Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Drinking alcohol, especially in large quantities for long periods of time, can have many negative effects on your body and mind. Alcohol, which includes beer, wine and liquor, is a central nervous system depressant that affects all of your organs when you drink it, especially the liver and the brain.
You might notice some effects when you are drinking alcohol, such as difficulty walking, speaking or thinking clearly, but these might go away when you stop drinking. However, there are some long-term effects of alcohol that continue after you stop drinking, especially if you have been drinking in excess for an extended period of time.
Dependence on Alcohol
Drinking alcohol over a long period of time, and increasing the amount you drink, can lead to a dependence on it. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro explains that you have a higher risk of becoming dependent on alcohol if you have over two drinks at a time on a consistent basis. If you have become dependent on alcohol, you need to drink more to feel the same results from it. Plus, if you stop drinking, you’re likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms that could include sweating, or feeling shaky or nauseous.
*Moderate vs. Heavy Drinking
Many, although not all, of the long-term consequences of alcohol come from drinking it in excess. So what does that mean? One drink is considered:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
For women, moderate drinking is considered one drink or less each day and for men, it is two drinks or less each day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, this might not be the case for everyone, depending on how much alcohol affects you individually, whether you are taking medications that interact with alcohol, and other factors.
Heavy drinking is considered consistently drinking an amount over the moderate limit per day. If you fall into this category, you are more likely to experience some of the long-term consequences of alcohol. Another consideration is that binge drinking, or drinking many drinks in a short amount of time, can also have serious effects on your health.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain
A significant long-term effect of alcohol is that it can negatively affect the brain. If you drink too much alcohol for a long period of time, it can actually kill neurons in your brain. Neurons are responsible for very important functions of the brain; for example, neurons in the cortex help with mental functions and consciousness, and neurons also help your memory.
Some symptoms are known to happen while you are drinking, but they can continue on a long-term basis when alcohol affects the neurons in your brain. These symptoms include:
- Slurred speech
- Trouble walking
- Blurred eyesight
- Trouble remembering
- Reacting slowly
Alcohol can have short-term effects on the brain when you drink small amounts of it. In other words, the effects will stop when you stop drinking. When you drink large amounts for a long period of time, the negative effects can last after you stop drinking.
Some of the effects of alcohol on the brain can actually be caused by poor health or an alcohol-related condition. For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that up to 80 percent of people addicted to alcohol don’t get enough of the nutrient thiamine, or vitamin B1, which is necessary for brain health. Also, damage to the brain can come from liver disease that is caused by alcoholism.
How Alcohol Affects the Liver
The liver is responsible for breaking down the alcohol you drink, so it is also the area that can become extremely damaged from a high volume of alcohol or long-term drinking. Alcohol can cause severe liver damage, including:
- Fatty liver disease. This is characterized by excess fat in the cells of the liver, and it is an earlier stage of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption. Just about all heavy drinkers develop this. It can usually be reversed with abstinence of alcohol, although it is more serious in some than others.
- Alcoholic hepatitis. This condition results in a swollen and damaged liver. It is possible to reverse the less serious kind with abstinence, but this condition can lead to death when it’s in a more serious form. The American Liver Foundation explains that as many as 35 percent of people who drink heavily have this condition.
- Cirrhosis of the liver. This is hard scar tissue on the liver, and can also lead to death. It is a more serious form of liver disease than the other two conditions, and the damage can’t be undone. The American Liver Foundation shows that 10 to 20 percent of people who drink alcohol heavily have alcoholic cirrhosis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2009, 15,183 people died from alcoholic liver disease. This shows how seriously alcohol can affect your health and your life. If you think you might have one of these conditions, talk to your doctor immediately.
Additional Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse on Health
Alcohol can have additional long-term health effects on numerous parts of your body. It can affect your mood and cause anxiety. The long-term use of alcohol can negatively affect your immune system and your central nervous system. Furthermore, it can cause you to gain weight, and lead to high blood pressure, sexual problems, and even cancer, stroke and heart attack.
Nonetheless, it is possible to correct some of the health problems caused by alcohol before they get too advanced. While it might sound very hard to quit drinking, there are plentiful resources available to help you. Call us today for information.
Effects on Babies
Fetal alcohol syndrome, which can happen when a mother drinks alcohol while pregnant, can cause long-term negative effects for the baby. A June 2006 article in the journal Minerva Pediatrica reviewed a number of studies on this subject. These showed that alcohol can cause problems for the child’s entire life, including:
- Not developing properly either physically, intellectually or socially
- Having behavior problems
- Having problems with sex and sexuality
- Having difficulty with jobs and being independent
- Having a higher chance of committing suicide
These are some of the reasons why doctors, health organizations and the government advise women against drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Alcohol’s Long-Term Effects on Relationships
Alcohol, especially a dependence on or an addiction to alcohol, can cause problems with the personal and professional relationships in your life. You might find that alcohol is getting in the way of your relationships with family members and friends. It could also be a problem in your work or school relationships, as long-term alcohol use can affect your performance on the job or at school. If you are experiencing an increase in interpersonal problems that result from you drinking alcohol, you might have an addiction.
If you don’t cut back or stop drinking , the potential consequences could include:
- Losing your job
- Getting a divorce
- Losing your friends
- Losing custody of your children
- Losing a license to perform your job
- Experiencing financial troubles
As you can see, there are undoubtedly many potential long-term consequences of drinking, especially if you drink more than a moderate amount for an extended period of time. If you need help for an addiction to alcohol for yourself or a loved one, or even if you need help determining whether you have a problem with alcohol, contact us today. We can help you get private inpatient or outpatient treatment before the long-term effects of alcohol wreak havoc in your life.