Our Bodies, Our Lives
By Dr. Tristi Muir
Two and a half years ago, my phone rang. “Tristi (sob, sob), Alli has been hit by a car.” A wave of disbelief raced through my body.
My 26-year-old compassionate, strong, beautiful niece had been walking along a road in the wee hours of the morning when she was hit by a car and left on the side of the road to die.
The woman who hit and killed her was only 22 years old and had been drinking all night.
This story and the tremendous grief that is left in its wake are all too familiar.
In June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published its findings that excessive drinking accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the United States — most commonly, the impact is as sudden as the lights of an oncoming car.
Any bartender can tell you that the less mixer you add to the alcohol, the stronger the kick. The natural “mixer” in the body is water.
As the alcohol is absorbed from the gut, it’s distributed in the water of the body.
Women have less water in their bodies than men (as a percentage); therefore, drink for drink, alcohol packs a bigger punch in women than men.
As women age, they have even less water in their bodies, further enhancing the effects of alcohol.
This punch can be even more profound on an empty stomach. Being “buzzed” can quickly become being “wasted.”
Alcohol may have an insidious impact on a life, stealing away brain function and perhaps relationships along with years of life lost to alcohol-related liver disease or cancer.
Women are more likely than men to develop and die from alcoholic liver disease.
Research also suggests that women are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain.
Most alcoholics have some alteration of mental function and a reduction in brain size — and size does matter here.
Genetic studies have shown a link between alcoholism and depression. Both alcoholism and depression have been linked to suicide. Women with both problems are at an even higher risk of suicide.
Moderate to heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Drinking more than four alcoholic beverages a week has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
As women, many of us are blessed with the great joy and responsibility of becoming pregnant.
Fetal tissue is even more susceptible to the toxic effects of alcohol. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most common preventable form of mental impairment. There is no safe amount of alcohol while pregnant.
Alcohol is part of our society and our culture. We toast the newly married couple and the New Year, meet for a drink after work and share a bottle of wine with a friend.
However, this celebratory companion comes with a price. Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of premature death in the United States.
The challenge is to know when to stop drinking during a particular evening, during pregnancy or at a point in life.
Celebration can quickly dissolve into sorrow. The loss of life ripples through family and friends.
A recently married, 22-year-old woman — who made a poor (impaired) decision to drive while drunk and leave a dying woman on the side of the road — now sits in jail and will do so throughout her 20s.
That sorrow ripples through her family as well. There is no reset button in life.
Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women’s sexual, gynecological and emotional health. Dr. Tristi Muir is the director of the UTMB Pelvic Health and Continence Center at Victory Lakes. Visit www.utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.