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Alcohol and the Body

This is What Alcohol is Really Doing to Your Body

The drinking of alcohol can affect the body in a number of ways.  While we are very familiar with the outward manifestations of alcohol consumption the short and long-term effects of alcohol use and abuse on the body and brain needs to be acknowledged and addressed.  While these effects are not easily visible, the continued use and subsequent abuse of alcohol can have significant health risks over time.  It is important to understand both the short-term as well as the long-term effects of alcohol consumption.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

When alcohol is consumed approximately twenty percent of it is absorbed rapidly in the bloodstream while the remainder is processed through the gastrointestinal tract.  Once alcohol enters the bloodstream and can be absorbed and diffuse into every major organ because the cell membranes of all the major organs are highly sensitive to alcohol.  The effects of alcohol are dependent on a person’s weight, age and gender.  Additionally, a person’s body composition, overall health and history of drinking also play crucial roles in regards to alcohol’s overall effects on the body.

When people begin consuming alcohol they initially may feel increased relaxation, self-confidence, happiness and sociability, but these can generally progress into more negative behaviors. Alcohol consumption leads to the slowing of reflexes, reduced coordination, impaired thinking, poor judgment, depression, impaired memory, and a decreased ability to control motor functions.  Additionally, alcohol use has been linked to violent behavior and an increase in unprotected sex among young adults. Alcohol also increases the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Alcohol increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, suicide, injury, domestic violence and drowning.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

When alcohol is continuously consumed over a period of time it begins to affect the body in a myriad of ways. Long term and excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of many cancers including liver, breast, esophagus, pancreas, mouth, larynx and pharynx. Alcohol use over time can also cause alcohol dependency better known as alcoholism.  Since alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can cause significant health issues over time, it is important to understand those complications.

For example, excessive drinking can cause fatty deposits to build in the liver, which can cause hepatitis, which can cause the liver to not absorb nutrients.   Cirrhosis of the liver can also take place with excessive alcohol use. Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver and with the excess of scar tissue can bring forth complications such as jaundice, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Heavy drinking can also have significant effects on the heart.  Some conditions that can be brought on by alcohol abuse include cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscle to expand and droop.  Another potentially serious heart condition is myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle.  Other complications can include irregular heartbeat, increased cholesterol and greater risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Additionally, excessive drinking can accelerate the rate of bone deterioration and increase the risk for bone fracture and osteoporosis. Calcium is necessary from strong, dense bones and when alcohol is consumed it acts as a diuretic and flushes calcium from the bones making them weaker and more susceptible to fracture. When alcohol is consumed excessively it can also cause cell damage in the central nervous system creating a condition known as neuropathy. Neuropathy causes alternating feelings of weakness, burning, pain and numbness in the feet and hands.

Knowing the dangers of both the short and long-term effects of alcohol is an important tool in the journey of recovery.  Being aware of complications brought on by excessive use physically, emotionally and psychologically can act as a great motivator to pursue the path of recovery. If you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, give me a call and together we can come up with a plan to help you decrease or become abstinent from alcohol.

Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS