7 Main Physical Effects of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse

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Physical Effects of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse 

In 2018, an estimated 66%, which was an overwhelming majority of all adults in the US, drank alcohol that year. Alcohol is the most widely consumed substance in the United States. This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being that alcohol is so easily available people view it as predominantly safe, especially as long as you are above the legal drinking age. Though, alcohol can potentially negatively affect someone’s long-term health. You don’t even have to be a heavy drinker, which therefore can be problematic in itself.

The Heart and Alcohol’s Effect

Research has eluded to suggesting that an occasional glass of red wine may be associated with decreased heart disease risks. This is also comparing drinkers to non-drinkers who moderately drink the occasional glass of red wine. Though, the common thread between alcohol and heart health perhaps may be more complicated by additional factors not otherwise considered.

Those factors, such as, non-drinkers may not drink due to sickness or prior issues with alcohol abuse. Even red wine drinkers perhaps may be more likely to acquire higher incomes which allows them to better access to healthier foods and education. Another thing to take into consideration is the additional health benefits possibly received from drinking might be achieved from other lifestyle means such as exercising and eating healthy. Even then, some people might be swayed to target a possible connection between drinking and a favorable impact on heart health (or at the very least, not a negative one) to justify moderate drinking in any form (one drink per day for a female and one to two for a male).

Essentially, to increase is not better in this situation, and for those with specific heart conditions (arrhythmia being one in particular), the drinking period can be flat-out dangerous. 

Alcohol abuse is considered 8 or more drinks a week for females. For males, it would be considered 15 drinks or more a week. It is not healthy or beneficial for the heart and it’s been linked to many health issues, such as:

  • The disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
  • High blood pressure.
  • Arrhythmias.
  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.

Alcohol on the Brain and Long-Term Effects

Short-term use of alcohol on the brain can create blackouts and memory loss. Though, it also has significant effects on the brain, especially with long-term use. Heavy amounts of alcohol being consumed do, however, risk more than detrimental brain issues.

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1). 80% of people who suffer from alcohol abuse can get thiamine deficiencies. Over time, if Wernicke’s encephalopathy is developed due to the deficiency they will develop symptoms such as severe mental confusion. Along with muscular incoordination, paralysis of nerves affect the eyes and their movement. This is a very concerning condition that can develop.
  • When Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops it’s estimated that 80%-90% will also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, which is marked by persistent cognitive problems. It includes forgetfulness and an inability to form new memories. Those with this severe condition can become very easily frustrated while trying to deal with these memory issues. They can also have problems and issues with walking and muscle coordination as well.
  • Associations may begin to form for some people and it may begin to create pleasurable feelings of intoxication with specific environmental cues. This will more than likely complicate any attempts to quit drinking alcohol. Seeing “drinking buddies,” or even driving by a favorite bar or restaurant may be the cue to trigger a strong craving for alcohol that may be difficult to pass up.

Willpower becomes increasingly more difficult over time for those who are addicted to alcohol to reduce their drinking. People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) may experience brain disruptions involving the pathways that control their decision-making along with their judgment. People with AUD can have a hard time or be completely unable to control their drinking altogether. This is even true no matter what is clearly in their best interest for them to do so, including their own health.

Liver & Pancreas with The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Aiding in the digestion of food and filtering waste out of the body, the liver does crucial functions within the body. It will even break down alcohol as well too. It’s a vital organ that can be damaged by chronic heavy alcohol abuse quite significantly too. 

Liver disease may eventually develop in a person who continues to heavily drink. There are three main stages of liver disease, they are:

  • Fatty liver- (i.e., alcoholic steatohepatitis). Fat deposits develop in the liver’s tissue and it’s the most common alcohol-related liver disease. Those who drink regularly can easily get this liver disease. Most often it’s usually asymptomatic, and it may be accompanied by elevated liver enzymes, liver enlargement, and fatigue. 
  • Alcoholic hepatitis- Fatty liver could progress to hepatitis with continued drinking. It’s a condition of liver inflammation that is widespread. Along with liver cell necrosis (death), fibrosis, and scarring. Pain, weakness, fever, nausea, loss of appetite/weight loss. Jaundice, abdominal distension, and fluid buildup are other symptoms as well.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis- This is the most severe progression of liver disease there is. It has an abundance of scar tissue in the liver including the loss of liver function. The damage could possibly be reversible if the individual stops drinking completely. Though, some damage is unfortunately permanent. People with cirrhosis can have every symptom of alcoholic hepatitis or just some of them, along with the following:
    • A scarred, shrunken liver
    • Worsening jaundice
    • Enlarged spleen
    • Fluid retention in the abdomen
    • Portal hypertension
    • Intestinal bleeding
    • Confusion (i.e., hepatic encephalopathy)

Liver cancer risk is higher for those who suffer from any form of alcohol-induced liver disease. People who have cirrhosis are more prone to developing cancer including dangerous infections and renal problems. 

From heavy alcohol abuse, a person can also develop pancreatitis, in addition to liver disease. It is when the pancreas becomes very inflamed. It causes nausea, and vomiting, and creates a lot of pain. The pain is considered severe abdominal pain and it can radiate to the back. It can also be considered acute or chronic as well. Acute pancreatitis in the most severe cases can still be life-threatening.

Kidneys with The Long Term Effects of Alcohol

Filtering waste and regulating the amount of water in the body, is what our kidneys are designed to do for our body. Alcohol can make our kidneys less efficient. Long-term alcohol abuse can further damage kidneys and cause or worsen high blood pressure.

  • Blood pressure can become high by exceeding two drinks a day.
  • The breakdown of muscle tissue into the bloodstream can lead to rhabdomyolysis and if untreated large muscle proteins will spill into the bloodstream. Which can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure as a result of alcohol use.
  • The liver is also connected to the kidneys and their health. Cirrhosis of the liver in itself can automatically lead to kidney failure.

The GI System and The Effects of Alcohol

Inflammation is caused all throughout the gastrointestinal tract due to alcohol abuse. It can increase the risk of many things, such as:

  • The stomach lining becomes increasingly inflamed, causing belching, nausea, the sensation of fullness, heartburn, and bloating.
  • The esophagus can swell and become irritated. Leading to symptoms such as acid reflux, trouble swallowing, and heartburn. 
  • When the duodenum lining becomes inflamed (which is the part of the small intestine lining) it can cause pain, nausea, vomiting, burning/cramping in the stomach, and gas.

Can Excessive Drinking Cause Cancer?

There have been links between excessive drinking, alcohol abuse and many types of cancers, such as: 

  • Head and neck cancers- You increase your risk of head and neck cancers 2 to 3 times if you have 3 drinks per day. If you smoke in addition to, you further increase this risk. 
  • Esophageal cancer- This cancer type has been specifically associated with alcohol. Though there have been genetic differences that result in somewhat smaller amounts of targeted metabolic enzymes (ex aldehyde dehydrogenase, alcohol dehydrogenase) which have made individuals more prone to this type of cancer.
  • Liver cancer- When the liver disease gets worse, so do the chances of getting liver cancer developing. Alcohol can cause an array of liver diseases in itself and the probability of cancer developing as liver disease progresses shouldn’t be expected. It is also linked to an increased risk as well to hepatitis C, which is another risk factor for liver cancer.
  • Colorectal cancer- Individuals who have 3 drinks per day are likely to develop colon cancer, which are approximately 2 times more likely compared to non-drinkers.
  • Breast cancer- The risk of breast cancer increases by 12% for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day, according to what research shows.

Alcohol consumption raises the risk of cancer according to many theories, such as:

  • Alcohol metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which is a potential carcinogen because it contains ethanol.
  • Alcohol can damage your DNA, fats, and proteins in the body! Alcohol produces molecules that have reactive oxygen species, which are also known as free radicals; they are what cause the damage. 
  • Alcohol keeps your body from absorbing and using many important vitamins that help prevent cancer from developing in your body. Those vitamins are A, B, C, D, and E. 
  • Alcohol boosts a hormone called estrogen, which can increase certain types of breast cancers.

Get Help With Your Alcohol Abuse Recovery Today

Alcohol Abuse

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