What are The Long-term Effects of Alcohol? Impact & Treatment
Last Updated: January 15, 2024
While occasional light drinking is not likely to majorly impact health, the long-term effects of alcohol can include cancer, heart disease and immune system impairments.
Long-term alcohol use can have many potential effects. While drinking lightly and occasionally is not likely to have significant health effects, long-term alcohol use can. This is especially true when alcohol is used heavily.
Alcohol Use and Long-term Health
Alcohol can have different health effects, including cancer, heart disease, immune system impairments and many other problems, according to the CDC. Over 5% of all deaths worldwide, three million yearly, are related to alcohol use, with long-term health impacts of alcohol playing a significant role in these deaths.
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Long-term Risks of Alcohol Use on the Body
While extensive drinking tears apart relationships and lives, it also wreaks havoc on the body. Consuming alcohol in excess over long periods can lead to many health issues that differ in severity.
Cancer. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to several types of cancer, including esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and, most commonly, liver cancer. Alcohol leads to cancer by affecting the body in numerous ways. Alcohol can damage body tissue, especially in the throat and mouth. Additionally, alcohol can act as a solvent with other dangerous chemicals, such as those found in tobacco. This allows harmful chemicals to enter cells. Excessive alcohol use also leads to nutrient deficiencies. Alcohol can lower the body’s likeliness of absorbing folate, a vitamin that cells require to stay healthy. Low folate levels potentially increase the likeliness of breast and colorectal cancers.
Cardiovascular disease. Excessive drinking increases the likelihood of blood clots, which can cause heart attacks or strokes. High blood pressure caused by alcohol may further increase this risk. Drinking in excess can also lead to cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart’s muscle weakens and eventually fails to pump effectively. Heart rhythm abnormalities are also associated with alcohol misuse.
Cirrhosis. Alcohol acts as a toxin to cells in the liver (the organ that processes alcohol), leading to cirrhosis or scarring that results from chronic liver inflammation. The scarring that occurs with cirrhosis is permanent and causes progressive and irreversible loss of liver function.
Gout. Gout is a form of arthritis and is especially painful. It occurs when too much uric acid accumulates in the body’s joints. Alcohol, especially beer, contains purines, which break down into uric acid. The more someone drinks, the more uric acid builds up, potentially leading to gout.
Anemia. Anemia is low levels of red blood cells in the blood and the hemoglobin they contain. Alcohol causes the number of red blood cells in the body to decrease, leading to this condition. Symptoms of anemia include shortness of breath, fatigue and light-headedness. Treatment options differ depending on the disease type and severity.
Seizures. Excessive drinking can cause anyone to have a seizure as the alcohol’s effects wear off. This can be especially dangerous to those with epilepsy, as it interferes with medications and increases the risk of seizures. In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, seizures may occur.
High Blood Pressure. Alcohol affects the nervous system, which controls constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to environmental factors such as stress and body position. Heavy drinking leads to chronic high blood pressure, which can, in turn, lead to other health problems such as kidney and heart disease.
Alcoholic Neuropathy. This condition is a form of nerve damage resulting in pain or numbness in the extremities. It can also cause muscle weakness, constipation and erectile dysfunction, among other health problems. The cause of alcoholic neuropathy may be that alcohol is toxic to nerve cells.
Pancreatitis. Alcohol irritates the stomach but can also inflame the pancreas, which is vital for digesting food. Pancreatitis is extraordinarily painful and generally requires not eating during flares, which can last several days. Pancreatitis can be fatal in some cases.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
People primarily use alcohol because of its effects on brain receptors. However, long-term alcohol use can have many negative effects on the brain, potentially leading to irreversible brain damage. These long-term effects of alcohol can cause severe impairment and disrupt someone’s ability to lead a normal life.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Alcohol inhibits the absorption of vitamin B1, also called thiamine. Thiamine is essential for healthy brain function; low thiamine levels can cause inflammation in the brain. In the early stages of the condition, this inflammation is reversible; however, it can lead to permanent brain damage that causes persistent memory problems and hallucinations.
Stroke. The chronically high blood pressure that alcohol creates increases the risk of a blood clot lodging in the brain’s vascular system or a blood vessel in the brain rupturing. These situations can lead to a stroke: irreversible damage to brain tissues causing lifelong impairment.
Dementia. Heavy drinking can speed up brain shrinkage, which is inevitable as people grow older. However, due to the rate of shrinkage caused by alcohol misuse, heavy alcohol use can lead to memory loss and the inability to plan or make judgments. Heavy alcohol use can ultimately cause forms of dementia.
Depression. Alcoholism can be either a symptom of depression or the cause of it. The cycle is sometimes unclear. Alcohol is often viewed as an attempt to self-medicate or avoid dealing with depression or feeling the emotions associated with it. Heavy alcohol use, whether it causes depression or not, will generally worsen depression.
How Alcohol Affects Your Social Life in the Long-term
The effects of alcohol on an individual’s social life are unpredictable but generally harmful. While alcohol is often used in a social setting to help reduce inhibitions that can make socialization more difficult for some, it also increases the risk of conflicts and negative social interactions. Heavy alcohol use generally decreases how friendly someone is, potentially damaging existing social and familial relationships while inhibiting their ability to build new relationships.
Finding Help for Alcohol Use Disorder in Florida
Long-term alcohol use will cause negative health effects; however, it can be very challenging to stop using alcohol. Someone struggling to stop using alcohol even though it creates harmful health effects has likely developed an alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction is very difficult to beat alone, but with professional help, you can overcome it.
Orlando Recovery Center has extensive experience helping people with alcohol use disorder overcome their alcohol addiction and achieve life-long sobriety.
Our caring, experienced staff can equip you with the tools you need to gain freedom from alcohol. Contact us today to get your questions answered and start your admission.
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