Alcohol is enjoyed by many people as part of part of their social life. It’s easily obtainable, acceptable and legal. But, this substance is also addictive and, when used to excess, can lead to a number of negative health consequences.
When most people think about the effects of alcohol abuse, the dangers of car crashes caused by drinking and driving are likely the first thing that come to mind. The next thing on the list is probably the health issues caused by cirrhosis of the liver. These two health risks only scratch the surface of the problems caused by heavy drinking.
Central Nervous System Damage
Most people are familiar with signs that someone has had too much to drink, such as slurred speech, difficulty retaining balance when walking and slower reaction time. All of these are indications of the short-term effects of alcohol on the central nervous system.
If a person continues to drink heavily over time, other symptoms of damage to the central nervous system can become evident, such as tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. Alcohol use can also lead to issues with long-term memory and interfere with the ability to think rationally and make reasonable decisions.
With time, frontal lobe brain damage can occur. This is the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory, impulse control and emotional control.
Drinking regularly increases your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, liver and esophagus. Alcohol use has also been linked to breast and colorectal cancer. The risk increases among heavy alcohol users who smoke.
A history of heavy drinking, and especially drinking binges, makes platelets more likely to turn into dangerous blood clots. These can lead to either a heart attack or a stroke. Researchers have found that heavy alcohol use (six-nine drinks in a day, 19-30 drinks in one week) increases the risk of heart attack and stroke by up to six times.
Drinking heavily can also lead to heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). This type of heart disease causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thickened and enlarged. Once this occurs, the heart’s ability to pump blood becomes weaker. Heart failure often results, and blood may backup into the lungs or other parts of the body. Cardiomyopathy can also cause arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat).
Digestive System Issues
It may not be immediately apparent to most people that drinking alcohol can negatively affect the digestive system. Drinking alcohol can cause damage to the digestive tract’s tissues, preventing the intestines from doing an efficient job of absorbing the vitamins and other nutrients from the foods we eat. Once the digestive tract has been compromised, a person is at higher risk for developing malnutrition.
Heavy drinking can lead to ulcers and hemorrhoids, which can cause internal bleeding. Ulcers can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
Cirrhosis of the Liver
The liver breaks down harmful substances and helps to remove them from the body. Alcohol is a substance that is toxic to liver cells, and heavy drinkers can develop cirrhosis, where the liver becomes scarred and has difficulty functioning normally.
It’s difficult to predict which people who abuse alcohol will develop this condition. Some people can drink heavily for years and never develop cirrhosis, while others who don’t drink very much alcohol will get it. Women are more likely to develop cirrhosis than men.
Sexual Health and Fertility Problems
Alcohol has a reputation for lowering inhibitions and putting couples in the mood for intimacy. While having a glass of wine may help you to relax before getting cozy with your partner, heavy drinking can kill desire by interfering with sex hormone production.
Most men have probably experienced erectile dysfunction at some point. Heavy drinkers are more likely to have difficulty getting or keeping an erection.
Women who drink heavily may stop having menstrual periods, which puts their fertility at risk. Heavy-drinking women who become pregnant are more likely to miscarry, go into labor early or have a stillbirth.
Increased Risk of Infectious Disease
People who are heavy drinkers are more susceptible to infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. Their alcohol consumption suppresses their immune system, making it easier for them to become infected.
Alcohol addiction is certainly not the least of the concerns for someone who has been abusing this type of drug over a long time. Alcohol creates a physical and emotional dependency among users, and trying to stop drinking “cold turkey” is not recommended for long-term alcoholics.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s long-term alcohol use, English Mountain Recovery offers gender-specific residential inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse. We can provide a treatment option based on a client’s specific needs and treatment goals.
By Jodee Redmond