Tips for Thought

How Alcohol Abuse Can Affect Your Health

There’s nothing quite like enjoying a fantastic beer after a hard day’s work. While having the occasional drink now and then is fine, excess alcohol consumption can have long-term effects on the body. Here’s what to know before you make your daily beer a habit.

Some Important Facts About Alcohol:

  • Alcoholic beverages, like beers, wines, and spirits, come in many forms. While it’s classified as a drug that works as a depressant, the concentration of alcohol differs in its many forms. It’s relatively easy to access alcohol, although certain areas may enforce laws to prevent minors from purchasing and drinking them.
  • As a rule of thumb, adults of legal drinking age can drink in moderation by limiting their intake to two drinks or less per day for adult men and one drink or less per day for women. However, even if adults drink within the recommended limits, starting a drinking habit can still increase a person’s overall risk of developing chronic conditions, including certain types of cancer.
  • Binge drinking or the excessive consumption of alcohol in a short period increases the risk of alcohol-related harm both in the long and short term. Binge drinking for women may be defined as four or more drinks on a single event, while for men, it’s five or more.
  • People who drink above the moderate drinking guidelines also increase their risk of short-term injuries or harm and long-term conditions.

With these facts in mind, we can safely deduce that while people can start drinking moderately, the best long-term choice is not to drink at all. Nevertheless, people can still enjoy the occasional drink if they know the short- and long-term risks.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol has both short and long-term effects. The short-term effects of alcohol are the temporary effects that one may notice while drinking and the time shortly after. Some short-term effects include the following:

  • Sense of relaxation or drowsiness;
  • A heightened sense of euphoria;
  • Mood changes;
  • Lowered inhibitions;
  • Impulsive behaviors;
  • Slowed or slurred speech;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Head pain;
  • Changes in hearing, vision, and perception;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Difficulty in focusing and making decisions; and
  • Loss of consciousness or memory gaps

Some effects, like lowered inhibitions, may show up after one drink. However, severe ones like loss of consciousness or slurred speech often manifest after a couple more drinks.

Many of these short-term effects don’t last very long. However, some effects can still be harmful, like impulsiveness, lack of proper judgment, and risky behaviors.

Dehydration-related effects like headaches or nausea appear hours after a drinking session. However, they manifest depending on what you drank, how many glasses you had, and if you consumed any water.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol also has long-term effects, which can affect a person physically and psychologically. Here is how long-term consumption of alcohol can affect your overall health:

1. Digestive system.

The digestive system consists of organs that take our food and drinks and break them down into substances the body can use for energy and maintenance.

Excess alcohol consumption can affect these systems dramatically. According to research, alcohol affects stomach acid production, the mucous cells in the stomach’s lining and can delay stomach emptying.

As for the large intestines, heavy alcohol drinkers have a 52% increased risk of colorectal cancer.

The liver is also an essential part of the digestive system as it’s the organ responsible for removing toxins from the body. Excess alcohol intake reduces the liver’s ability to regenerate new cells. This regeneration mechanism is crucial because it keeps the liver resilient and continues to filter out toxins. Alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to regenerate new cells, rendering it susceptible to severe and permanent damage.

2. Endocrine system.

The endocrine system creates and releases hormones into the blood for necessary functions like metabolism and reproduction. Many of these organs are called glands and are located all over the body.

According to a study, chronic consumption of alcohol disrupts the communication between these glands, leading to hormonal disturbances that can have serious consequences.

The pancreas is one of the essential organs of the endocrine system. Excess alcohol consumption can damage the organ’s ability to produce enough insulin to use sugar. This effect increases a person’s susceptibility to developing Type 2 diabetes.

3. The Circulatory System.

The circulatory system consists of the heart and blood vessels. It is responsible for ensuring our tissues get enough oxygen and nutrients. Alcohol can inhibit the heart’s function and prevent blood from being effectively pumped throughout the body. Long-term alcohol effects on this system include cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiomyopathy.

4. The Central Nervous System.

The central nervous system is the body’s information center, consisting of the brain and spinal cord. It is responsible for sensory information, processing information, and sending out appropriate motor signals as a response.

There are short-term alcohol effects on the central nervous system, like lack of coordination, lowered inhibitions, and slurred speech. While many of these are temporary, people may experience devastating consequences because they’ve engaged in risky behaviors while under the influence.

Alcohol also has long-term effects on the central nervous system. Since it acts as a depressant, it slows down brain activity, making people less likely to focus and use fair judgment. Alcohol affects several parts of the brain, including affecting communication between nerve cells and distorting one’s memory.

Long-term use of alcohol also makes one psychologically dependent on the substance, resulting in the person becoming an alcoholic. Alcohol use disorder comes in three varying degrees: mild, moderate, and severe. Many people with issues controlling their drinking habits may undergo a detoxification program, where withdrawing from alcohol can have a challenging experience for many. While the withdrawal effects are painful, it’s certainly possible for anyone to kick the habit, provided they have the proper support and mindset to see things through.

Takeaway: Alcohol is a readily-accessible drug that can have short-term and long-term effects on the body. While there’s no harm in the occasional drink, people who engage in binge drinking risk increasing their chances of developing long-term chronic conditions. Contact your healthcare professional if you need advice or guidance on controlling your drinking.