Affordable, legal, and easy to obtain for the majority of the population, alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the US. Although “harder” drugs like cocaine, heroin, and even prescription medications are known for their ability to destroy lives when abused, alcohol can be just as damaging. From your first sip to your last, misuse of alcohol can have an impact on almost every system in your body.
Alcohol and Digestion
Since alcohol affects every part of your digestive system, it is no surprise that alcohol consumption contributes to a wide variety of digestive problems. In addition to a high risk of mouth, esophageal, and stomach cancer, drinking alcohol can lead to digestive problems such as:
- Malnutrition, as alcohol can damage the lining of the small intestine and make absorption of vital nutrients more difficult
- Acute and chronic pancreatitis
One of the most significant and immediate effects of alcohol on the digestive system comes from dehydration. Your body treats alcohol as a toxic substance that needs to be removed through urination, sweating, and even vomiting. Alcohol also suppresses your body’s production of an anti-diuretic hormone, which means that you will feel the need to urinate more frequently when you drink. If your bodily fluids are not replaced, dehydration is inevitable. Long-term effects of dehydration can include anything from frequent mood swings to recurring urinary tract infections to brain damage.
Alcohol and the Liver
It is common knowledge that alcohol can have a negative effect on the liver. A toxin in itself, alcohol breaks down into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde in your liver. This chemical, along with dehydration, is largely responsible for the symptoms of a hangover that the vast majority of people experience after more than a drink or two. Other products of alcohol breakdown in the liver include triglycerides, or harmful fats that enter the bloodstream and affect the circulatory system, and free radicals that could contribute to aging and the development of cancer. As a result, hepatitis and cirrhosis of the overworked liver are two likely outcomes when you choose to abuse alcohol.
Alcohol and the Circulatory System
Conflicting studies have shown that alcohol, when taken in moderation, can have a protective effect on the heart. Red wine especially contains antioxidants, which are famous for their ability to protect against cancer, raises HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, and help prevent blood clots. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support these claims, and you can reap these benefits through other natural means without risking the damage that even moderate alcohol consumption can do.
Whether or not moderate alcohol consumption has a positive impact on your heart health, excessive consumption is linked to a number of heart problems:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- Cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle
- Cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
Other Health Effects
The basic motor functions of your body become impaired while the alcohol is in your system, but the damage to the brain that causes this impairment can become permanent in heavy drinkers. Loss of fine and gross motor control, loss of inhibitions, blackouts, memory lapses, and even more serious symptoms such as hallucinations can continue years after an alcoholic has put down the bottle. Alcohol can even slow down or stop the process of neurogenesis, or the development of new brain cells. Alcoholism has been linked to dementia later in life, and has a strong correlation with hemorrhagic stroke.
Some other common long-term effects of alcohol use and abuse include osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, alcoholic myopathy (a deterioration of muscle), breast and other cancers, and gout.
Alcohol and Mental Health
While the physical effects of alcohol abuse can be devastating or even fatal, its effects on mental health can be just as bad. In fact, alcohol is more addictive than many illegal street drugs. Mental health problems, including everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and OCD, can be both a cause and an effect of alcoholism. In almost every case, drinking makes the problem worse by treating the physical symptom but aggravating the mental and/or emotional cause. This is known as a dual diagnosis, and both the mental disorder and the addiction must be treated simultaneously for the treatment to be effective.
If you are suffering from an alcohol addiction or a dual diagnosis, or you suspect that someone you love may be, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can offer you the medical help you need and the peace and serenity that you deserve to fight your addiction.
“Alcohol Alert: Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health, October 2004. Web. 08 February 2016. <pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm>.
Hum, Martin. “Think Before You Drink.” Institute for Optimum Nutrition. ION, Winter 2005. Web. 08 February 2016. <www.ion.ac.uk/information/onarchives/thinkbeforedrink>.