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Alcohol is a substance that is commonly used and abused. It causes problems for millions of Americans and their families, yet it is so difficult to stop problem drinking. Heavy drinking, either on a single occasion or over the span of weeks and months, can cause serious harm to a person’s body.
Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
Binge drinking is defined by the CDC as consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men, and 4 or more drinks for women. The CDC also reports that one in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge. Even though binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18–34 years, binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking more often—an average of five to six times a month.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that is characterized by regular heavy drinking, severe cravings for alcohol, continuing to drink even though it causes negative consequences, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.
Both binge drinking and alcoholism can lead to serious health risks. Alcohol is a drug that has the potential to cause permanent damage to the organs and tissues of the body, and it changes the individual’s brain chemistry.
Effects of Alcohol on the Digestive System
The first part of the body that is affected by alcohol consumption is the digestive system. As alcohol is consumed it can cause heartburn, or a reflux of acid that passes from the stomach into the esophagus. Once in the stomach, alcohol causes damage to the lining of the stomach, leading to gastritis and inflammation of the stomach wall. Alcohol can cause diarrhea or constipation, and often worsens irritable bowel syndrome. Alcoholism is known to cause poor absorption of nutrients, leading to malnutrition.
The liver, which helps cleanse the body of toxins, is taxed heavily by alcohol. Hepatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis, and fibrosis are all problems of the liver that are due to overloading this organ with toxins. The pancreas also suffers with too much drinking, and inflammation and swelling of this organ is common among heavy drinkers.
Effects of Alcohol on the Nervous System
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to a host of problems with the nervous system. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s natural pathways for communication, and large amounts of alcohol have a more damaging effect. Nerve damage, called alcoholic neuropathy, causes pain or numbness in the extremities. Alcohol can cause neurological damage including difficulty walking, loss of motor control, slurred speech, blurred vision, slowed reaction times, blackouts, and impaired memory. Many of these symptoms are reversed once the alcohol has left the body, but some of these side effects can become permanent if the person continues drinking.
Alcoholism causes serious damage to the normal function of the brain, and also can cause changes in mood and behavior. Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis are often made worse by drinking alcohol.
Alcohol Effects on the Cardiovascular System
Alcohol also has an impact on the cardiovascular system. Even one night of binge drinking can cause damage to the heart, and over time alcohol causes irreversible damage to this body system. Alcohol causes irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, stroke, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart disease.
Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System
Heavy drinking can cause the immune system to weaken, which makes the body more susceptible to illness and disease. Serious sicknesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis, as well as the common cold and the flu, pose a greater threat to someone whose immune system is compromised. Someone who drinks large amounts will be less able to fight off infections as well. Alcoholism is known to increase a person’s chance for developing certain cancers–in particular mouth cancer, throat cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer.
Alcohol’s Effects on Various Body Systems
- Alcoholic neuropathy
- Loss of motor control
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Impaired memory
- Anxiety disorders
- Changes in mood
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Greater susceptibility to disease
- Increased risk for cancer
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Fatty Liver
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Questionnaire
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has created the following questionnaire to help detect alcohol use disorders. If you answer yes to more than two of these questions you may have a problem with alcohol. Give us a call – we can help 1.844.867.6835
In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol dependence and binge drinking can take a serious toll on the human body and mind. Alcohol is a powerful substance, and many individuals and families have found their lives forever changed because of the effects of this substance.
Alcoholism can be effectively treated, and through detox, rehabilitation, and after care, a person can reverse many of the detrimental effects of alcohol on their body, and begin a new life. If you or a loved one is suffering with an alcohol abuse problem, don’t hesitate. Call us at 844.867.6835 today to learn how My Recovery Helper can help you.