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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

06-07-16 | By

The Severe Health Consequences of Long-Term Alcohol Use

The Severe Consequences of Long-Term Alcohol Use

The media does a great job of making alcohol consumption look glamorous. A martini here, a Mai Tai there, a glass of wine with lunch and dinner. It seems innocent, appropriate, and encouraged in our society. But no matter which way you turn it, alcohol is a drug and it can have detrimental effects on your mind and body.

Long-term alcohol use can have severe health consequences; consequences that many of us never consider when we’re binge drinking night after night. In reality, alcohol takes a toll on our bodies, whether we’re drinking every day or not. These are the severe health consequences of long-term alcohol use.

Alcohol Affects the Brain

Heavy alcohol consumption can cause an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Alcohol can cause these neurotransmitters to pass on information too slowly, which makes you feel drowsy.

The disruptions to the neurotransmitters can also result in mood or behavioral changes including depression, agitation, memory loss, and seizures. Heavy drinking over a long time period can even impact brain neurons, resulting in reductions of brain cell size.

These changes then effect a variety of physical abilities like temperature regulation, motor coordination, memory, learning, sleep patterns, and other cognitive functions.

Fortunately, abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct. Abstinence can also reverse negative impacts on problem-solving, memory, and attention.

Alcohol Can Have Profound Affects on the Heart

Drinking heavily over the long-term can weaken the heart muscles resulting in a condition know as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. This condition causes the heart to stretch and droop, and it cannot contract effectively. This means it cannot pump sufficient amounts of blood to nourish the organs. In some cases, it can lead to organ and tissue damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart failure.

Additionally, binge drinking and long-term drinking can affect the quickness of a heartbeat. Drinking alcohol to access can trigger this irregularity, and chronic drinking can actually change the course of electrical impulses which drives the heart’s beating, resulting in arrhythmia.

Strokes and Hypertension are Possible

When blood cannot reach the brain, a stroke occurs. Generally, a blood clot prevents blood flow to the brain, but in other cases blood accumulates in the brain, or in the spaces surrounding it.

Strokes can occur in people who binge drink and people who are long-term heavy drinkers, regardless of whether they have coronary heart disease or not. According to the NIAAA, people who binge drink are 39 percent more likely than people who never binge drink to suffer from a stroke.

Alcohol also makes the problems worse that lead to strokes including hypertension, arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy.

High blood pressure, or hypertension is a common side effect of chronic alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use triggers the release of stress hormones that constrict blood vessels. This causes your blood pressure to rise.

Liver Damage

Your liver is the organ that works to keep your body productive and healthy. The liver breaks down most of the alcohol you consume, but it also creates toxins during this process, that are more dangerous than alcohol itself. These toxins damage the liver, encourage inflammation, and weaken the body’s defense system. The severity of these issues can eventually interrupt the body’s metabolism and disrupt the function of other organs. Heavy drinking, even just for a few days can cause fat to build up in the liver.

This condition, commonly known as fatty liver, is also the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease and is the most common alcohol-induced liver disorder.

Another liver condition that can develop is fibrosis, when scar tissue builds up in the liver. Because liver function suffers, if you continue to drink with this condition the build up can turn into cirrhosis.

As cirrhosis weakens liver function even more, other complications like jaundice, type 2 diabetes, and even liver cancer can develop. One in four heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis.

Issues With the Pancreas

When you drink alcohol, it damages pancreatic cells and impacts metabolic processes that involve insulin. A pancreas untouched by alcohol sends enzymes to the small intestine to breakdown food.

Alcohol disrupts this process. Alcohol causes the pancreas to secrete digestive liquids internally instead of sending them via enzymes to the small intestine. These liquids become harmful to the pancreas.

If you continually consume alcohol over a long period of time, this continued process can result in inflammation and swelling of tissues and blood vessels. This inflammation is known as pancreatitis. If drinking and inflammation continue, this condition can turn into chronic pancreatitis, which is also a precursor to pancreatic cancer.

One drinking binge will not lead to pancreatitis, but the risk of developing the disease increases at excessive drinking continues over time. Abstinence from alcohol can slow progression of pancreatitis and decrease its symptoms.

Cancer Risks

Many factors contribute to your cancer risk including environment, genetics, and lifestyle habits.

Drinking alcohol is one lifestyle factor that can increase your chances of getting certain cancers. People who drink are more likely to smoke and smoking and drinking together intensifies the cancer-causing components of each substance.  People who drink and smoke are 15 times more likely to develop cancers of the mouth and throat than nondrinkers and nonsmokers. Being a woman is also a greater risk factor.

Research links alcohol use in women to cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, rectum, liver, and esophagus. Decreasing your alcohol intake is one way to reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. This does not mean anyone who drinks will develop cancer, but why take the risk?

Sometimes we romanticize the drink and we only think of how we feel in the moment: happy, forgetful, outgoing. We don’t stop and think to consider the real health risks that come along with drinking. We can’t forget that alcohol is a drug and its effects can lead to health consequences that last a lifetime.

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