In many ways, alcohol plays a pivotal role in the social lives of Americans. It’s fair to say that it’s become an integral part of get-togethers and is more socially acceptable than concerning for the vast majority of people.
Some people use alcohol to reduce feelings of unease in large gatherings. For other individuals, it’s a way to relax in traditionally stressful scenarios.
Unfortunately, what starts as recreational alcohol use can quickly spiral into alcoholism if left unchecked. Alcohol abuse is born of excessive drinking that tends to pick up over time.
When excessive alcohol consumption continues over an extended period, it can become categorized as chronic alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is considered to be a dangerous disease. This classification makes sense when it’s taken into consideration that alcohol is a powerful psychoactive substance.
While it tends to be treated rather indifferently in social settings, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It can affect the body and mind in detrimental ways when abused.
The long-term effects of alcohol abuse can be devastating as well. The health effects of alcohol abuse should not be overlooked, as they go well beyond the classic symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal.
Who Is Affected by Long-Term Alcohol Abuse?
The long-term effects of chronic alcohol abuse affect nearly every demographic in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 95,000 people die annually due to alcohol-involved causes.
When you consider that over 8 million Americans are estimated to suffer from an alcohol use disorder, the concern factor is very real.
What Constitutes an Alcohol Dependency Issue?
While there are many long-term effects of chronic alcohol abuse, developing a psychological dependence on this substance can be extremely distressing. You can not simply eliminate an alcohol use disorder through an alcohol detox program.
Instead, it requires a complex treatment approach that can manage an equally complex disease. Typically, long-term alcohol abuse can be defined by an uncontrollable pattern of substance use that’s not only compulsive but also problematic.
Over time, the excessive consumption of alcohol can change the way the brain processes reality. An individual may experience physical alterations in how the brain understands both stress and reward. These are referred to as neuroadaptive brain changes and are one of the most dangerous long-term effects of chronic alcohol abuse.
When alcohol is used recreationally, it’s generally a pursued substance because of the physical effects felt when drinking. As time goes on and dependency develops, a person will begin to drink not only for the effects but also to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
Medical professionals consider a variety of factors when diagnosing an alcohol use disorder. Typically, an individual must be presenting with two or more of the following symptoms:
- Drinking more than intended
- Severe cravings for alcohol
- Dedicating significant time to obtaining alcohol
- Drinking despite negative consequences
- Overlooking potential dangers to drink
- An inability to handle daily responsibilities when drinking is the priority
- Abandoning former hobbies and interests for alcohol
- A need to drink more to obtain the same effects
- Symptoms of withdrawal when liquor isn’t consumed regularly
- An inability to stop drinking even with a desire to quit
It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from an alcohol use disorder to struggle with a multitude of these conditions.
The Long Term Effects of Chronic Alcohol Abuse on the Brain
It’s fair to say that alcohol is a powerful substance. Even a small amount can affect brain functionality quite quickly.
Alcohol directly affects the brain’s cerebral cortex as well as the cerebellum and the limbic system. When these systems become regularly unbalanced, it can be a difficult condition to correct. One can say the same for alcohol’s disruption to normal brain chemical distribution.
The long-term effects of chronic alcohol abuse can include disrupting how brain chemicals transport important signals between brain cells. The results of this disruption can consist of:
- Memory lapse
- Slurred speech
- Slow reflexes
- Impulsive behavior
- Periods of blackout
Many of these long-term effects are similar to the short-term impact that alcohol can have on the brain. Suppose too many of these detrimental symptoms are experienced simultaneously. In that case, the individual is at a heightened risk for a seizure, slowed heart rate, cognitive impairment, or respiratory suppression that could prove fatal.
Additional long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain can include a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. This part of the brain is focused on memory and learning. When it shrinks, problem-solving skills can suffer significantly in daily life.
Those who suffer from an alcohol use disorder also tend to experience an overall reduction in brain tissue with time. This reduction can lead to problems with basic muscle control, balance, and coordination.
In some cases, the long-term effects of chronic alcohol abuse are made worse when the individual with the condition attempts to self-correct without professional intervention. Extreme periods of binge drinking followed by withdrawal can be disastrous for recovering the brain’s neural pathways.
If the pattern of excessive drinking and abstinence is repeated over the long term, neural pathways in the brain risk being permanently damaged. Permanent pathway damage can come with symptoms like:
- Reduced attention span
- Impulsive behavior
- Memory impairment
- Processing issues
- Reduced verbal learning ability
It’s common for this condition to be referred to as alcoholic dementia. Unfortunately, the higher functioning parts of the brain are often the most seriously affected by excessive alcohol consumption.
How Chronic Alcohol Abuse Affects the Liver
While the effects of chronic alcohol abuse on the brain are often highlighted as a primary concern, its impact on the liver can be just as damaging. The liver is responsible for filtering harmful substances from the blood. It’s also charged with breaking down toxins.
Simultaneously, the liver produces hormones, proteins, and enzymes that the human body uses to fight infections. While the liver has a big job to do, it can only perform a certain number of tasks at one time successfully.
There’s a limit to how much the liver can process at once when it comes to alcohol consumption. This limit means that excessive consumption will inevitably lead to unprocessed toxins circulating throughout the bloodstream.
Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to both scarring of the liver and the destruction of vital liver cells. This condition is known as cirrhosis. In some cases, this type of damage lends itself to the development of liver cancer.
Those who suffer from chronic alcohol abuse are at a higher overall risk for developing liver disease. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition are:
- Swelling in the extremities
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of strength
Unfortunately, experiencing these symptoms can be a cause for alcoholics to pursue drinking further. Without professional help, they may use even more alcohol to reduce the pain associated with these symptoms.
How Excessive Alcohol Use Damages the Heart
In addition to the liver, the heart and its many corresponding blood vessels, veins, and arteries play a primary role in moving blood throughout the body. Together they make up the vital cardiovascular system.
As blood moves throughout the body, it delivers nutrients to different important areas a person depends on to function. Unfortunately, the cardiovascular system doesn’t necessarily differentiate between alcohol and nutrients. This blindness means that the circulatory system can just as easily distribute alcohol to various areas quickly.
When alcohol is distributed regularly through the bloodstream, the results can be dangerous in terms of health. Some of the most common effects of excessive alcohol use on the cardiovascular system include high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and a heightened risk for developing heart disease.
High cholesterol is the direct result of alcohol promoting increased fat levels in the blood. Given enough time, these fat deposits can clog arteries. This condition can eventually lead to a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.
Long Term Alcohol Use and its Link to Cancer
Studies specific to how long-term alcohol abuse is linked to cancer have been vast and extensive. Overall, it’s generally agreed upon in the medical and scientific world that there is a strong correlation between certain types of cancer and long-term alcohol abuse.
Many of these cancers are specific to the head or neck. Certain studies have shown that those who drink heavily over the long term are five times more at risk of developing these cancers than those who abstain from drinking alcohol.
One of the more concerning forms of cancer that tends to be prevalent amongst those with alcohol use disorders is esophageal cancer. This type of cancer tends to show up more often in those with an overall deficiency in their ability to metabolize alcohol at a normal rate.
How Chronic Alcohol Abuse Affects a Person’s Mental Health
While it’s true that physical health is detrimentally affected by excessive alcohol consumption, so are mental health standards. Long-term chronic alcohol abuse is routinely linked to a variety of mental health complications.
In many cases of alcohol abuse, the condition is developed in tandem with an underlying mental health condition. It’s common for the person to be using alcohol to mask those undiagnosed symptoms related to a mental health disorder that already exists.
Alcohol as a self-medication tool can be extremely dangerous. Not only does it present health risks, but it often further enhances the symptoms of a mental health condition. These conditions could include anything from depression to anxiety.
Because alcohol affects how brain signals function, it’s only temporarily effective for covering symptoms related to anxiety, depression, or severe stress. Over the short term, the effects of relaxation and relief can make a person believe that alcohol is working healthily.
Unfortunately, these effects are very brief. As soon as the impact of alcohol diminishes, enhanced feelings of depression or anxiety can arrive. Some of the more typical side effects experienced in this particular scenario include:
- Feelings of panic
- Heightened depressive mood
Using alcohol to remedy these feelings, emotions, and physical effects creates a vicious cycle. The more alcohol is consumed to fix the problem, the worse the problem gets. Binge drinking is particularly harmful, exacerbating the symptoms and detrimental effects of long-term alcohol abuse.
Feeling sudden and enhanced symptoms of depression can cause someone suffering from an alcohol use disorder to act impulsively. They may attempt to quit the substance cold turkey.
This decision will activate the body’s withdrawal response which is often very unpleasant. Typical symptoms of withdrawal include but aren’t limited to:
- Shaking hands
When these symptoms get too difficult to handle, alcohol tends to again become the go-to solution of choice. This relapse further strengthens the circle of destruction being caused to the body and mind.
Excessive alcohol use also plays a significant role in damaged mental health conditions related to deteriorating relationships. Enhanced symptoms of depression and anxiety related to alcohol use can lead to a person experiencing severely low self-esteem.
As dependency on alcohol becomes more prevalent, dishonesty becomes a big part of most addicts’ lives. Attempts to mask the addiction can lead to breakdowns in relationships with family members and friends alike.
Without these important relationships in place, someone abusing alcohol may begin to isolate further. Isolation and increased alcohol use go hand-in-hand. Over time, these conditions can lead to self-harm or even suicide attempts.
Treatment Options for Long Term Alcohol Abuse
Chronic alcohol abuse is not just cravings. It’s a disease that requires professional intervention to remedy. Fortunately, there are many options out there for those struggling with an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol detox and treatment programs are designed to address a myriad of physical and mental issues that an addict may be dealing with. In many cases, a combination of residential and outpatient treatment options is available to those on the road to recovery.
Those suffering from alcoholism in tandem with a mental health condition will greatly benefit from dual diagnosis treatment options. Building back a healthy family support system is also part of the recovery process. That’s why quality treatment centers offer a variety of family resource programs.
Reach Out to The Haven New England Today
The road to recovery doesn’t have to be a lonely one. At The Haven New England, we’re here to make sure that everyone struggling with a substance use disorder has the resources and support they need to thrive again.
Reach out today at 844-933-4145 to speak with a compassionate representative and learn more about our treatment programs and services. We’re here to help you get back to the life you love and deserve.
Let’s get you or a loved one help with a few simple steps.