The amount of alcohol a person drinks, gender, genetics, body mass and general state of health are all factors which can influence how an individual reacts to chronic heavy, drinking.
Studies agree that heavy alcohol consumption is detrimental to health and is one of the leading, preventable causes of death.
Research shows that a single episode of heavy drinking can result in significant damage, impairment and even death.
When a person drinks more than their body can metabolize, excess of alcohol builds up in the bloodstream. As a result, the heart circulates the alcohol laden blood throughout the body which has a number of effects and can change body functions and chemistry.
Alcohol is known to contribute to over 40 different health conditions. Below are some most common effects of heavy drinking. When reading, keep in mind that the high end of recommended alcohol intake is approximately two alcoholic beverages per day for men and one alcoholic beverage per day for women.
- Liver Disease
Liver disease is the most recognized health factor in excessive drinking. This is because that alcohol is metabolized primarily in the liver. The body metabolizes alcohol into a substance called acetaldehyde which is both toxic and a known carcinogen. (cancer causing)
Heavy drinking increases the risk of alcoholic fatty liver which is an early and reversible consequence. Other effects include alcoholic hepatitis. This is an inflammation of the liver which can cause scar tissue.
When this scarring continues for several years to decades, the scarring can be found throughout the liver and is known as cirrhosis of the liver. If the liver becomes unable to perform its functions multiple organ failures will occur leading to death.
Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of the pancreas which often requires hospitalization. This inflammation is linked to the pancreas reacting to the presence of acetaldehyde due to alcohol consumption.
Studies show that excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of several types of cancer including throat, mouth, larynx, stomach, liver, colon, rectum and breast cancer.
- Immune System Dysfunction
Drinking too much weakens the immune system leaving the body susceptible to several infectious diseases including pneumonia and tuberculosis. Alcohol causes changes to blood cells and can result in the drop of the production of white blood cells which are necessary for fighting off infections. Each bout of excessive drinking reduces the body’s ability to fight off disease.
- Brain Impairment
Blurred vision, memory lapses, slurred speech and difficulty walking due to impaired balance are common effects of excessive alcohol consumption. These are all due to alcohol’s effect on the brain. Alcohol alters neurotransmitters such as dopamine, GABA and serotonin as well as receptors. These neurological changes can not only impair motor skills but also impair judgement which can lead to risky behaviors. Excessive drinking can also cause blackouts and memory loss and speed up the brain’s normal aging process leading to early dementia.
- Heart Disease and General Cardiovascular Health
Excessive drinking is known to cause high blood pressure by triggering the release of certain hormones which cause the restriction of blood vessels. It has also been linked to other conditions such as angina and Afib (atrial fibrillation). Although heavy, habitual drinking and binge drinking are closely related to Afib, studies also indicate links between light to moderate drinking and the condition. Afib can lead to blood clots, strokes and heart failure.
- Ulcers and Gastrointestinal Problems
The gastrointestinal tract sustains significant damage from alcohol. As alcohol passes through the gastrointestinal tract its toxic effects start. Alcohol interferes with gastric acid secretion, can delay gastric emptying and impair muscle movement in the entire bowel. Damage to the digestive system can lead to bleeding due to enlarged veins related to liver disease.
Excessive drinking can lead to problems with the digestive system such as ulcers, acid reflux and gastritis which is an inflammation of the stomach lining.
- Brain Disease
Thiamine, or vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient required by all tissues including the brain. Chronic alcohol consumption impairs the ability of the gastrointestinal tract to adequately absorb thiamine which can lead to serious brain disorders such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome – commonly known as wet brain. This syndrome consists of two components. One a short lived, severe condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and the second, a long-lasting debilitating condition known as Korsakoff’s psychosis. The first condition is a life-threatening neurological disorder caused by thiamine deficiency. Korsakoff’s psychosis is characterized by behavioral abnormalities and memory impairments. One of the early signs of Thiamine deficiency is tingling in the extremities.
If you are concerned about any of these conditions due to your drinking patterns, or think you have a drinking problem, we suggest you seek medical help and consider taking our Substance Abuse Program.