Excessive alcohol consumption can have negative effects on all areas of your life, including your organs.
Alcohol can affect your body, mind and life in many ways – in both the short term and the long term. For example, binge drinking can put you at risk of alcohol poisoning (having an alcohol overdose).
It can impact your finances, relationships, career, and your general well-being. However, the damage that excessive alcohol use can do to your organs can not be overstated.
One of the main short-term effects of alcoholic beverages is the feeling of being drunk. Some people will consume alcohol just to feel drunk, and drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.
This is often referred to as alcohol abuse or excessive drinking. The effects of being drunk can include:
As your body processes alcohol, it affects your central nervous system, changing the short-term function of your CNS (central nervous system). Alcohol poisoning occurs when your blood alcohol levels are extremely high. The risk increases if you drink on an empty stomach, or if you mix alcohol with drugs or prescription medications.
It affects the areas in your brain that control life-supporting functions – for example, your heart rate, breathing, and temperature. This should be considered a medical emergency.
Some signs of alcohol poisoning to look out for include vomiting, confusion, pale skin, cold and clammy skin, and slowed-down breathing. The more serious signs include loss of consciousness and seizures – although vomiting when unconscious can be fatal.
You may also be at risk of dehydration, leaving you with a ‘hangover’ which can include nausea and headaches. Some people experience blackouts when they drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short space of time.
Those who are dependent on alcohol may have a higher tolerance to alcohol – so can often drink more alcohol without noticeable short-term effects. However, it’s important to consider the long-term effects of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction.
Drinking alcohol excessively can have many negative long-term effects on your health. Short-term effects aside, alcohol misuse can do some serious long-term damage to your physical health. Alcohol can damage your organs – your brain, central nervous system, liver, heart and pancreas can all be affected by alcohol.
Heavy drinking can increase your blood cholesterol levels, putting you at a higher risk of heart attacks or strokes. Liver disease is also common among those with AUD. Alcohol misuse can also weaken your immune system.
A weakened immune system can make you more vulnerable to infections. Your bones may also weaken, meaning that you’ll be more likely to fracture or break your bones.
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Nobody wants to think about cancer – but unfortunately, if you drink heavily, you may be at a higher risk of developing it. Alcohol can cause several types of cancer, as found in the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens.
Evidence suggests that the more alcohol a person drinks over time, the higher the chance of developing alcohol-related cancer. Even if you only drink once or twice a week (but drink an excessive amount of alcohol during this time) could be at risk of developing cancer.
Alcohol can increase the chances of developing head and neck cancer. This can include larynx, pharynx, and oral cavity cancers. You may also be at risk of developing breast cancer if you drink heavily – the risk increases in women with a high alcohol intake.
Alcohol can also increase the risk of oesophagal cancer (oesophagal squamous cell carcinoma), liver cancer and colorectal cancers.
Chronic alcohol consumption can have many negative effects on your body- affecting important organs such as your heart, brain, liver and pancreas.
Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts over long periods of time can raise your blood pressure and your weight. This can increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke or developing type 2 diabetes.
There are clear links between drinking too much and having high blood pressure. Hypertension/ high blood pressure strains your heart muscles, which can lead to CVD – cardiovascular disease.
This ultimately increases the chances of you having a stroke or heart attack. Drinking can also cause your heart muscles to stretch to droop. This is known as cardiomyopathy. Another heart-related condition to look out for is arrhythmia – and irregular heartbeat.
The British Heart Foundation recommends that those who consume more than the recommended guidelines should cut down their alcohol consumption or stop drinking completely. Continuing to drink alcohol can cause the risk to increase.
Alcohol can also affect the brain – particularly the communication pathways – both in the short term and the long term. It affects how the brain looks and works, and can make it difficult for the areas in your brain that control memory, speech, balance and judgement to function properly.
This can increase the risk of injuries. Longer-term alcohol use can affect the neurons – for example, they can reduce in size. Alcohol use can impact your mood and behaviour, making it difficult to think clearly or even move with coordination.
Alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of developing alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). This can be caused by binge drinking or drinking too much alcohol over the span of several years. ARBD can vary in severity and generally affects those aged between 40 and 50.
Heavy drinking can affect your liver, leading to a variety of liver issues and damage to the liver cells. For example, drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver (steatosis), fibrosis, and of course, cirrhosis of the liver.
Roughly one in five heavy drinkers have developed liver cirrhosis – scarring of the liver. This is because alcohol changes the chemicals that remove and break down scar tissue – meaning that scar tissue can build up in the liver.
Scar tissue builds up in the replacement of normal healthy cells, meaning that over time, the liver won’t work efficiently and may fail. Liver failure can be dangerous, and can even result in death. In some cases, cirrhosis of the liver may not show symptoms. This can mean that you won’t notice the symptoms until it’s too late.
Alcohol-related liver disease can be tough to spot. However, some common symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease you may notice include:
Alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances. This, over time, can lead to pancreatitis – which is essentially the inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. This can be very dangerous, and cause digestive issues.
Additionally, alcohol can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. The risk appears to increase in those who drink three or more units a day, which is higher than the quote for ‘moderate drinking’.
Alcohol’s effects on organs can vary from case to case, often depending on a variety of factors such as alcohol use history and even genetics.
There is no clear answer as to what organ alcohol affects the most – however, it can be argued that the brain is most affected by alcohol.
This is because alcohol can have adverse effects on your brain in both the short term and the long term – your brain is affected by alcohol whenever you drink, whether it be the effects of GABA, alcohol-related brain damage, or longer-term effects such as memory issues or cognitive impairment.
Likewise, alcohol can shrink your brain – which impacts your ability to learn, think, and remember things. Alcohol can also make it difficult for your brain to maintain a steady body temperature and can make it difficult to control your movements over time.
If you think you may be addicted to alcohol, know that there is help out there for you, and you don’t have to go about it alone.
At Help4Addiction, we will take the time to listen to your story, your preferences, your circumstances and your requirements to find the right treatment plan for you, at the right rehabilitation facility.
After all, one size does not fit all when it comes to recovery, and what works for you may not work for somebody else.
There are different forms of rehab treatment out there for you – the main types being outpatient rehab and residential rehab/ inpatient rehab. Outpatient rehab involves travelling to a facility to receive treatment – whereas inpatient rehab involves temporarily living in a facility and receiving treatment at the same place.
At Help4Addiction, we can help you overcome alcohol use disorder/ AUD. You’re not alone. Call us today to get the ball rolling and take the first step towards recovery.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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