Understanding the Health Risks Associated with Long-Term Heavy Drinking

older woman with stomach pain

older woman with stomach painMost people have heard that long-term heavy drinking can lead to liver problems, but cirrhosis is only one of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol use. Research has shown that heavy drinking will damage your health in multiple ways. It’s also a leading preventable cause of death.

How Long-Term Heavy Drinking Affects the Body

Chronic heavy drinking is harmful to numerous systems in the body. A person’s individual symptoms will vary depending on a number of factors, such as gender, general health, body mass, genetics, and how much they drink.

Brain Damage

Serious and persistent changes in the brain can result from drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long time. This damage can result from direct exposure of alcohol to the brain or poor health in general.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1) is essential for good health. All tissues in the body, including the brain, need it to function properly. It’s found in nuts, beans, peas, soybeans, whole grain cereals, meat, and poultry.

The majority of alcoholics (80 percent) have a Vitamin B1 deficiency. Some of them will develop serious brain disorders as a result. These brain disorders include Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, a condition characterized by mental confusion, problems with muscle coordination, and paralysis with the nerves that move the eyes.


Long-term heavy drinking increases the likelihood of developing several types of cancer, including the following:

  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Larynx
  • Liver
  • Rectum
  • Stomach

Someone who is a heavy drinker and smokes cigarettes increases their risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, stomach, throat, larynx, or lungs.

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Most of the alcohol we consume is metabolized by our liver. It converts the alcohol to acetaldehyde, a substance that is toxic and known to cause cancer. Chronic heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic liver disease.

Cirrhosis (scarring and poor functioning) is the last, and most serious phase of alcoholic liver disease. Over a long time (several years or decades), the scarring can spread to encompass the entire liver, making it hard and nodular. Often, symptoms of cirrhosis don’t appear until the liver has been subjected to extensive damage. If the liver is unable to function properly, this state can lead to multiple organ failure and result in death.

Stomach Problems

The digestive system can also be affected by heavy drinking over a long time. As alcohol passes through the gastrointestinal tract, it has a toxic effect that can cause damage leading to one or more of the following:

  • Acid reflux
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach ulcers


It’s not uncommon for people with living with substance abuse, including alcohol issues, to have difficulty eating on a regular schedule. Over time, they may find that they may lose interest in eating because keeping their addiction fed comes first.

The lack of good food in the diet leads to malnutrition. Even if a person who is drinking heavily is able to stick to a relatively good eating plan, the nutrients he is getting from food aren’t being digested properly. Due to damage in the gastrointestinal tract, nutrients from food don’t get absorbed into the blood as efficiently. As a result, the body’s cells don’t receive the full benefit of nutrients from the food being eaten.

Immune System Issues

Excessive drinking can affect the immune system, making it easier for the body to succumb to infections like pneumonia, HIV, tuberculosis, and other health conditions. The alcohol content changes the makeup of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Alcoholism can lead to lower white blood cell counts. New white blood cell production stops as the cells get trapped in the spleen. The body has a reduced ability to fight off infections.

Get Treatment for Long-Term Drinking at English Mountain

English Mountain Recovery’s staff has the experience needed to work with clients who have been living with a long-term addiction to alcohol. Our holistic program includes elements that focus on the mind, body, and spirit for a well-rounded experience. Call us for more information or to discuss how we can help you or a loved one.

English Mountain Recovery - Tennessee drug rehab center - alcohol rehab -To learn more about programs offered at English Mountain Recovery, call and speak with someone today at (877) 615-8569. We are ready to help you or your loved one recover.