Heavy alcohol use and binge drinking can have short-term effects like alcohol poisoning, memory loss/blackouts, or loss of coordination. However, excessive alcohol use can have long-term effects as well.
Abusing alcohol can affect every part of the body in the long term. It can damage organs, cause major health problems, and if not treated, even be life-threatening.
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Body
Regular alcohol abuse can damage every part of the body, including the:
- GI Tract
- immune system
Since the liver is where alcohol is metabolized, it’s the organ that is most affected by drinking large amounts of alcohol.
Those who suffer from any form of alcohol-related liver damage are also at a higher risk of developing liver cancer.
Alcohol affects your cardiovascular health. Heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of:
- high blood pressure
- irregular heartbeat
- cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle)
- heart attack
- heart disease
- heart failure
Kidneys are responsible for filtering out harmful substances from the blood. Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure which can lead to kidney damage.
Additionally, if you develop liver disease or cirrhosis because you drink alcohol, the kidneys must work overtime to remove all the harmful substances.
Excessive alcohol use has negative effects on the brain and central nervous system.
Alcohol abuse may cause shrinkage to the hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory. When it shrinks, your capacity for those two things decreases. Alcohol abuse can also lead to serious and sometimes irreversible brain damage to the cerebellum and cerebral cortex.
Heavy alcohol use over a long period of time may also lead to a thiamine deficiency (Vitamin B1) due to malnutrition. This can lead to a disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. It causes symptoms like mental confusion, difficulty with coordination, and memory problems.
Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas that requires immediate treatment.
The likely cause of pancreatitis is that alcohol use causes the blood vessels around the pancreas to swell and lead to inflammation. While symptoms aren’t always noticeable, you should be on the lookout for nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, and a distended abdomen.
Heavy drinking can also damage the tissues in the digestive tract and stop your intestine from digesting food and absorbing vitamins and nutrients.
Abusing alcohol also weakens the immune system which makes you vulnerable to all kinds of infectious diseases. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are the two most common in heavy drinkers.
Drinking alcohol in large amounts over a long period of time lowers your white blood cell count and makes you more likely to get an infection.
Alcohol Withdrawal & Dependence
Drinking a large amount of alcohol over a long period of time can lead to alcohol dependence. This means that when you stop drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, irritability, shakiness, mood swings, and confused thinking.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms can be severe, especially if you’ve been drinking heavily for many years. A severe form of alcohol withdrawal, called delirium tremens, may cause seizures, fever, hallucinations, and other serious symptoms.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome may occur if someone drinks alcohol when pregnant. This condition can have severe long-term effects on an unborn child, including behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and physical issues.
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On Mental Health
The development of mental health issues is a likely long-term effect of heavy alcohol use. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses that occur due to excessive alcohol consumption, as well as alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Use Disorder & Addiction
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcohol addiction, is a long-term mental health effect of alcohol abuse. AUD is a diagnosable mental health condition where a person is unable to quit drinking, regardless of the consequences it causes in their life.
If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, addiction treatment can help. To learn about our substance abuse treatment programs, please contact us today.