Dangers of Alcohol: 15 Health Risks – It’s no secret that alcohol use can result in severe health problems, including liver cirrhosis and injuries sustained from car accidents. But liver disease and car crashes are not the only health risks posed by drinking. In fact, researchers have linked alcohol consumption to more than 60 different conditions. Furthermore, we are not fully aware of all of the effects alcohol has on the body.
The Dangers of Alcohol
The following are 15 health conditions associated with chronic, excessive drinking.
Excessive drinking can lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This condition, also known as anemia, can cause a host of symptoms, including fatigue, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.
2. Increased Risk of Cancer
Regular drinking increases the risk of cancer, which researchers believe is the result of the body converting alcohol into acetaldehyde, a carcinogen. Cancers linked to alcohol use include those involving the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, breast, liver, and colorectal region. Cancer risk is compounded in heavy drinkers who also engage in tobacco use.
3. Heart Disease and Poor Cardiovascular health
Heavy alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking, makes blood platelets more likely to clump together into clots, which can result in a heart attack or stroke. In a 2005 study, Harvard researchers revealed that binge drinking doubled the risk of fatality among those who had initially survived a heart attack.
Heavy drinking can also lead to cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly disease in which the heart muscle weakens and eventually fails. It has also been associated with heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial and ventricular fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the heart’s upper chambers twitch erratically, rather than constrict rhythmically and can cause blood clots to form that can trigger a stroke. Conversely, ventricular fibrillation causes erratic twitching in the heart’s primary pumping chambers. It can result in a rapid loss of consciousness and, without emergency treatment, sudden death.
4. Liver Cirrhosis
One of the most well-known dangers of alcohol is its effect on the liver. Alcohol is damaging to liver cells, and many chronic drinkers develop cirrhosis, a potentially lethal condition that causes the liver to become so severely inflamed and scarred that it is unable to function correctly. However, some people who drink excessive amounts never develop liver cirrhosis, and some who don’t drink as much can get it.
As people get older, their brains shrink at a rate of around 1.9 percent each decade, on average. But excessive drinking speeds the shrinkage of certain key areas of the brain, leading to memory deficits and other symptoms of dementia. Dementia is one of the most tragic dangers of alcohol use.
Heavy drinking can also result in subtle but potentially debilitating impairments in executive functioning, which includes the ability to plan, make judgments, problem-solve, and other aspects of higher-order abilities that allow us to maximize our human functions.
In addition to “regular” dementia that results from brain atrophy, excessive drinking can lead to nutritional deficiencies, such as with thiamine, that may become so severe that they trigger other types of dementia (e.g., Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome).
It’s been well-established that that heavy drinking is closely associated with depression. One theory is that depressed people may resort to alcohol use in an attempt to “self-medicate” to relieve emotional pain. However, many studies have shown that it can work the other way around and that heavy drinking can cause or exacerbate depression. The depressant effects are one of the most insidious dangers of alcohol.
Heavy drinking can trigger seizures, even in people who don’t have epilepsy. It can also negatively interact with the action of medications used to treat convulsions.
Gout is a painful condition caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints. Although some cases are primarily hereditary, alcohol and other dietary factors appear to play a role. Alcohol may also aggravate existing cases of gout.
Alcohol can interfere with the sympathetic nervous system which regulates constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to stress, temperature, and exertion. Heavy drinking—binge drinking in particular—can cause blood pressure to increase Over time, this effect can become chronic. High blood pressure (hypertension) has been associated with many other health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
10. Infectious Diseases
Excessive drinking suppresses the immune system, providing a foothold for many infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. People who drink too much are also are more likely to engage in risky sex, and thus face a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
11. Nerve Damage
Heavy drinking can induce a form of nerve damage known as alcoholic neuropathy, which is characterized by a painful pins-and-needles feeling or numbness in the extremities as well as incontinence, constipation, muscle weakness, erectile dysfunction, and other issues. Alcoholic neuropathy may manifest because alcohol is harmful to nerve cells, or because nutritional deficiencies caused by heavy drinking impair nerve function.
12. Ulcers and Gastrointestinal Issues
One of the common dangers of alcohol consumption are digestive system problems, including stomach ulcers, heartburn, acid reflux, and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). As alcohol moves through the gastrointestinal tract, it exerts its toxic effects.
Damage to the digestive system can also cause dangerous internal bleeding due to enlarged veins in the esophagus caused by chronic liver disease. Alcohol also interferes with gastric acid secretion, and delays gastric emptying and impairs the muscle movements throughout the entire bowel.
In addition to contributing to stomach irritation, drinking can cause inflammation n the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis impedes the digestive process, resulting in severe abdominal pain and persistent diarrhea. Some cases of chronic pancreatitis are related to gallstones, but the majority appear to arise due to alcohol consumption.
Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption, particularly during adolescence and young adulthood, can significantly affect bone health and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis and a loss of bone mass later in life. Osteoporosis, in turn, increases the risk of fractures, especially in the proximal femur of the hip. Alcohol also interferes with vitamin D production and calcium and cortisol levels which can add to weakening of the bone structure.
15. Accidents and Injuries
Drinking alcohol in any amount has been linked to car accidents, domestic violence, falls, drowning, occupational injuries, homicide, and suicide. A person’s ability to drive can be impaired with as little as one drink, and a person who drinks excessively is likely to sustain a more severe injury during an accident.
Chronic or heavy drinking poses substantial health risks. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, be it on a single occasion or over the long term, can lead to severe and sometimes irreversible damage to one’s body.
No pattern of drinking is without its risks. Moreover, we don’t have a solid method of predicting all the ways in which an individual will be harmed as a result of the chronic heavy drinking of alcohol.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a devastating and potentially life-threatening chronic disease that can result in a myriad of severe and long-lasting health problems. Fortunately, despite all of these dangers of alcoholism, it is very treatable at any stage. Those who are suffering are urged to undergo detox and long-term professional treatment as soon as possible to reduce the potential health risks associated with the disease.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to treatment in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our programs include modalities vital to the recovery process, such as psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, group support, and aftercare planning.
We employ highly-trained addiction specialists who deliver these services to clients with care and expertise. We are dedicated to providing people with the tools and support they so desperately need to recover from substance abuse and learn how to foster healthy, satisfying lives for themselves.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, please contact us today. Discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction once and for all!