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How Alcohol Affects Your Body 
December 15th, 2017

Understanding the subtle immediate and long-term effects alcohol has on the body is essential to maintaining a healthy, well-balanced life. Obviously, the severity of these effects is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed by an individual, but considering that over 17 million adults suffered from some form of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2012, many may not be aware of the specific ways their alcohol consumption is damaging their bodies, brains, relationships, and lives.

Short-term

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to communicate with the body, which manifests generally in these symptoms sequentially:

  • Decreased inhibition
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Numbness/tingling in the hands and feet
  • Difficulty remembering the events of the evening, as alcohol affects your brain’s ability to create long-term memories
  • Noticeable impairment of motor functions and vision
  • Lack of physical control and blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Trouble with basic motor functions
  • Serious impairment of motor functions
  • General stupor
  • Potential for coma
  • Coma and potential for respiratory arrest and death

Long-term

BRAIN

  • Reduction in brain size
  • Frontal lobe reduction or damage is the most common long term. The frontal lobe is responsible for emotional control, short-term memory, and decision-making. Damage to this area will significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform these functions
  • Hallucinations
  • Blackouts
  • Slurred speech
  • Behavior changes
  • Dependence
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination

**In extreme cases, chronic alcoholism and malnutrition can lead to the development of Korsakoff syndrome. Bleeding in the thalamus and hypothalamus causes double vision, a dropping upper lid, loss of muscle coordination, hallucination, difficulty putting words together, and a confused mental state. Eventually, it affects memory to the point where the brain is unable to form new memories and gradually loses old ones.

HEART

Heart attack and heart failure are serious potential consequences of long-term drinking. Other potential consequences include:

  • Stroke
  • Heartbeat irregularity
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy- stretching of the heart muscle
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Poor circulation

**Women who drink are more likely to develop heart disease than men**

LIVER

The body depends on the liver to break down harmful substances. As prolonged alcohol use causes more damage to the liver, it has difficulty performing this function, leading to a dangerous feedback loop that leads to the buildup of toxins and waste.

  • Chronic liver inflammation
  • Cirrhosis associated with chronic liver inflammation
  • Liver disease
  • Fibrosis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis

**Women generally take longer to process and break down alcohol than men do. Consequently, women exhibit liver damage more quickly than men do.**

IMMUNE SYSTEM

  • Fatigue
  • Thinning bones

**Drinking excessively on a single occasion slows the body’s ability to ward off infections for up to 24 hours**

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

  • Throat cancer
  • Lung infections

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

Excessive, long-term alcohol consumption causes abnormal activation of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. It also damages the tissue in the digestive tract, preventing the body from absorbing nutrients and properly digesting food. Sometimes, this can lead to anemia and fatigue.

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Stomach distress
  • Pancreatitis- inflammation/infection of the pancreas
  • Ulcers/hemorrhoids

REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM

While the actual symptoms differ between men and women, prolonged alcohol usage affects both’s ability to produce hormones related to intercourse and reproduction. Alcohol inhibits testosterone secretion from the testes, which can lead to diminished male physical characteristics, prostate problems, a reduced sperm count, and altered sperm structure.

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Birth defects
  • Disruption of menstrual cycle

WITHDRAWL 

Withdrawal from alcohol comes with potentially serious health risks as well. Symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heavy sweating

In severe cases:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium

It is important that when an individual chooses to discontinue their alcohol use, he or she is aware of these symptoms, and prepared to deal with them. The safest way to break the body of its dependency on alcohol is medical detoxification. Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, detoxification can be managed on an outpatient or inpatient basis.

 

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