Learn how alcohol can impact your body's ability to absorb key nutrients and negatively impact training effectiveness.

The negative impact of alcohol

The negative impact of alcohol extends beyond the potential hangover the next day. There is no amount of alcohol that is considered safe, however, population research shows that those that live the longest include people who have a low-moderate intake of alcohol. If you choose to drink, it is important to find the right balance so you can enjoy a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage but still perform at your best on a day-to-day basis.

The acute effects of alcohol are well known. For some, we can feel them almost immediately. Alcohol can be both a stimulant and a depressant, depending on the dose. Half a glass or wine or a pint of beer can help you relax at the end of a hectic or demanding day, allow you to draw a line in the sand between work and home, and can be an opportunity to sit down with your partner or friends and catch up at the end of the week. However, as the amount increases, the more negative the impact it can have on your own behaviour and judgement, and the safety of those around you. Further, when the alcohol content of your blood goes back down, it can increase the depressive feelings people often experience after drinking.

Alcohol can allow you to feel more relaxed in social settings leading to reduced inhibitions and more risk-taking behaviour. Impairment in hand/eye co-ordination increases the risk of injuries that could impact your ability to participate in PT or activities in the field. Further, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, and the timing of consumption, even 2-3 glasses of alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns. Studies reveal that alcohol may make people fall asleep more quickly, but then have more periods of wakefulness and a lighter sleep. This impacts on overall recovery for the next day and can lead to fatigue, mood disturbances and inability to focus on tasks, as we attempt to go through our normal day with the lingering effects of alcohol.

You might notice that your heart rate is increased at a relatively lower intensity (due to dehydration). You feel more fatigued (due to disturbed sleep) and require longer to recover from exercise (due to the reduction in growth hormone release that typically occurs during sleep). Your ability to build muscle is also compromised, particularly if you drink heavily on a regular basis. In order to offset these effects, the obvious strategy is to minimise alcohol and avoid drinking to excess in any one sitting.

Binge drinking (i.e. drinking more than the recommended amount in one sitting) can not only lead to increased injury risk and weight gain, but over time can increase anxiety and depressive feelings, with changes occurring to your brain’s neurotransmitter levels, serotonin and dopamine. This can directly impact on your levels of motivation and behaviour, and subsequent consistency to perform in PT and field-related operations to the best of your ability.

As we get older, our ability to tolerate alcohol worsens. Where once we could drink four glasses of wine and feel no negative impact, more people report that sleep disruption, mood and cravings are worse than what they could tolerate 10 or even 5 years ago. It is thought that it is harder to metabolise alcohol as we age, and slower to eliminate the alcohol through our detoxification systems. It is not your imagination that your tolerance is decreasing, and the best strategy to alleviate these symptoms is to prevent them from happening in the first instance.

How much should we drink?

The current recommendations for alcohol are set at:

  • No more than 2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • No more than 3 standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week and at least 2 alcohol-free days every week.

Reduce your risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking by drinking no more than:

  • 4 standard drinks for women on any single occasion.
  • 5 standard drinks for men on any single occasion.

Strategies to reduce alcohol intake and impact

  • Make sure you are well hydrated before having an alcoholic drink (to avoid drinking quickly, and thus drinking more)
  • For every glass of alcohol, have a low calorie beverage in between, or alongside to slow down the rate of drinking
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach
  • Decide on a maximum number of drinks at the start of the evening and share that with a friend to help you remain accountable
  • Avoid drinking the day before and the day of a harder PT session.
  • Consume sugar-free electrolytes (or ½ tsp salt in water) before heading to bed after consuming alcohol
  • Choose low sugar or sugar-free mixers to consume with spirits if these are your drink of choice
  • Note that red wine and clear spirits have the lowest residual sugar level.

How can NZDF help you?

Defence Health Centre (DHC). Speak with a GP about your drinking if you are concerned. They will be able to offer you advice and support to better manage your drinking.

Social Support. Sometimes the pressures of work and family, and stress of everyday life can impact on our drinking. If it has all become too much we recommend that you reach out and talk to someone -  chaplains, marae, social worker and NZDF4U. This will go a long way to help you heal yourself.

Urgent help. Alcohol addiction concerns please read Get help now.