Alcohol is a drink taken by people for recreation, to relieve stress and celebrate — various reasons for centuries. But with advances in medical science in the past century, many adverse effects of alcohol have also come to be known.
It is harmful to the entire body. The risks are more with the type of alcoholic drink, age at which drinking starts, amount and duration of drinking and gender of the person. The younger the age at which one starts drinking, the greater the risk of adverse effects on health.
The most dramatic and fearful effect caused by drinking alcohol is involuntary movement. There may be involuntary movement of the hands, entire limbs, legs or even entire body. This becomes frightening for both the sufferer and the onlooker as well.
These abnormal involuntary movements occur due to various types of damage caused by alcohol. Alcohol causes direct damage to the cerebellum (part of brain regulating balance of the body). This occurs slowly and progressively and manifests as typical tremors of the hands and head, along with difficulty in walking in later stages. The hand tremors result in difficulty in simple small tasks like writing, buttoning or unbuttoning a dress, even eating food.
When one takes alcohol regularly, body cells including brain cells get habituated to it. Thus, at the regular time of drinking, the body craves for it. If one avoids drinking, he may have involuntary movements. These can range from tremors of the hands to jerky movements of the limbs. Though brief in duration, they are frightening. Moreover, during such an attack, there is real danger of the individual being hurt due to falling, suffering from broken bones or burns due to exposure to fire inadvertently, if involuntary movement involves entire body as in a generalised seizure.
Head injury caused due to a fall can result in other neurological problems. Prolonged seizure or seizures occurring during sleep can be life threatening as well, due to aspiration of fluids causing choking. Epileptic seizures are precipitated in individuals with epilepsy. A person habituated to alcohol may have a drink one evening and not take the next.
He is likely to have a seizure 6 to 72 hours after drinking. Even consuming two drinks can increase the risk of seizures by 15% per cent. Binge of alcohol also induces acute seizure. The efficacy of some anti-epilepsy drugs is reduced due to presence of alcohol in the blood. Therefore, if somebody suffering from epilepsy is on anti-epileptic drugs, he should think twice before taking alcohol. Reduced efficacy of anti-epileptic drugs leads to poor control of epilepsy resulting in increased frequency of epileptic seizures.
Alcohol is a known risk factor for causing stroke, by different mechanisms. Here, part of the brain is damaged due to cutting of blood supply. A stroke involving middle portion of the brain can manifest as involuntary movements of the head and or limbs.
A person having any kind of these involuntary movements suffers from inconvenience of walking evenly or doing small chores by himself. This affects his quality of life and may make him withdraw from people. In societies across the world, there is ignorance regarding involuntary movements and seizures. Hence, people with this problem are often stigmatised. They feel embarrassed.
All these factors can lead to depression. Staying lonely will enhance depression. This is bound to affect his affect appetite and sleep, two things necessary for good health.
In the majority of cases, brain damage once occurred is irreversible and can progress. Hence, the involuntary movements may become chronically present. Seizures may recur. This creates fear and apprehension in the mind of the sufferer.
Considering these harmful physical effects of alcohol on physical movements, it is better to avoid it.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine