Alcohol, more specifically ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is a depressant that provides 7 kCal of energy per gram, and is the most abused drug for athletes and non-athletes in the United States. Prior to my research on alcohol, I assumed that alcohol abuse was not prevalent among college athletes, outside of the occasional partying that normal college students partake in as well.
But according to Lifestyles and Health Risks of Collegiate Athletes, college athletes generally drink more heavily and are more likely to engage in binge drinking than non-athletes1, and contrary to my belief, in the psychologic realm, some have argued that alcohol before competition reduces tension and anxiety, enhances self-confidence, and promotes aggressiveness. Alcohol use exaggerates the dehydrating effect of exercise and places an athlete at greater risk for heat injury during exercise.
Many athletes consume alcohol-containing beverages after exercising or sports competition and the bottom line is that alcohol-containing beverages impede rehydration. 2 Alcohol is a drug that is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine. In the fasting state, the majority of alcohol will be absorbed within 15 minutes and a maximum blood level will occur in approximately 20 minutes, with 80-90% complete absorption achieved within 30-60 minutes.
The rate of absorption of alcohol and subsequent appearance of alcohol in the blood is dependent on the rate of consumption, volume consumed, the proof of the alcohol, the presence of carbonation (which speeds up absorption), the presence or absence of food in the stomach, and if the user is taking any medication. It is broken down by the liver and then eliminated from the body, and while some alcohol metabolizes in the cells lining the stomach, most breaks down in the liver.
Until the liver can break down all of the alcohol, the drug will circulate in the bloodstream, affecting all of the body’s organs, including the brain. There are limits to how fast the liver can breakdown alcohol and nothing can speed up this process, and when alcohol reaches the brain, the user will begin to feel drunk. Alcohol depresses the brain and reduces the ability to control your body and mind. This is what makes alcohol so dangerous and if you drink too much alcohol, your breathing or heart rate can reach dangerously low levels or even stop.
Alcohol has been described as an athletic performance impairing drug. Exercise is a complex activity utilizing many of the body’s organ systems and alcohol exerts an effect on most of these systems, including the central nervous system, muscle energy storages and the cardiovascular system. Heavy alcohol intake over a long period of time can decrease exercise performance by slowing down the hearts response to exercise, muscle damage, weakness, inefficient heart performance, and decreased capacity to gain muscle. Drinking the day or night of a competition hinders athletic performance and exercising with a hangover can decrease aerobic performance by as much as 11 %! 9 Alcohol has even been linked with asthma. Athletes who regularly consume alcohol are more prone to injury. The smartest choice for a collegiate athlete would be to avoid the consumption of alcohol, especially in high volumes.
Some of the risks of drinking alcohol are vomiting, blacking out and not remembering what you did while you were drunk, passing out in an unfamiliar place or a place where your safety could be at risk, decreased inhibitions resulting in embarrassing and dangerous behavior, a hangover which includes: nausea, fatigue, upset stomach, headache, sore muscles, “cotton mouth,” lack of motivation, alcohol-related injuries resulting from loss of inhibitions and coordination and death by nervous system failure, injury and choking on your own vomit. The two most fatal risks of alcohol are drunken driving deaths, and alcoholism related deaths.
There are over 100,000 alcohol related deaths a year and alcohol-related traffic collisions kill more young people between the ages of 16 and 24 than any other single cause. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes strong cravings for alcohol and continuing to drink, despite repeated alcohol-related problems. Although alcoholism can be developed due to excessive consumption, a user is at higher risk when the disease runs in the family. The four main symptoms of alcoholism are craving, impaired control, tolerance, and physical dependence. ,4 For most adults, moderate alcohol use is up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people.
Obivously, the safest way to avoid alcoholism is to not drink at all. But if one must intake alcohol they should try to stay around the moderate alcohol intake. Are there any benefits of alcohol intake? Prior to my research I would have answered no. But moderate daily alcohol intake actually does have some benefits. 2 oz or 30 mL of 90 proof alcohol, or slightly less than three 12 oz beers reduce a healthy person’s risk of heart attack and stroke, independent of physical activity level. ,6,7 In fact, alcohol affects HDL levels just about as strongly as any other lifestyle factor, and may cause a rise in LDL levels thus stopping a critical step in plaque formation in the arteries.
Alcohol is the most abused drug in the United States by athletes and non-athletes. After my research I was shocked to learn the seriousness of its effects in the short and long term. The Health effects of alcohol have been observed in nearly every organ of the body, and its consumption has been linked to more than 60 diseases. The effects of alcohol on health can be disease, accidents, and injuries.
The effects can be just as immediate and apparent when they show up in athletes. Alcohol impedes hydration, and being dehydrated can cause many problems for an athlete ranging from injury to poor performance. Although those effects are only immediate and short term, athletes are not immune from contracting long term effects such as asthma, liver disease/failure, and heart disease. After learning about how alcohol is metabolized, I realized how long the process takes and all of the organs of your body it affects. Overall, alcohol does not have any ergogenic aid, and the smartest choice for an athlete would be to avoid the drug as a whole.