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Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

Published on August 2, 2021
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

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. 

Those who suffer from alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder are all at risk for many of these health conditions and long-term effects.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Body

Regular alcohol abuse can damage every part of the body, including the: 

  • liver
  • heart
  • kidneys
  • brain
  • pancreas
  • GI Tract
  • immune system

Liver

Since the liver is where alcohol is metabolized, it’s the organ that is most affected by drinking large amounts of alcohol. 

Chronic heavy drinking can also lead to an increased risk of alcoholic liver disease and alcoholic fatty liver.

Alcohol can also bring on alcohol-related hepatitis, which causes scarring of the liver and can eventually lead to cirrhosis. If extensive damage is done, the liver can fail completely.

Those who suffer from any form of alcohol-related liver damage are also at a higher risk of developing liver cancer.

Heart

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

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.

Brain

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.

Pancreas

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. 

GI Tract

Heavy drinking can also cause problems in the digestive system. Issues like stomach ulcers, heartburn, and gastritis may occur after years of drinking.

Heavy drinking can also damage the tissues in the digestive tract and stop your intestine from digesting food and absorbing vitamins and nutrients. 

Immune System

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.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use and Your Health
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) - Alcohol's Effects on the Body
The National Health Services (NHS) - Alcohol misuse

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