Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Although there are some reports of alcohol having health benefits in moderation, most of us know that it’s better to abstain than to overindulge.

When you’ve had too much to drink, you’ll start having trouble with your motor skills and may even start slurring your speech. Your thought process and reaction times will also be impaired. These are just some of the short-term dangers of alcohol abuse. The long-term dangers are much more devastating.

Here are the long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain and body.

Dependence – If you abuse alcohol for an extended period of time, you put yourself at risk for alcohol dependence. Addiction is a disease that affects people in different ways, so no one can tell you exactly when you’ll become addicted. But you can be sure that you’ll know when alcoholism has taken hold. When your body physically needs a drink to get by, you are alcohol dependent. If you experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, you may need professional help to stop drinking.

Brain changes – After years of alcohol abuse, you may experience some level of brain damage that will remain even after you’ve achieved sobriety. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is an alcohol-induced disease that can lead to psychosis. If left untreated, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can progress to coma and death. The disease itself comes from a severe deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1). There are two disorders that come from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is the direct result of severe and acute thiamine deficiency. Korsakoff’s psychosis is a result of chronic Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Initial symptoms of this disease include confusion, loss of mental ability, loss of muscle coordination and vision changes.

Liver damage – Alcohol-induced cirrhosis is probably the best-known consequence of long-term alcohol abuse, but it’s not the only danger to the liver. Since the liver is responsible for breaking down and cleansing alcohol from the body, it is highly susceptible to problems from abuse. There are three main types of alcohol-related liver disease including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.  

Alcoholic hepatitis is a swelling of the liver that destroys liver cells. Nearly 35% of long-term drinkers develop mild or severe alcoholic hepatitis. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and abdominal pain. This condition can last for years and progressively get worse causing more liver damage, but you may be able to reverse the damage if you stop drinking.

Cirrhosis is when normal liver tissue is replaced with nonliving scar tissue. This usually happens after 10 or more years of heavy drinking.

Skin changes – Long-term alcohol abuse not only damages the body but it also produces visible signs of aging. So if brain damage and cirrhosis aren’t enough to scare you away from alcohol, maybe this effect will play to a sense of vanity. Alcohol abuse can cause wrinkles, loss of collagen and elasticity, redness, dehydration, and puffiness.

When you’re looking at the effects of alcohol, whether long or short term, it’s important to note that women metabolize alcohol differently than men. From the same amount of alcohol, women will get a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood and brain chemistry.

Alcohol abuse is bad for the body in the short and long-term, but the long-term effects should be enough to scare anyone away from a life of alcoholism.

However, if you drink in moderation, you can avoid alcohol dependence that will almost certainly lead you down a path of negative health consequences. Once addiction takes hold, you are no longer in control. If you think you may be addicted to alcohol, talk to a professional about getting help. Every day of heavy drinking is damaging to the body.

Author Bio: Joshua is an ex-addict and founder of the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center. He works to help others overcome their addiction and lead a successful and sober life.



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