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Health Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

Published on September 23, 2020
women health effects of alcohol abuse

If you or a loved one are drinking alcohol too much, you’re not alone. It can be disheartening to see the negative effects that alcohol abuse has on your physical and mental health, while still feeling powerless to stop drinking on your own.

To understand how alcohol interacts with you when you drink, you can learn more about:

  • the physical and mental health effects of alcohol abuse
  • what to expect from alcohol poisoning
  • the short and long-term effects of alcohol abuse

How Alcohol Affects The Brain

How alcohol abuse affects the brain depends on several factors, including:

  • the general health of the person prior to the start of drinking alcohol
  • whether the person has a family history of alcoholism or substance abuse
  • how often and how much a person drinks alcohol
  • how long the person has been drinking

Heavy drinking can have many negative effects on the brain and your mental health, including: 

  • memory loss and blackouts: for some people, memory impairment can begin after just a few drinks 
  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy: a short-lived condition that occurs in people with alcohol use disorder, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is marked by difficulty coordinating movements, paralysis of the muscles that control eye movements, and confusion
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis: up to 90% of people who suffer from Wernicke’s encephalopathy will eventually develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a long-term condition resulting in persistent learning and memory problems

Drinking alcohol also depresses the central nervous system, which means excessive alcohol use over time can lead to memory and cognition problems.

How Alcohol Affects The Body

Both short-term and long-term alcohol abuse affects the body. Some of the effects of alcohol abuse on the body may include: 

  • brain damage: alcohol abuse can change the structure of the brain, affecting the way the brain works and looks
  • increased risk for heart attack: people who suffer from alcohol abuse may experience high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy (drooping/ stretching of the heart muscle)
  • liver disease: problems with the liver in people who suffer from alcohol use disorder may include alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, or fatty liver
  • pancreas: alcohol use disorder can cause pancreatitis, a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and hinders the digestion process
  • immune system: many people who struggle with alcohol use disorder experience a weakened immune system, which can make the body more susceptible to health risks
  • cancer: there is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and an increase likelihood of many types of cancers, including colorectal, esophageal, liver, head/ neck, and breast cancer
  • pregnancy: women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may put their unborn child at risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

Many people think that binge drinking (four or more standard drinks on a single occasion for women, five or more drinks on a single occasion for men) doesn’t have health consequences as long as they don’t do it regularly. However, this is not the case.

Short-term effects of alcohol abuse, including binge drinking, may include: 

  • motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns
  • alcohol poisoning
  • intimate partner violence, sexual assault, homicide
  • stillbirth or miscarriage in pregnant women

One incident of excessive drinking can cause these issues to occur. There does not necessarily need to be a pattern of behavior to result in negative consequences from alcohol abuse. 

How Long Do The Effects Of Alcohol Poisoning Last?

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous health condition that can become deadly. This condition occurs when you drink an amount of alcohol that your body is unable to process, poisoning the body. 

The amount of time that the effects of alcohol poisoning last depends on several factors, including your sex, the amount of alcohol consumed, the alcohol content in each drink, and more. 

If you suspect that you or a loved one have alcohol poisoning, it’s essential to seek medical treatment right away.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

The long-term effects of alcohol addiction differ from person to person, and depend on several factors. 

The person’s weight, sex, how long they’ve suffered from alcohol use disorder, how much they drink, and other health conditions can all weigh into the long-term health issues they may experience. 

In general, long-term effects of alcohol abuse may include: 

  • breast, mouth, throat, esophageal, and colon cancer
  • heart disease, liver disease, stroke, and high blood pressure
  • depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems 
  • social problems, such as work issues, isolation from family, and lost friendships
  • dementia, poor performance at work and school, and memory issues
  • alcohol dependence, or experiencing side effects of withdrawal when not drinking

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

At Ark Behavioral Health, we offer various levels of care to treat alcohol addiction. From a medically managed detox program to residential care, we tailor our treatment plans to your individual needs.

Reach out to us today to learn more about how our caring staff can help you begin to take steps to overcome alcohol use disorder, one healthy decision at a time.

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use and Your Health
Mayo Clinic - Alcohol Poisoning
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism(NIAAA) - Alcohol Alert
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism(NIAAA) - Alcohol's Effects on the Body

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