Alcoholism and Your Body
Excessive alcohol use, whether it be binge drinking or drinking every day, takes a toll on your body in many ways. This can affect your health and make you seriously ill. This article provides an overview of the effects alcohol has on different areas of your body.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain
Alcohol disrupts the way your brain communicates by damaging the pathways where neurotransmitters travel. It also affects the brain’s appearance, causing the brain to shrink due to continued exposure to heavy amounts of alcohol. These changes can cause mood swings, volatile behaviors and muddled thinking. Serious and long-term drinking can lead to life-threatening seizures.
Brain damage caused by excessive toxins in the blood can lead to the development of hepatic encephalopathy.
Symptoms of this disorder include:
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Mood disturbances, changes in personality
- Motor control issues, loss of coordination
Alcohol’s Effects on the Heart
Heart problems caused by excessive drinking include damage to the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat and stroke, as well as high blood pressure, known as hypertension. High blood pressure from heavy alcohol consumption is caused by the release of abnormal amounts of stress hormones.
Related symptoms from alcoholism include poor blood circulation, which can result in gangrene in the hands and feet. If allowed to progress unchecked, this condition can necessitate amputation of the affected limbs.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Liver
Drinking to excess also damages your liver. In the United States, more than 2 million people experience liver disease caused by alcoholism.
As the liver is damaged by excessive alcohol, it loses its ability to process fats, which then accumulate in the liver and cause disease. This results in a fatty liver and leads to inflammation of the liver.
Heavy drinking can lead to the development of hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis allows toxins that are normally removed by the liver to remain in the bloodstream, which then results in a swollen liver, jaundice and excessive bleeding. Fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver can also be the result of alcoholism.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Pancreas
The pancreas makes toxins when exposed to heavy amounts of alcohol. This can lead to pancreatitis, a serious and dangerous inflammation. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, its blood vessels swell, leading to digestive problems.
Damage to your pancreas also will affect how it processes insulin. When you continue to drink excessively for the long term, these disruptions can result in type 2 diabetes.
Alcoholism and Cancer
The risk of cancer increases greatly with heavy drinking habits. When you drink too much, your risk of developing cancer increases. Alcoholism can lead to cancer of the mouth, throat, liver, breast, colon or stomach.
The Good News
On the positive side, most of these conditions can be helped or prevented by lifestyle changes. Abstaining from alcohol is the most important change you can make. When you stop drinking, you are preventing further damage to your body. Avoiding alcohol allows the body’s healing process to begin.
You can decrease your risk for cancer, organ damage and other illnesses by reducing or stopping your consumption of alcohol. Other beneficial changes you can make include maintaining a healthy weight, nutritious eating, smoking cessation and exercising regularly.
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