Life Long Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Impaired judgment, loss of employment, domestic violence are just a few of the many consequences associated with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Alcohol has been an integral part of society and human civilization for thousands of years. About 2 billion people across the world consume alcoholic drinks; and while it is commonly associated with pleasure and sociability, its use has severe consequences.
According to James R. Milam, Ph.D., and Katherine Ketcham in Under the Influence – A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism, Currently, there are over 76 million people who suffer from alcohol abuse disorders. Alcohol abuse can have adverse social and economic effects on the individual drinker, the drinker’s immediate environment and society as a whole. People suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism have an increased risk of committing criminal offenses, such as child abuse, domestic violence, rape, burglary, and assault. You may lose your car, your job, your house, your spouse. You may neglect to fulfill all your responsibilities, or even get arrested for driving under the influence. These are just a few of the short term consequences associated with alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
Because these consequences don’t always seem long lasting, it sometimes leads to a sense of denial about the issue. “Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll find a new job,” or “He only hits me when he’s drunk, everything is great otherwise.” Furthermore, many don’t take into the account the long term effects that have been going on seemingly unnoticed and will affect them for the rest of their lives. Some of the long-term effects of alcohol abuse are:
- Heart Failure: Heart failure is a major cause of death from alcohol abuse and alcoholism with some symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or heart disease, being heart palpitations and labored or difficult breathing. High blood pressure is another common condition among untreated alcoholics and a contributor to heart failure.
- Fatty Liver: Whenever alcohol is in the body, the liver uses it for fuel rather than the more difficult and time consuming fat, thus letting the fat build up in the liver. As the fat accumulates, it begins to crowd the highly specialized liver cells, many of which die. This condition, called fatty infiltration of the liver or alcohol liver disease, is where as more and more liver cells are injured, the fatty deposits enlarge, causing the liver to swell.
- Cirrhosis of the liver: As the alcoholic continues to drink, so many liver cells get destroyed to the point where scar tissue begins to form. This condition has a profound effect on the alcoholic’s behavior and emotions. The toxic alcoholic is confused, his thought process jumbled and rambling, and memory and judgment muddled. Even his balance and equilibrium may be affected. If the drinking continues and scar tissue begins to form, the blood vessels will be gradually choked off and the liver cells will sicken and die until the formerly mighty and complex factory of the liver is reduced to a decrepit, fragile structure clogged with poisons, wastes, and dead cells; incapable of sustaining life.
- Gastrointestinal Disorders: Milam and Ketcham in Under the Influence, explain that alcohol sabotages the protective system designed to prevent the stomach from digesting itself by assaulting the fat and protein layer of the membranes and weakening the tight links between the cells that make up this barrier. Digestive juices may now leak through the cells and onto the membranes. This leads to the lining of the stomach becoming seriously inflamed, a condition known as gastritis. Gastritis can be severe enough to cause bleeding, and its symptoms include indigestion, bloating, nausea, headache, and abnormal increase or decrease in appetite.
- Respiratory Tract Disease: In general, alcoholism causes damage to the lungs by interfering with the body’s normal defense mechanisms. This thereby makes the alcoholic susceptible to respiratory infection and injury. The interference with normal functioning can lead to infections, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung abscess. The acute inflammation or infection of the lungs, pneumonia, is a frequent cause of death for late stage alcoholics.
- Cancer: Also in Under the Influence, while alcohol isn’t a widely accepted cancer-causing agent, there are strong indications that large amounts of alcohol taken over a prolonged period of time definitely contribute to or aggravate cancers throughout the body. Alcoholics appear to have an increased risk of head and neck, esophageal, lung and liver cancers.
- Pancreatitis: Large and continuous does of alcohol injure the pancreas, causing it to activate and release certain digestive enzymes which, in turn, aggravate the inflammation of this vital gland located behind the stomach and the liver. Pancreatitis is characterized by severe pain in the upper abdomen, often radiating to the back and lower chest, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.
- Malnutrition: All alcoholics suffer from malnutrition to some degree. Large doses of alcohol interfere with digestion and passage of nutrients from the intestines into the bloodstream. Without adequate nutrients, the cells, already weakened by long exposures to alcohol’s toxic effects, are not able to create bone, tissue, blood, or energy. The sick and injured cells thus don’t have the resources to repair themselves, and damage continues to go unchecked.
These long-term life threatening effects often get overlooked in comparison to short term consequences. Alcoholism is a progressive disease and one of the most difficult obstacles is getting an alcoholic to admit that they have a problem. Alcoholics are able to drink more and more each day which further contributes to these long term effects as well as the short term ones.
See the signs in your loved one before it’s too late and help them get the care and alcohol abuse treatment they need and deserve.
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