It’s no secret that alcohol abuse and addiction can lead to a number of problems in nearly every part of a person’s life. Chronic heavy drinking can disrupt relationships, cause problems at work or school, and negatively impact a person’s finances. Another complication alcohol can cause is the development of various health conditions that range from mild to severe.
Almost every part of a person’s body is affected by alcohol. Alcohol has both short- and long-term effects on the body, with short-term effects lasting only a few hours or days. However, long-term effects can last forever, with the effects worsening the more a person drinks.
Many people are familiar with the fact that alcohol causes damage to the liver. And, while the liver certainly takes a big hit from alcohol abuse, various other organs are also negatively impacted. In fact, chronic alcohol abuse can cause or exacerbate a number of diseases and disorders, including heart and liver disease as well as brain damage and disorders.
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Diseases Directly Caused By Alcohol
Alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of a variety of health conditions and diseases. However, there are also diseases that can only be caused by alcohol abuse. The more a person abuses alcohol, the more likely he or she is to experience one or many of these conditions.
Diseases that are directly caused by alcohol abuse include:
- alcoholic cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
- alcoholic myopathy (muscle tissue disease)
- alcoholic gastritis (inflammation in the stomach)
- alcoholic liver disease
- alcoholic polyneuropathy (peripheral nerve disease)
- alcohol-induced pancreatitis
Additionally, fetal alcohol syndrome is another condition directly caused by alcohol abuse. Fetal alcohol syndrome is when a person is born with birth defects as a result of the mother’s drinking while pregnant.
Alcohol use disorder is also a disease that can come as a result of alcohol abuse. Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is when a person is unable to stop or control his or her drinking. Not everyone who abuses alcohol will develop this disease, and a person does not have to have an alcohol use disorder to experience other alcohol-related diseases and disorders.
Other Alcohol-Related Diseases And Health Conditions
In addition to diseases directly caused by alcohol abuse and alcoholism, there are other health conditions that can be exacerbated or spurred by chronic heavy drinking. How a person’s health is affected by alcohol abuse will depend on a number of factors, including his or her genetics, gender, and body mass. However, the main contributing factor to the development of alcohol-related diseases is how much a person drinks.
Excess alcohol can build up in the body when a person drinks more than what the body can handle. The blood alcohol gets circulated throughout the body and can negatively impact various functions and organs.
Even one incidence of heavy drinking can result in damage to the body. The more a person participates in alcohol abuse, the higher the risk of experiencing chronic disease and illness as a result of the alcohol.
Liver diseases related to alcohol use and abuse can be caused by a number of factors. It’s also important to note that a person doesn’t have to regularly consume large amounts of alcohol to develop alcoholic liver disease. Chronic moderate drinking can increase a person’s risk just as much as occasional binge drinking.
Mixing alcohol with certain medications can also increase the risk of liver damage. Additionally, genetics can influence someone’s susceptibility to liver disease. For example, one person may drink heavily for years and never develop liver damage, whereas someone else may binge drink occasionally and experience this condition.
Liver disease typically first appears as fatty liver disease. This condition is when fat builds up on the liver and can occur even after a short period of heavy drinking. Alcoholic hepatitis is typically the next stage of liver damage and occurs after a person drinks heavily for an extended period of time.
Alcoholic hepatitis is usually when someone first begins to experience symptoms of liver damage. However, some people experience no symptoms during this stage. The final stage of liver disease is liver cirrhosis. This condition is not reversible and comes with a number of symptoms, including yellow skin, bruising, and weight loss.
Alcohol can significantly increase a person’s risk of heart disease in a number of different ways. To begin, the side effects of chronic alcohol abuse can impact the heart. High blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes are all directly linked to alcohol abuse and all contribute to the development of heart disease.
Additionally, alcohol directly damages the heart by passing through the heart and impacting its muscle cells. The more and longer that alcohol is consumed, the more damage the heart endures. Eventually, this can lead to the heart weakening and cause difficulties when it comes to pumping blood.
Symptoms of heart failure as a result of alcohol abuse include fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath. Someone may also experience swelling in the ankles or feet. These symptoms typically don’t show up until a person is experiencing full-blown heart failure as a result of alcohol abuse.
Brain Damage From Alcohol Abuse
Chronic heavy drinking can also directly impact the brain. In fact, research has shown that the brains of people who abuse alcohol actually shrink over time. Alcohol also results in the death of brain cells, particularly gray and white brain cells.
What’s more, regular alcohol consumption can cause problems with short-term memory. It may also prevent people from effectively processing visual information. Both of these issues are amplified with excessive alcohol use.
One especially devastating brain disease that can result from alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This Syndrome, commonly referred to as “wet brain,” is when a person has a lack of thiamine (vitamin B-1) in the brain.
There are two components to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. The first is Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which can result in trouble with vision and coordination as well as confusion. The second is Korsakoff’s psychosis, which is when a person experiences hallucinations, memory problems, and trouble learning. This condition is not reversible but can be managed through treatment and abstinence.
Another brain-related condition that can be indirectly caused by alcohol abuse is hepatic encephalopathy. This disease results when the liver is unable to filter out all toxins and allows some toxins to make their way to the brain. The most common symptoms of this condition are slurred speech and drowsiness.
Getting Help For Alcohol Addiction
Health problems caused by alcohol can be minimized or avoided by reducing alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether. However, people who are addicted to alcohol are often unable to quit drinking on their own. Luckily, there are several treatment options to overcome alcohol addiction and improve their overall health and happiness.
Many people who enter treatment for alcohol addiction will begin their journey with a detox program. Medically supervised detox programs for alcohol provide round-the-clock support as patients withdraw from alcohol. Medication may be administered to help minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Once a detox program is complete, many individuals will continue on to residential treatment. Inpatient or residential programs offer intensive treatment that focuses on helping patients address their addiction and learn coping skills to get and stay sober.
To learn more about alcohol-related diseases and disorders, contact a treatment specialist today.