How Alcohol Really Affects Your Health

Author:
Alexa Ferrante
alcoholic

3-minute read

In elementary school, most people were taught to steer clear or alcohol and drugs. Every year, the Red Ribbon Campaign encouraged kids pledge to be drug and alcohol free.

However, getting older means indulging in the occasional drink for celebrations, social events and major milestones such as birthdays and graduations. It may not be Red Ribbon Week anymore, but it is still just as important to understand the various health detriments that befall excessive drinking. 

Short-Term

The short-term affects of drinking alcohol are fairly well-known. While an individual may not be regularly abusing alcohol, the occasional binge can also inflict a good deal of harm on the body.  

Slurred speech is one of the first signs that a person has consumed too much alcohol. Alcohol damages the communication between the body and the brain, causing speech, coordination and social judgement issues. Mood swings and emotional trauma can also be involved in overuse, as well as trouble concentrating and loss of short-term memory. More extreme signs include passing out, vomiting or alcohol poisoning.

Long-Term

The long-term affects of alcohol abuse can be much more damaging for those who engaged in excessive drinking, that is, drinking over seven drinks per week on average. For individuals who indulge in alcohol overuse regularly, health issues can arise in the circulatory, digestive, immune and nervous system. Further, cancer risks, liver problems and reproductive dysfunction can all increase with the misuse of alcohol.

Circulatory System

Although drinking is generally associated with the liver, the heart and circulatory system can be damaged as well. An extreme amount of alcohol stops the heart from working effectively, evidentially affecting the blood stream and various organs throughout the body. Several problems can occur if the heart is not pumping blood properly, such as cardiomyopathy, arrythmias, high blood pressure or even a stroke.

Digestive System

Alcohol consumption can also wear on the digestive system, specifically the pancreas. Regular over-drinking can cause unusual stimulation of digestive enzymes that are produced by the pancreas, ultimately leading to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the Inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, and can be detrimental to the body, as the digestive system cannot function properly.

Immune System

Chronic drinking can depreciate the body’s natural tendency to heal itself. Those who indulge in regular drinking generally have a higher tendency to contract illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. It also reduces body’s ability to fight off other, more harmful infections.

Nervous System

Alcohol tends to slow the central nervous system by suppressing nerve activity, destroying brain tissue and attacking brain cells. Consistent alcohol consumption can also slow the absorption of thiamine in the body and can eventually cause a brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), also known as “alcohol dementia” or “wet brain”, that causes double vision, drooping upper eyelids, loss of muscle coordination, and a confused mental state. The cure rate is low at only 20% and requires long-term follow up care. If left untreated, the brain develops chronic pain and the memory is permanently affected.

Cancer Risks

Several types of cancer have recently been linked to excessive alcohol use, including:

  • Breast Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Head and Neck Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer

Alcohol can damage body tissues, depress the immune system and have significant effects on hormones, body weight and different body absorptions. According to the American Cancer Society, the more alcohol and individual drinks, the higher the risk of cancer.

Liver

It is well known that individuals who consume a large amount of alcohol have greater risk of contracting jaundice, liver cancer and liver failure. The liver’s job is to break down and remove harmful substances from the body, including alcohol. When the body consumes more alcohol than the liver can remove, the unprocessed substance can begin to leak through the bloodstream. Other liver problems include steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. 

Reproductive Dysfunction

Finally, alcohol use can have several negative consequences on reproductive functions of both men and women. These effects can be more or less severe depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the period of time. In general, men who drink too much are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, and women who drink too much are more likely to either miscarry or have a premature delivery. These consequences can be more or less detrimental depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

Treatment

If you are struggling with any of the previously-mentioned effects of alcohol abuse, please contact your MemorialCare primary care provider to develop a plan of action and to be placed in touch with a specialist.