According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excessive drinking can severely impact health in a multitude of ways. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, alcoholic beverages are human carcinogens or substances that can cause cancer in living tissue. From the brain to the liver, to the immune system, alcohol is a multi-dimensional interference that assaults the body’s systems and their functioning.
Alcohol profoundly interferes with the brain’s ability to communicate. This interference changes moods and behaviors, making it harder to think clearly and coordinate movements. Sudden symptoms of intoxication include reckless behavior, bad memory, slurred speech, and slow reflexes. While drinking, recalling memories and remembering new information, such as people’s names, commonly occur. After consuming large quantities of alcohol, one might experience a blackout, which occurs when a person is unable to remember entire conversations or events that happened while they were drinking.
Consistent heavy drinking causes the brain to adjust to blocked signals by responding intensely to brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters. After the alcohol leaves the system, the brain continues over-stimulating the neurotransmitters, which causes painful and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms that may damage brain cells. Binge drinking and sudden withdrawal worsens the damage and can lead to neurotoxicity and neuron burn out. When neurons burn out, there is slowing in the reactions of the neural pathways. Brain matter is damaged, as alcohol dependence can lead to brain shrinkage where volume reduction of the brain’s cell bodies and cell pathways occurs over time. The damage to brain matter increases with age and the amount of alcohol consumed.
Alcohol can damage the heart, and cause the following possibly life-threatening problems:
- Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart that makes it hard for it to pump blood through the body, which may cause heart failure.
- Arrhythmia is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat, characterized by being too slow, too fast, or simply irregular.
- Stroke, which occurs when the blood stops flowing to your brain, can lead to brain cell damage and even death.
- High blood pressure is a condition where the long-term force of the blood against artery walls may lead to heart disease.
Alcohol in large quantities severely impacts the liver, and can lead to the following liver problems:
- Steatosis, also known as fatty liver, is associated with disrupted metabolism.
- Alcohol hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver that can lead to liver failure.
- Fibrosis or scarring of the connective tissue of the liver thickens it and can lead to cirrhosis.
- Cirrhosis is a chronic disease that causes cellular degeneration, inflammation, and tissue thickening of the liver.
Alcohol can lead to toxic substance production from the pancreas, causing pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. It can be excruciating and either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and usually subsides within a few days, causing stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Chronic pancreatitis is characterized by inflammation that doesn’t go away and causes severe pain, weight loss, and foul-smelling excrement. Chronic pancreatitis is very hard to treat and may lead to pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, a third of people with pancreatitis develop type 2 diabetes.
There is a strong link between alcohol consumption and the development of various cancers. The research shows that the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher their risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer is. The following types of cancer are shown to have a positive relationship with alcohol consumption:
- Head and neck cancers, particularly of the throat and voice box. People who consume over three drinks per day have about three times greater risk of developing these cancers than those who do not drink.
- Esophageal cancer, particularly esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, is the most widespread esophageal cancer in the world.
- Liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma, is primarily caused by alcohol consumption.
- Breast cancer and alcohol consumption are consistently linked. An increased risk of breast cancer is associated with increased alcohol intake. Women who drink more than three drinks a day have 1.5 times the risk of developing breast cancer than those who do not drink.
- Colorectal cancer, or cancers of the colon and rectum, are 1.5 times higher in people who regularly drink over three drinks a day than occasional drinkers or those who do not drink.
Excessive drinking can weaken the immune system, which makes the body less resistant to diseases. For example, drinking a lot at one particular time reduces the body’s ability to fend off infections for up to 24 hours after getting drunk. Furthermore, chronic drinkers are at a higher risk of contracting diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink very much.
Looking for Help?
Addiction is a chronic disease, and whether it involves drugs or alcohol, the detrimental effects on the brain and body as a whole are apparent and widespread. As evidenced by a multitude of studies, alcohol affects all parts of the body. At Fort Worth Recovery, we offer a nurturing space to support clients on their road to recovery. We seek to inspire clients to face their challenges, accept their present state, and foster hope for their future. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 817-381-9741, or visit us online.