can be a sickness, she said, adding that it is an addiction that can ruin lives, may it be through medical or through social like developing strained relations with family and friends that leads to conflicts and fights.
Today, in The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking, a book published by the Department of Health and Service USA in 2006 the problems caused by underage drinking were stated.
The book stated that teenagers use alcohol more than cigarettes and drugs, and that 70 percent of teenagers have had a drink by the age of 18. Teenagers drink a large amount of alcohol all at one time. Moreover, teenagers drink less often than adults but they drink more than the latter does. They are in to “binge drinking” an activity where they can consume a total of 5 drinks on a single occasion. This is a very dangerous way of drinking and it can lead to serious health problems and can even be the cause of death.
“The results of underage drinking can be grave” the book stated. It gave seven different consequences heavy alcohol consumption can result to:
1. Heavy drinking is “a major cause of death from injuries for young people”; it stated that 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking every year;
2. It increases the risk of being a victim of sexual or physical assault;
3. Its effects can range from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning”;
4. It can lead to low grades, drug abuse and crime;
5. It can influence on decision-making, make them take risks and fail, because they are not in the right state of mind;
6. It increases the chances of teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases;
7. It also affects how the brain develops.
The book specified the different reasons why teenagers drink. Some of these were: the teenager’s desire to take more risks; their want to be away from parents and be more independent; their desire to spend more time with their friends; and their feeling less stress when they drink alcohol.
Theresa Ballo, a former high school guidance counselor in a school in Bulacan, said that alcohol abuse among teenagers may be a symptom of other problems. She explained that some young people abuse alcohol in a misguided attempt to cope with serious personal issues.
Ballo narrated a story about a certain high school student who had an intense attachment to alcohol because she was sexually abused by her uncle.
Referring to the student, Ballo said, “She was reported to the discipline officer because someone from the neighborhood saw her with her friends including boys drunk and wasted.” There were other instances where she was caught drinking, even in school.
The student was eventually sent to the guidance office, where Ballo learned about her problems.
“In the first session, she reported that she was just swayed by her classmates. She wants to have fun and could not resist a happy experience.”
But when Ballo probed deeper in subsequent session, she discovered that the girl was facing something more serious problems.
She was molested by her uncle and was too afraid to tell her parents, the counselor said.
Ballo said that when the girl started to get counseling, she did not have any incidents involving alcohol. The girl eventually graduated in 2011.
Fortunately, the girl started to control herself from drinking too much alcohol. Today, the girl is living healthy and staying away from it.
Outside teenage drinking, there are also stories that concern bad effects of long term consumption of alcohol medically and socially.
An example of this is the story of Rowena, a 43 year old Filipina who started drinking at the age of 14. She ended up as diabetic and excessive alcohol consumption triggered her illness.
She discovered her disease on February 2012.
“Napansin ko kasi mas madalas ako hingalin saka nag-cacramps ako kaya ako nagpacheck-up [I’ve noticed that I get tired easily and I suffer from cramps that’s why I went for a check-up],” she said.
Her blood sugar level was 140 that is way above the normal level, which is 70 to 105. Her doctor advised her to stop drinking alcohol and gave her present medications.
Besides from her health condition, her social condition was also affected by her excessive alcohol consumption.
She described how hard it is to be known as a drunkard in the community she lives in.
“Ang hirap kaya pag kilala ka na lasengera.Takot nga mga tao sakin eh, pag alam nilang lasing ako, kasi alam nila nang-aaway ako pag nalasing ako [It is hard if you are known to be a drunkard. People actually are scared of me if they know that I am drunk, because they know that I put up fights every time I get drunk],” she said.
She admitted that she cannot control herself from drinking too much alcohol. Even her 19 year old son is concerned about her situation as an alcoholic, but still it doesn’t stop her from drinking.
“Minsan magsasabi yan (anak ko), ‘Mama tigilan mo na yan, ang tanda tanda mo na, di mo iniisip baka bigla kang magkasakit niyan!’ Pero wala na din, hindi ko na kasi ma-kontrol e, iba ang saya ko pagumiinom ako [Sometimes my son says, Mama will you stop drinking, you are getting old, and you are not thinking about the risks, you can suddenly get ill! But it doesn’t matter, I can’t control it anymore, I feel ecstasy every time I drink].” she added.