Alcohol is one of the most common abusive substances known and used worldwide for all occasions, and for relaxation as well.
It is harmful to health and damages various body parts like the liver, heart and nervous system. Alcohol also damages sexual reproductive health. The damage caused depends on the amount and type of alcohol consumed, and also the duration.
In adolescent girls, alcohol consumption is known to disrupt normal pubertal changes. Studies have demonstrated alcohol to cause delay in beginning of menses and or irregular menstrual cycles. Mild to moderate alcohol consumption can also lead to these changes as the body of an adolescent is not capable of handling toxic effects of alcohol. At this growing age, apart from hormonal disturbances, alcohol also disrupts the normal bone health and growth.
In grown up adult women, alcohol consumption can cause irregular menses and impaired ovulation. This occurs even with mild consumption. This is reverted to normal pattern following cessation of drinking. Liver damage caused due to alcohol consumption further aggravates the hormonal disturbances. A woman may suffer from infertility because of derangement of the hormonal system by alcohol. Even if she becomes pregnant, there is high risk of miscarriage. If the pregnancy is continued, the baby born may be underweight with various congenital abnormalities, what is known as foetal alcohol syndrome.
In women who have attained menopause, alcohol accelerates the process of osteoporosis, that is, reduced bone density). Though estrogen levels are increased due to hormonal disturbances, this increased estrogen level does not provide any additional benefit to a woman, because of other harmful health effects of alcohol consumption.
Damage to the nervous system caused by alcohol results in sexual impotence in men, which is a devastating condition for most. A man loses libido and if libido is retained, there is failure of erection. Testicular damage due to alcohol results in impairment of sperm production. Thus, even if a man retains ability to perform sexual activity, he is at high risk of male infertility, that is, inability to produce a baby.
Alcohol consumption is known to alter the sperms, due to its damaging effects on testes and the hormonal balance. There may be mutations in the sperms; even quality of sperms may be affected. If fertilisation occurs with this semen containing altered sperms, there are chances of birth defects occurring in the baby being formed. Thus, children of a non-alcoholic mother may suffer from defects if the father has been drinking alcohol. Even in case of no remarkable physical defect, the child born may have behaviour abnormality in the form of being highly aggressive.
Apart from the physical effects, alcohol creates another risk for adolescent and teenage boys and girls. Those who start drinking from such a tender age tend to indulge more in unprotected sexual acts, thus exposing themselves to the hazard of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and even HIV/AIDS. These diseases not only cause immediate health problems but can cause long term sequel like infertility, later in life.
Thus, it can be seen that alcohol damages the reproductive and sexual functions of both men and women in many ways. Drinking alcohol not only causes damage to various body parts, but also impairs chances of having a baby. Any baby born, may be underweight and could be having abnormalities if one or both parents have been drinking alcohol.
People need to be aware of these health hazards of alcohol. Before one touches the bottle again, he/she should know the risks posed by it in having a normal sexual life and starting a family.
Dr Rachna Pande, Specialist, internal medicine