Long-Term Effects of Chronic Alcohol Abuse

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Drinking remains a legal and accepted activity around the world and within the United States where millions of people drink each day in all kinds of social situations. In fact, as many as half of all men and women in the United States say they drank alcohol in the past month according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Millions more drink each year (69.5%) and in their lifetime (85.6%), but not everyone becomes a chronic alcohol user to the detriment of their life, social ties, and medical health.

Having alcoholism or becoming an alcoholic means that what was once a social pleasure becomes an uncontrollable urge to drink

However popular and prevalent, alcohol is a psychoactive substance that acts to depress the central nervous system. Through this mechanism, alcohol presents dangerous and, in many cases, deadly potential to anyone who abuses the drug. By some counts, these “binge” or heavy users are more than a fourth of all alcohol users in the United States (who say they abused alcohol in the past month). Looking to American alcohol survey data, it comes as no surprise then that more than 14 million Americans come to be diagnosed and affected by Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)—including at least 414,000 adolescents in 2019 alone—resulting in 95,000 alcohol-related deaths each year.

More recent studies suggest that alcohol consumption, abuse, and consequences should be cause for even more alarm, education, and treatment in light of the present global health emergency’s impact on problem drinking. To help, the Haven Detox wants to share information about the impact of alcohol abuse on the brain and body in hopes that loved ones and the afflicted will find a compassionate resource for effective, private alcohol detox.

Long-Term Abuse, Alcohol Use Disorder, and Dependence

Ultimately distressing, but unfortunately common—developing a dependence on alcohol is one of its many long-term effects when a person relies on chronic drinking to relax, socialize, and cope with everyday stressors. Having alcoholism or becoming an “alcoholic” means that what was once a social pleasure becomes an uncontrollable urge to drink, and it is a clinical diagnosis known as AUD or SUD (Substance Use Disorder) requiring medically assisted alcohol detox in most cases.

Like any other drug, alcohol produces neurochemical changes in the brain, altering the way that the mind produces the experience of pleasure and pain. While the occasional drinker may initially use alcohol simply to produce a desired, relaxed effect in a social setting—a problematic pattern of use can quickly lead to the formation of a full-fledged addiction. In line with chemical dependency, the person with alcoholism starts to drink out of a desire to avoid the negative side effects of abstaining. In other words, long-term abuse of alcohol shows withdrawal symptoms when the dependent person avoids alcohol. To determine whether a person has an alcohol addiction, clinicians will look for these common diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder:

–      Drank more or drank longer than the person intended

–      Drank more once the person intended to abstain

–      Invested significant time drinking and recovering from drinking

–      Felt compelled to drink with intrusive thoughts of alcohol

–      Drank more despite problems at home, work, or school

–      Drank more despite disputes with friends and family

–      Replaced former pastimes and hobbies with drinking

–      Risked personal safety after drinking (e.g., driving, unsafe sex, etc.)

–      Drank more despite feelings of anxiety, depression, or blackouts

–      Needed to drink more to achieve the same desired effect

–      Felt withdrawal symptoms as a result of not drinking

In general, medical professionals see that long-term alcohol abuse leads to a compulsion to drink, a preoccupation with alcohol, and an avoidance of situations or people who might block its consumption. With continued and heavy use, alcohol renders a person unable to cope with life stressors or experience feelings of satisfaction without drinking to excess—and, even then, they sometimes drink only to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms that form after long-term abuse:

–      Trouble sleeping

–      Body shaking

–      Physical restlessness

–      Intense nausea

–      Excessive sweating

–      Racing pulse

–      Seizure risks

–      Mental hallucination

If a person develops alcoholism in their lifetime, the drug can take over their life through their dependence on drinking to comfortably exist. It can also permanently change the chemical composition and overall function of the brain in measurable, well-studied ways.

long term abuse of alcohol can shrink the size of neurons which can forever interfere with the brains functions like mood regulation memory and coordination

Altering the Brain: Alcohol Abuse and the Central Nervous System

The brain, primarily, communicates its messages to the body and influences moods through neurochemical interactions. Since alcohol acts on these same chemical avenues, it can significantly and irreversibly alter the physical structure, appearance, and function of the brain. For instance, long-term abuse of alcohol can shrink the size of neurons which can forever impede the ability of the brain to maintain functions like mood regulation, memory, and coordination.

Overall, chronically abusing alcohol and experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms shakes the balance of the brain and, as a result, disrupts the behavior of the afflicted person. Because alcohol targets neurotransmitters, synapses, and ion channels, its far-reaching and prolonged effect on the brain is difficult to conceptualize in full. Among the changes, researchers can see the loss of cognitive ability even after alcohol treatment and recovery: alcoholics (regardless of age) show poorer ability to hold information or complete tasks requiring problem-solving and critical thinking. While most are familiar with the immediate, short-term cognitive consequences of drinking, these radical and treatment-independent deficits worry many once alcohol abuse has become a way of life for someone they love or for themselves. Still, the dangers stretch further.

From shrinkage of the hippocampus to the manifestation of “alcoholic dementia”—alcohol seems negatively impact every structure of the central nervous system, causing problems with attention, memory, information processing, verbal learning, spatial awareness, attention, and even the ability to control our own impulses. Though they are some of the most concerning, these higher-order functions are not the extent of the damage that comes from long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Instead, excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to a host of severe psychological and biological syndromes such as “wet brain” in which the person cannot coordinate movements, speak properly, or maintain basic thinking—in addition to amnesia, tremors, and other serious behavioral disturbances.

Even if alcohol abuse over a long period doesn’t result in such a syndrome, alcohol’s action on the brain brings up several mental health issues that alcoholics, their families, and friends struggle to resolve. For those with existing mental health challenges (and those without), alcohol can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood dysregulation. Alcoholics display a poor experience of living that is marked by problems at home, work, and school because of alcohol’s aggressive mental impairment and its relentless control of the dependent person’s mood. Beyond these consequences on the brain and behavior—alcohol abuse affects the body with as many serious and potentially fatal conditions.

The Heart, Liver, and More—Alcohol’s Impact on the Body

Tasked with pumping life-sustaining nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, the heart and its blood vessels are measurably affected by long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism. As part of its mechanism of action in the body, the heart helps to transfer alcohol through the body through these blood vessels. Just as alcohol changes the way the brain communicates with the heart through higher and lower cognitive functions—long-term abuse can cause several heart conditions including high blood pressure and stroke. When it exists in regular and high levels, alcohol can also increase the level of fat and cholesterol in the blood, clogging arteries and potentially developing clots inducing a heart attack. There is also the distinct possibility of hemorrhaging when one of the heart’s arteries is blocked by alcohol-related fats and cholesterol, meaning that alcohol abuse is directly connected to fatal heart failure. Comparable and simultaneous destruction is brought on the liver and pancreas after years of consistent alcohol use.

The liver plays a role in processing the alcohol consumed to break it down and filter out its harmful compounds. When the liver is overwhelmed by the amount of alcohol to process, alcohol abuse can lead to the destruction and scarring of liver tissue (or Cirrhosis). Those who suffer from alcoholism and long-term alcohol abuse are at a much higher risk of developing the symptoms of such liver diseases that threaten millions of lives:

–      Persistent fatigue

–      Yellowing skin, eyes, and tissues

–      Swollen legs, ankles, and feet

–      Bruising easily and not healing

–      Weakness of the limbs and muscles

–      Disorientation and lack of coordination

–      Abdominal pains and swelling of the stomach

Among the possible deficiencies and diseases that can come from alcohol abuse, heavy drinkers experience inflammation including a “fatty liver,” alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis. In addition to these possibly life-threatening attacks on the liver, excess alcohol left in the bloodstream can result in further cellular mutations and cancer formations.

Much scientific study has determined a strong connection between drinking and multiple forms of cancer. In addition to liver cancer, those who are simply moderate alcohol users show higher signs of getting cancer of the head, neck, throat, colon, rectum, breasts, and more. Those who drink heavily are at a much higher risk, but it’s clear from hundreds of studies linked with alcohol that the impact of excessive alcohol in the bloodstream contributes to a severely increased risk of developing cancer in multiple areas of the body.

Like smoking cigarettes, the National Cancer Institute has concretely decided that alcohol causes cancer. In their studies, alcohol is referred to as a definite human carcinogen, and they suffuse that the more a person drinks, the more likely they are to develop cancer related to their alcoholic drinking. Even when usage is assumed to be low—such as one drink per day—medical experts agree that the risk of cancer is increased substantially. They also estimate that tens of thousands of known cases of cancer in the United States are related to the consumption of alcohol.

Further evidence shows that alcohol weakens the body’s immune system which makes it easier for a person to contract or develop a disease in their lowered state (cancer being included). Alcoholics and alcohol abusers are more likely to catch pneumonia, tuberculosis, and infections, for example, that would otherwise be rare instances for the healthy non-drinker.

For the brain and the body—the effects of alcohol misuse are clearly negative and a cause for alarm when problem drinking is observed over a lengthy period. In many cases, the consequences of long-term drinking are seen even after alcohol detox and withdrawal, such as changes to the chemical makeup of the mind. Nevertheless, alcohol abuse remains one of the most preventable and treatable diseases that plague modern society. With private and compassionate alcohol treatment, recovery from alcoholism is possible through medically supervised detox and safe withdrawal.

at the haven we offer inpatient residential and detox programs to help people recover from alcohol dependance

Recovering the Body and Mind: Alcohol Abuse Treatment and Detox

Each person—and instance of alcoholism—is unique, and the Haven Detox understands that effective, lasting recovery from an Alcohol Use Disorder begins with a comprehensive understanding of the individual. Each doctor, nurse, and therapist at the Haven Detox center offers insight into the individual treatment plans that help our patients avoid relapse and receive the relief of recovery.

For anyone who struggles with alcohol abuse, the Haven Detox is a place of safety and support. In addition to a state-of-the-art and discreet facility, we know that finding the help you need can be far from simple. We make it a priority to treat every person with respect and understanding throughout the admission and treatment process. Whether you need a five-day detox or a 30-day stay—your recovery team at the Haven Detox is ready to offer you the alcohol treatment you deserve. (We provide comfortable residential stays as well as physician-supervised detox.)

Save yourself or a loved one from the pain of mental disorder and physical disease that comes from alcohol abuse. Our kind and concerned counselors are available around the clock to discuss the impact of alcohol on your life and the road to freedom from the urge to drink.

Take your first step toward a satisfying, sober life. Call 561-328-8627.