Alcohol has many affects on the body, short term, and long term. And alcohol can affect nearly every organ in the body, which can potentially create serious medical complications for individuals who are chronic alcohol abusers. Even social drinkers know that after a long night of drinking, the side effects of alcohol can take a toll on the body the next day. Hangovers can leave one feeling dehydrated, nauseous, exhausted, and often throbbing headaches and vomiting can ensue. Below is a list of alcohol affects on the body in order to give you an idea of the seriousness of alcohol abuse.
Heavy drinking/and or chronic drinking can cause the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be abnormally low. As a result, individuals with an alcohol abuse disorder will commonly be deficient in B12 and folate. This condition, known as anemia, can trigger a host of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.
From a dilated, floppy heart known as dilated cardiomyopathy to an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, chronic alcohol abuse can result in some serious cardiovascular complications. Alcohol abuse can also cause platelets to clump together, resulting in blot clots, which can travel to the brain and result in a stroke. All of these cardiac complications can potentially result in sudden death.
The pancreas is an organ that is responsible for the release of insulin and digestive hormones, therefore, controlling the body’s breakdown of food and glucose regulation. Chronic alcohol abuse is a common cause of chronic pancreatitis, which can present as constant pain in the upper abdomen, weight loss, and diarrhea. If the pancreatic islet cells responsible for insulin secretion are damaged, diabetes can develop over time.
Alcohol negatively impacts bone health for several reasons. Alcohol interferes in the balance of calcium and parathyroid hormone, overall reducing the amount of calcium in the body. Heavy drinking can also result in hormonal deficiencies creating low testosterone in men and decreased estrogen in women, and when either of these hormones is reduced, bone breakdown occurs more rapidly. Additionally, alcohol increases the level of cortisol, which is also known to contribute to bone breakdown. Chronic alcoholism can create balance and gait disturbance, therefore, increasing an individual’s fall risk which when combined with osteoporosis can increase the likelihood of a broken femur, wrist or back in the event of a fall.
Individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse disorder are more likely to develop cancer than those who do not struggle with this addiction. Colon cancer, mouth cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer are all increased in individuals who abuse alcohol.
Alcohol is toxic to liver cells, and many heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, a sometimes-lethal condition in which the liver is so heavily scarred that it is unable to function. Unfortunately, cirrhosis is irreversible, and individuals will need a liver transplant to survive; however, to be an organ recipient, individuals must maintain their sobriety for a particular extended period. Cirrhosis is unpredictable meaning that not all individuals who abuse alcohol chronically will develop this disorder, whereas others who have only been drinking for a short amount of time may develop cirrhosis. Acute liver damage from binge drinking can be reversible; however, over time, when the liver is continuously injured; this damage will eventually become irreversible.
As we get older, our brains begin to shrink, on average, at a rate of about 1.9% per decade. This is considered normal however heavy drinking speeds the shrinkage of certain key regions in the brain, resulting in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.
Heavy drinking can also lead to subtle but potentially debilitating deficits in the ability to plan, make judgments, solve problems, and perform other aspects of “executive function,” which are the higher-order abilities that allow us to maximize our function as human beings.
A painful condition, gout is caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints. Gout is most common in the big toe and can present as a swollen, red, and hot toe that is extremely painful to touch. Gout can also show up in the knees, elbows, and fingers, and although some cases of gout are mostly hereditary, alcohol plays a significant role in the development of gout.
These affects of alcohol on the body are all reasons why seeking professional help for alcohol addiction is a serious matter and should be done in a timely manner.