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The Long Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

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About 14.5 million Americans over the age of 12 have an alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, only 7.2% receive the treatment they need. About 95,000 people die due to alcohol-related reasons as a result.

Prolonged alcohol abuse can affect your mind and body. You might not realize you have a substance abuse disorder until the damage is done. 

Understanding the long-term effects of alcohol addiction could encourage you or a loved one to seek treatment. You can get help before your body deteriorates further. With alcoholism treatment, you can start to heal from alcohol’s harmful effects.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the long-term effects of alcohol addiction today.

Long-Term Effects on the Body

Alcohol use is one of the most commonly used substances in the US. Over 85% of Americans over the age of 18 have consumed alcohol at least once in their lives. 

People who engage in high-intensity drinking are 70% more likely to visit the ER due to alcohol-related problems. 

Remember, about 95,000 people die every year due to alcohol-related causes. That’s about 261 deaths each day.

About 24,110 deaths were attributed to alcohol liver disease. Alcohol addiction can damage other organs, including your:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas

When you drink alcohol, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream from your stomach and small intestine. Then, it’s circulated throughout your system. 

How alcohol affects your body can vary based on your gender, age, and overall physical health. The amount of alcohol you consume can have an impact, too.

Here are a few other ways long-term alcohol abuse can affect your health.

Brain

Alcohol abuse can impact parts of the brain that are involved with communication. Prolonged use could affect the function and structure of your brain, too. 

Alcohol works by stalling the body’s neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers. They send signals from the brain to other areas of the body.

If your neurotransmitter levels fluctuate, it could impact your:

  • Behavior
  • Emotions
  • Physical activity

Alcohol use can slow GABA activity, which causes slow movements, slurred speech, and delayed action times. Alcohol can speed up glutamate, too.

Glutamate can impact your dopamine levels.

Alcohol addiction can also lower your inhibitions, which might cloud your judgment. You might start taking dangerous risks as a result. For example, you might engage in unprotected sex or drive under the influence. 

Prolonged alcohol abuse can damage and even shrink your brain. You might even start experiencing memory loss.

Your brain’s reward system will begin to wear down, too. In time, you’ll begin developing a tolerance. You might need to drink more in order to experience the feel-good sensations associated with alcohol use.

Drinking more, however, will only cause additional damage.

You might develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome as a result. This form of dementia occurs due to depleted vitamin B1 levels. Alcohol can impact your body’s ability to absorb and use vitamin B1.

If you develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, you might experience mental confusion among other symptoms. 

Your substance abuse disorder might also lead to depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety.

Liver

About 3 million deaths every year worldwide are the result of the harmful use of alcohol. That’s about 5.3% of all deaths worldwide. The harmful use of alcohol is a factor in over 200 disease and injury conditions, too.

In fact, 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury is attributed to alcohol. 

Most people associate heavy drinking with liver problems.

Your liver enzymes are responsible for metabolizing alcohol. This process allows your body to turn alcohol into a digestible product. 

Your liver is only able to metabolize small amounts of alcohol at a time, though. The excess alcohol will then circulate through your body, leading to:

  • Fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

You might not realize you’ve developed a drinking problem until you visit your doctor. If they diagnose you with liver disease, consider alcoholism treatment. Otherwise, continued alcohol abuse will only cause more damage. 

Heart

Heavy drinking can cause heart problems as well.

Your heart receives blood from your liver before pumping it throughout your body. Your liver could start sending alcohol-contaminated blood to your heart. Your heart rate and blood pressure could rise as a result.

At the same time, alcohol abuse can weaken your heart muscles. It might cause an irregular heartbeat.

These factors can all increase your risk of heart problems in the future.

Consuming too much alcohol in a single sitting will cause your blood pressure to temporarily increase. Then, it will go back down after a short period. This process could lead to alcohol-related hypertension.

Over time, high blood pressure can thicken your arteries, too. Your risk of a heart attack or stroke could increase.

You could experience tachycardia as well. Tachycardia could cause blood clots. Blood clots can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Alcohol addiction can cause atrial fibrillation, too. This form of arrhythmia causes the heart’s atriums to beat abnormally. Blood can pool and clot in the atriums, leading to an ischemic stroke. 

Chronic alcohol abuse might weaken your heart muscles, too. If they become damaged, you could develop cardiomyopathy. You might experience congestive heart failure as a result.

Excessive alcohol abuse can cause or worsen these conditions over time. 

Pancreas

Your pancreas is responsible for helping your body digest foods. It creates hormones that increase and decrease sugar in the blood.

Drinking alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce a chemical that’s harmful instead.

In fact, a substance abuse disorder can cause the blood vessels around the pancreas to swell. You could develop pancreatitis as a result. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Tenderness when touching the abdomen
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Smelly, oily stools

Make sure to visit your doctor if you experience persistent abdominal pain. Otherwise, you could experience complications. For example, you might develop pancreatic cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure. 

Kidneys

Prolonged alcohol abuse can harm your kidneys, too.

Your kidneys filter harmful substances out of your blood. Remember, heavy drinking can increase your blood pressure levels. High blood pressure levels could lead to kidney disease.

During the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you might not recognize symptoms. In fact, you might not realize there’s a problem until the condition has advanced.

Otherwise, you might experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Urinating more or less

If these symptoms sound familiar, make sure to consult a doctor right away. Otherwise, you could experience complications like heart disease or anemia.

Developing liver disease due to a drinking problem could overwork the kidneys, too.

Allowing a substance abuse disorder to persist could make your kidney disease worse. The best way to avoid further damage is alcoholism treatment. You can abstain from alcohol to give your body the chance to heal. 

Stomach

Even if you’re only drinking in moderation, alcohol can impact your digestive system.

For starters, alcohol will cause your stomach to produce more acid than normal. Your stomach lining could become inflamed as a result. This condition is called gastritis.

You might also experience acid reflux.

Alcohol can cause other digestive issues, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Internal bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Ulcers

With prolonged use, alcohol might even cause stomach cancer. 

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

You might not realize you’ve developed a substance abuse disorder until your body has already deteriorated. It helps to spot the signs of alcohol abuse before the problem gets worse. 

Consider seeking help if these symptoms sound familiar:

  • Drinking more often
  • Drinking for a longer period than intended
  • Wanting to stop but not knowing how
  • Continuing to drink though it causes problems
  • Finding alcohol interferes with your job, life, or school
  • Feeling a need or urge to drink
  • Continuing to drink though it causes depression or anxiety
  • Having to drink more to feel the same effects
  • Giving up on activities to drink
  • Getting into dangerous situations while drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, nausea, sweating, and trouble sleeping. You might develop a fever or delirium tremens, too. Some people hallucinate and experience seizures.

If you feel like you’ve lost control, it’s possible you’ve developed alcohol dependence.

Don’t wait to see help. Alcoholism treatment will ensure your body gets the chance to heal. You can keep alcohol abuse from impacting your health further.

Start on the Road to Recovery: Understanding the Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse doesn’t have to lead to death. Instead, learn how to recognize the signs you have a drinking problem. If the health problems associated with alcohol addiction sound familiar, seek help right away.

You can start on the road to recovery and take control of your life again. 

Eager to start alcohol treatment? We’re here to help. 

Discover your treatment options for alcohol abuse in Massachusetts today. Call now to get started.

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