Many people may recognize the short-term effects of alcohol abuse – hangovers, erratic behavior, or a dependence on the substance. And while liver failure is a fairly well-known effect of long-term alcohol abuse, there are other serious health implications that are caused by years of heavy drinking. Because there’s no clear timeline for when someone will develop one or more of these conditions, it’s important to seek professional treatment if you’re worried about your alcohol consumption.
Effects on the Liver
The liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, including alcohol. It filters alcohol from the bloodstream and excretes it from the body. However, it can only filter about one drink (one ounce of spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer) per hour. Binge drinking or daily drinking of more than three drinks makes the liver work harder, leading to fatty liver disease, hepatitis, or cirrhosis.
A damaged liver is unable to efficiently filter out toxins from the body and eventually will stop functioning. While abstaining from alcohol can reverse much of the damage to a fatty or hard liver, quitting drinking isn’t always a guarantee that you won’t experience liver failure.
Effects on the Heart
Alcohol contributes to a higher risk of heart disease and is directly linked to high blood pressure and a greater chance of a heart attack. It also causes elevated pulse and arrhythmia. Chronic alcohol use and the resulting chronic high blood pressure may put the drinker at a much higher risk for stroke, as well. Plus, alcohol weakens the blood vessels, making it harder for them to expand and contract properly.
Quitting drinking can lower blood pressure over time, but some people may not be able to reverse the effects entirely and suffer from elevated blood pressure even after they stop.
Effects on the Brain
The risk of a stroke in people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is much higher than that of non-drinkers. And while many people may joke about “blacking out” from drinking too much, heavy drinking can lead to permanent memory problems, including difficulty with short-term memory and concentration and trouble converting short-term memories into long-term memories.
Recent research has also indicated a link between early-onset dementia and chronic alcohol abuse, a condition that cannot be reversed by quitting drinking.
AUD raises the risks for many types of cancer, including esophageal, stomach, intestinal, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers. Many of these cancers are difficult to treat and can be incredibly persistent. Women who drink heavily are at an increased risk for breast cancer, too. Treating many cancers of the digestive system is tricky, and often, these cancers are asymptomatic until they’re in advanced stages. If you have a family history of cancer and you drink, you may wish to seek professional care to stop and possibly decrease your risk of contracting these diseases.
Are You Worried About Your Alcohol Consumption?
Fortunately, many of the effects of drinking can be reversed with long-term abstinence and a healthy lifestyle. If you or someone you love has a problem with drinking too much, there is hope. At Hickory Treatment Centers, we offer compassionate, professional addiction treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder. Our programs include intensive outpatient treatment, with support to help clients maintain sobriety. Contact us today for a free, private assessment.