Alcohol & the Body
Alcohol is a powerful drug that can have harmful effects on every organ and system in the body. Long-term chronic drinking, heavy drinking, or binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence and addiction. Once an individual has an alcohol use disorder, the adverse effects of the drug have accumulated over time and may cause significant damage to their mental and physical health.
The Brain & Central Nervous System
Alcohol, a depressant, slows down the communication pathways from nerve cells throughout the body and receptors within the brain. This affects a person’s behavior and mood. It makes it difficult for them to think clearly and affects their balance, coordination, vision, and speech. HealthHive explains that addiction or abuse can cause the frontal lobes of an individual’s brain to shrink. The frontal lobes are responsible for many things, such as emotional expression, voluntary movement, judgment, and memory. When the frontal lobes shrink, the person cannot control their impulses, learn anything new, or make memories. They often experience blackouts. Alcohol use can result in permanent cell damage, called neuropathy.
The Heart & Circulatory System
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking or heavy drinking can damage the heart. Heart and circulatory problems may include high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, or heart attack. Alcohol use can also cause cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscle), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and poisoning of the heart muscle cells. In older men, heavy consumption may cause sudden cardiac death (SCD). Sudden cardiac death is different from a heart attack. When SCD occurs, the cells in the heart cannot maintain a regular rhythm, and the heart stops suddenly.
Drinking alcohol slows down and weakens the immune system. It makes the white blood cells less efficient at fighting off viruses, germs, and other illnesses in the body. Heavy drinkers are more likely to contract diseases such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. It also puts the individual at a greater risk of developing several forms of cancer.
Abusing alcohol slows new bone production. The alcohol acts as a diuretic, removing calcium from bones. It puts the individual at risk of bone fractures, bone deterioration, and osteoporosis. It also affects the muscles, making them more likely to cramp, weaken, and atrophy.
Liver, Pancreas, Kidneys, & Excretory System
The liver’s job is to break down or metabolize harmful substances such as alcohol. People who abuse it can develop severe liver scarring, inflammation, or liver disease. Consuming it can cause swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas. It prevents proper digestion: a condition called pancreatitis. Heavy drinking can cause the pancreas to stop producing insulin. Instead, it creates toxic substances that can cause it to destroy itself. Alcohol dehydrates the body, affecting the kidneys’ ability to regulate electrolytes, hormones, and fluid. Alcohol use may also cause prostate and bladder inflammation.
Drinking alcohol can rapidly cause damage to an individual’s digestive system. It is difficult for the intestines to absorb nutrients and control the number of bacteria when alcohol is present. Malnutrition occurs quickly. Consuming it may also cause tooth decay, damage to the gums and salivary glands, and esophageal ulcers. Alcohol may also cause heartburn, acid reflux, gastritis, stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, and hemorrhoids.
Men who drink excessively or binge drink may experience erectile dysfunction. As their testosterone and other hormone levels become lowered by their drinking, they may become infertile. Alcohol consumption may cause women to cease menstruation and become infertile. It also increases the risk of breast cancer. If a woman consumes it while pregnant, she is at an increased risk of miscarriage, premature labor, or stillbirth. The baby has an increased risk of being born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) that include a range of physical, mental, emotional, and developmental disorders and disabilities.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, help is available. You are not alone. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, you will receive the help you need to travel the path to sobriety. Take the first step toward recovery. Call us today.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.