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More than 140,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is also responsible for over 18% of emergency room visits, making it one of the leading preventable causes of injury. Despite its dangers, alcohol use is quite common, making it very important that people know the risks of using alcohol.
Alcohol harms the body in many ways, especially when used over prolonged periods of time. It is a toxic chemical causing inflammation throughout the body. Alcohol’s negative effects are systemic, affecting virtually every system of the body in some way. This makes the harmful effects of alcohol wide-ranging, leading to several diseases you might not suspect alcohol would cause.
Long-term alcohol use causes liver damage that progresses through three distinct stages. The first stage, called fatty liver disease, does not typically cause major symptoms beyond fatigue and weight changes, but it does set the stage for more severe conditions. The fat buildup that this condition causes can lead to inflammation in the liver, called hepatitis.
Hepatitis marks a serious progression of alcohol-related liver damage. It can cause more serious liver-related symptoms and lead to permanent scarring. This permanent scarring is the third stage of liver damage caused by alcohol, called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is irreversible and can only be treated by getting a liver transplant.
Alcohol increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. This condition happens when your body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that helps sugar move from your bloodstream into your cells. It ultimately results in high levels of sugar in your bloodstream. This causes damage to circulation and nerves and can cause serious metabolic complications that can be fatal if not treated.
While medical researchers don’t fully understand exactly how alcohol causes type 2 diabetes, they know that it increases the risk of this problem. Type 2 diabetes can lead to infections, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, kidney problems and blindness.
Alcohol’s inflammatory effects can impact the pancreas. This long, thin organ releases digestive enzymes and helps control your metabolism. Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is incredibly painful and worsened by the presence of food in the digestive tract, making it almost impossible to eat. If untreated, it can also lead to many other complications, several of which are potentially fatal. Someone with pancreatitis will require hospitalization to treat the condition fully.
Alcohol increases your blood pressure whenever you drink. When used for long periods of time, this leads to chronically high blood pressure, called hypertension. Hypertension causes damage to your arteries, increasing the risk of several different cardiovascular conditions.
The damage alcohol causes increases the risk that a blood clot will obstruct circulation in your heart, causing a heart attack, or in your brain, causing a stroke. It can also increase the risk of damage to your heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy, and can cause peripheral arterial disease, which affects circulation in your extremities.
Alcoholic gastritis is inflammation of the stomach caused by chronic use of alcohol. Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, causing bloating and discomfort. Over time, it can lead to damage to the stomach wall that can cause internal bleeding or serious infections.
Alcohol increases the risk of gout occurring and the frequency of gout attacks. Gout is a painful joint condition caused by excessive levels of uric acid. In high concentrations, uric acid forms sharp, pointed crystals within joints. This causes damage and severe pain each time you move the joint. Alcohol can increase uric acid levels, growing the risk that you will get gout or experience a flare if you already have gout.
Alcohol can lead to many different neurological disorders. One major neurological problem it can cause indirectly is traumatic brain injury (TBI). Up to 50% of people who experience a TBI were drunk when the injury occurred, making drinking a major risk factor for experiencing a TBI.
The other major neurological condition alcohol can cause is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition develops because alcohol creates a nutritional deficiency of vitamin B1, also called thiamine. Prolonged thiamine deficiency causes inflammation in the brain, called Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This condition is reversible but will eventually become permanent if untreated, creating a form of dementia or memory loss called Korsakoff syndrome.
Alcohol increases your risk of many different types of cancer. The types of cancer that heavy drinking is connected with include:
The risk of developing cancer will differ for each individual; however, it will generally correlate with the amount of alcohol routinely used.
Preventing diseases is never completely possible; however, a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of developing these diseases. General tips for avoiding diseases caused by alcohol include:
While you can take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, if you are still drinking, it is like putting both water and gas on a fire at the same time. You will need to stop drinking alcohol to see your risk of disease truly reduced.
Stopping alcohol by yourself is daunting if you’re struggling with alcohol addiction. At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we have several years of experience helping people achieve lasting health by stopping alcohol. The staff at our 15-acre, state-of-the-art facility are dedicated to providing the caring, professional help that you need to stop alcohol for good. Contact us today to learn how you can start your journey to lasting recovery.
Because alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous – and even kill you – make sure you have medical advice from your doctor or a rehab facility when you decide to stop drinking.
There are many misconceptions about alcoholism that make it sound like an alcoholic is an easy person to spot, however, many alcoholics function effectively and lead relatively normal lives.
An alcohol abuse problem can include binge drinking, having negative consequences such as hangovers with your drinking but continuing anyway, and drinking despite the desire to stop.
In a recent study by The Recovery Village, 44% of respondents reported abusing alcohol in an attempt to ease uncomfortable feelings that stem from underlying anxiety.
Drinking more than three drinks in a single sitting will temporarily cause your blood pressure to rise, but extended binge drinking or regular alcohol consumption can cause a permanent increase in blood pressure.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol-Related Emergencies and Deaths in the United States.” 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed May 4, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Metabolism: An Update.” July 2007. Accessed May 4, 2023.
NHS Inform. “Alcohol-related liver disease.” February 13, 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Kim, Ji Yeon, et al. “Chronic alcohol consumption potentiates […] β-cell dysfunction.” World Journal of Biological Chemistry, February 26, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2023.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Pancreatitis.” 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Piano, Mariann R. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System.” Alcohol Research Current Reviews, 2017. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Roberts, D. M. “Chronic gastritis, alcohol, and non-ulcer dyspepsia.” Gut, October 1972. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Neogi, Tuhina, et al. “Alcohol quantity and type on risk of rec[…]case-crossover study.” The American Journal of Medicine, April 1, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Weil, Zachary M.; Corrigan, John D.; & Karelina, Kate. “Alcohol Use Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.” Alcohol Research Current Reviews, 2018. Accessed May 4, 2023.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders. “Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.” January 31, 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Cancer.” March 13, 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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