In 2017, tens of thousands more American men and women died because of alcohol than in 1999.
The COVID pandemic and its stressors have also created an environment with higher risk factors for alcohol use disorders (AUDs). AUDs can range from mild to severe. Below, we look at some of the short-term symptoms and long-term effects of heavy drinking.
What Are Signs That Indicate Alcohol Use and Addiction?
If you frequently observe the following signs in someone you know, the person in question may have an AUD.
- Flushed skin
- Sensitivity to light
- Slurred speech
- Low blood sugar
- Increased aggression and mood swings
- Impaired judgment and focus
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Impaired coordination
Alcohol addiction refers to a loss of control when it comes to drinking. The following behaviors are some of the red flags to look out for:
- High tolerance for alcohol
- Drinking in unsuitable places or at unusual times
- Legal problems or problems at work as a result of heavy drinking
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use and Addiction?
If you regularly experience the following symptoms, it could point towards an AUD.
- Blurred or double vision
- Sexual dysfunction
Addiction is characterized by strong cravings, even when you know that a substance is causing issues in your life. Alcohol addiction, in particular, leads to dangerous withdrawal symptoms after a period of abstinence.
What are the Health Effects of Using Alcohol?
Alcohol affects every part of your body. A high alcohol intake can cause complications with existing mental and physical disorders.
The short-term effects of heavy drinking can include:
- Dehydration (alcohol is a diuretic)
- Lung inflammation or infection due to suppressed gag and cough reflexes
- Problems with your food pipe and stomach including throwing up, diarrhea, heartburn, pain, and loss of appetite. In extreme cases, Mallory-Weiss tears in the esophagus can lead to the vomiting of blood.
- Trouble sleeping
The long-term effects of chronic and excessive drinking can seriously compromise your quality of life, and can even cause death. Quite apart from the injuries that happen as a result of being drunk, the direct impact of alcoholism affects your organs in dire ways.
Excessive and prolonged drinking causes various cancers from liver cancer to cancers of the GI tract. Having just one drink a day can give rise to breast cancer. Heavy drinking also leads to high blood pressure and increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Heavy drinking disrupts the healthy functioning of your internal systems, as you’ll see below. It’s not uncommon for long-term drinkers to be in and out of the hospital to treat an array of conditions.
Blood and Immune System
Chronic drinking can lead to anemia and low platelet levels. This makes it difficult for your body to form clots and stop bleeding. AUDs also affect white blood cells which makes it harder to combat infections. When alcohol replaces food during mealtimes, malnourishment can bring about myriad disorders too.
Bones and Muscles
In addition to muscle wasting, heavy drinking affects your body’s ability to absorb calcium and create new bones. Brittle, weak bones lead to fractures. AUDs can also cause gout which leads to very painful joint tenderness, especially in your big toes.
Brain and Nervous System
With alcoholism, there’s potential for nerve and brain damage. Epilepsy is possible. Also, alcohol affects your ability to absorb and use vitamin B1 or thiamine. This causes an acute disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), sometimes referred to as Wet Brain. WKS can lead to mobility issues, extreme confusion, psychosis, and irregular eye movements. Without treatment, it can be fatal.
Liver and Pancreas
AUDs can build up to a point where you have alcoholic hepatitis. This presents with yellow skin and eyes, a swollen and tender midsection, and spider veins. Up to 15% of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis which is permanent damage to the liver that may require a liver transplant.
Severe liver disease can cause lethal bleeding when the veins lining your esophagus swell up to the point of bursting.
You can develop pancreatitis or inflammation in your pancreas. This can lead to diabetes, intense pain, fever, and oily stools.
Because alcohol is a sedative, it negatively affects your lungs’ ability to expel harmful substances. Alcohol also alters your oral microbiome. Good bacteria are replaced by harmful bacteria which increases your odds of getting pneumonia.
Alcohol poisoning results from drinking too much in too short a period. Binge drinking refers to having four (for women) or five (for men) drinks in about two hours. Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol but can suffer immense consequences.
A single session of binge drinking can lead to sudden death. Alcohol is a depressant, so it slows your system down. With high doses, your vitals can crash. An alcohol overdose can slow your breathing and heart rate and lead to a coma.
If you notice that someone has passed out and has pale or blue skin and a low body temperature, call 911 immediately. Turn them on their side to prevent them from choking on any vomit.
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic relapsing brain disease. Without assistance from qualified healthcare professionals, your condition may get worse and become life-threatening.
If you or someone you know is dependent on alcohol, listen to your gut and find treatment. You can check your risk status by contacting Northeast Addictions Treatment Center (NEATC).
Acknowledging that you have a problem and need to stop drinking excessively is an important first step. You don’t need alcohol to function, have a good time, or sleep. And you definitely don’t need it to ruin relationships, create anxiety at home, and leave you feeling ill.
If you’ve tried quitting before, don’t give up. Abstinence is not just about willpower. It could be that you need to explore strategies for staying sober that you haven’t tried before. A good care team will equip you with new tools to deal with triggers. If you have a co-occurring mental health condition, integrated treatment is essential.
Getting help for a substance use disorder can bring stability back to your life. FDA-approved medications for alcohol treatment and/or therapy can make a significant difference to your physical and mental health.
Take action now to reverse the harmful effects of an AUD and to prevent further damage. Get in touch with NEATC for answers to all your pressing questions and outstanding outpatient rehab services in the North East.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.