While some may use alcohol as a means to liven up a social gathering, millions of people in the United States struggle with alcohol abuse and dependency. As one begins to find any excuse to drink, they become susceptible to binge drinking and overall cognitive issues. Only 10 percent of reported alcohol abusers seek professional help. For the other 90 percent, the effects of alcohol abuse can not only affect their lives, but also the lives of loved ones and strangers.
Due to its relaxant effects, the more alcohol that a person consumes the faster vital functions of the brain like thinking and reasoning begin declining. When a person consumes alcohol it is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. After a small digestion period, it then passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates and is ultimately metabolized by the liver. Blood alcohol level is measured by the overall weight of a specific volume of blood.
When a person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC reaches 0.08 percent, they are no longer legally capable of getting behind the wheel. For the average person, reaching a BAC level of 0.08 occurs during the first 2-4 drinks. And while a person with a 0.08 BAC is considered to be a legal risk, several crashes occur each year with drivers exhibiting much lower alcohol levels.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, drunk driving accidents claim more than 10,000 lives per year and in 2017, approximately 30 people died from intoxicated crashes every single day.
If you observe that a person is too drunk to get into their car, it is advised to call an Uber or Lyft to help them reach their destination. If you personally know the intoxicated individual, having them give you their car keys and driving them home is the best means of avoiding a potentially fatal accident.
Losing Your Job to Alcohol
One major area of a person’s life that will be severely affected by excessive drinking is their work life. Though partying and drinking in your home or apartment is completely up to the individual, showing up to work intoxicated not only reflects badly on yourself, but the company as well.
Alcoholism effects every individual body in different ways. However, certain commonalities like trouble concentrating, loss of coordination, mood swings, dilated pupils, sleepiness and stumbling are all signs that a coworker is much more than a casual drinker.
While many people choose to drink and drive, others become incredibly lethargic after a binge. Comparable to the years spent in school, having good attendance is mandatory to keeping one’s position at work. A high number of absences is another major reason why people lose their jobs from alcohol abuse. Frequently calling out sick makes the drinker seem unreliable, making them a risk as an employee.
Many have heard of the phrase, “high functioning alcoholic.” High functioning alcoholic is defined as a person who meets enough criteria to have a substance abuse problem, but is still able to maintain their work, personal life and overall health. A frequent sign of a high functioning alcoholic is their ability to consume substances throughout the day without ever over drinking. They spend most their time teetering the line between sobriety and falling off the wagon.
Because alcoholics have a specific stereotype of being overtly intoxicated, people that are high functioning can go years without anyone noticing a problem. In a 2007 study performed at Columbia University, it was concluded that 4 percent of Americans had what is known as an "alcohol use disorder". Three of the four percent, which is roughly 9 million people were categorized as functionally dependent.
Many experts consider the term of a high functioning alcoholic to be misleading because the odds that a person can continue this facade is highly unlikely.
Medical Conditions from Alcoholism
Apart from the effects of alcoholism that can potentially disrupt the lives of innocent drivers or annoyed coworkers, the internal effects of long term drinking should not be taken lightly. Besides the sheer amount of alcohol that a person consumes, genetic factors, body mass and the general state of their health all have a direct influence to how a person’s body responds to alcohol.
When a person consumes more alcohol than the body can metabolize, excess secretions begin to build up in the bloodstream. Because the body is constantly in motion, the heart circulates alcohol infused blood throughout the body. This circulation leads to changes in the body’s chemistry and normal functionality. While the first couple of binge drinking experiences may lead to a really bad hangover, as a person continues to consume excess amounts of alcohol, a person can begin developing chronic diseases and other serious health problems.
The organ that takes a significant toll (because of chronic drinking) is the liver. As previously mentioned, alcohol is mostly metabolized in the liver. As the body metabolizes alcohol it becomes a substance known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic and has been linked to carcinogenic results as well.
Another risk to the liver is the potential for it to become fatty. Although reversible, it is one of the first signs that a doctor will look for when examining a patient. Chronic drinking changes the liver’s metabolism causing excess fat to accumulate in the liver.
A lesser known, but incredibly serious side effect of long term drinking is inflammation of the liver, otherwise known as alcoholic hepatitis. Inflammation of the liver can lead to a build up of scar tissue. If the scar tissue continues building up over a period of several years, the damage will invade the liver causing it to become incredibly hard. Otherwise known as cirrhosis, the slow development of this condition makes it nearly undetectable.
Some experts state that it would take the consumption of 2 to 3 alcoholic drinks per day for several years for cirrhosis to become a real problem. As cirrhosis worsens, typical symptoms are chronic fatigue, swelling in the lower legs, development of a yellow hue to the skin, bruising easily, spider-like blood vessels on the skin and fluid build up in the abdomen.
The liver is an incredibly important organ and if it cannot perform its duties, its negative influence will spread throughout the body. This will cause multiple organ failures and eventually death.
Another major organ that will be affected by the chronic consumption of alcohol is the pancreas. The pancreas is a special organ that functions in both the digestive and endocrine systems. As an endocrine gland, the pancreas is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels. By secreting the hormones like insulin, glucagon and somatostatin it helps to keep the body at a homeostasis.
As a digestive organ, the pancreas secretes pancreatic juice into the duodenum through a small tube known as the pancreatic duct. The secretion contains bicarbonate which then neutralizes acid and digestive enzymes as they enter the duodenum from the stomach.
When a person over drinks, the high possibility of developing pancreatitis can cause a multitude of problems. A painful inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis often requires hospitalization.
There are two main types of pancreatitis; acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis is a sudden and unexpected inflammation of the pancreas. It may be a stand-alone event, recurrent or act as a gateway to chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis is long standing inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis alters the pancreas’ normal functionality and unlike acute pancreatitis, the effects from chronic pancreatitis can not be reversed.
The inflammation of the pancreas is potentially related to premature activation of proenzymes to pancreatic enzymes and long term exposure to acetaldehyde. A reported 70 percent of the cases of pancreatitis affect people who drink on a regular basis.
Immune System Damage
Excessive drinking can weaken the immune system, making the body vulnerable to diseases like pneumonia. Because of the harmful chemicals that leak into the bloodstream, alcohol causes changes to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. While many young children ignore their parents when they state that eating their vegetables is important, the effects of alcohol reflect the validity of that statement.
Alcoholism can cause a significant drop in the white blood cell count. This happens because the body’s production of white blood cells becomes suppressed. Instead of fighting off infections, the white blood cells become trapped in the spleen.
The spleen is another important organ in the body. Its job is to remove old red blood cells and hold reserves of blood. Holding blood reserves becomes valuable in cases of hemorrhagic shock. The spleen also synthesizes antibodies and removes antibody blood cells through the bloodstream.
Each time a person engages in heavy drinking, it reduces the body’s ability to fight off infections. Continued exposure to heavy amounts of alcohol will negatively affect white blood cell production and function over time.
Malnourishment and Vitamin Deficiency
Excessive drinking leads to malnourishment and vitamin deficiency. Because nutrients can not be broken down properly, they are not sufficiently absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. While the body will still receive a percentage of the nutrients, it will not be sufficient and eventually cause disruptions throughout the body.
Alcohol also has the ability to interrupt the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. If the bone marrow can not produce red blood cells in an effective manner, it could lead to the development of iron deficiency anemia. With less red blood cells, the body has a lowered ability to carry oxygen. With a loss of oxygen, symptoms such as feeling tired, weakness, shortness of breath or inability to exercise for extended periods of time become prevalent.
Alcohol Related Crime
Just like any kind of drug, alcohol changes the way that a person interacts with others and the world around them. Though alcohol related crime has been a subject of concern for several decades, it has become more noticeable in heavily populated areas.
Apart from DUI’s, other types of crime affected by alcohol include sexual abuse or rape, and child abuse.
Alcohol and Rape
Rape is a crime that is heavily influenced by alcohol. With a reported 60% of all sexual assault and abuse cases occurring while the abuser is intoxicated, there is a clear correlation between alcoholic consumption and indecent behavior. This could be due to a lack of inhibition a person feels when they have too much to drink. Just as with driving under the influence, alcohol takes away the thought of any consequences of sexual assault on both the victim and the aggressor.
Alcohol and Child Abuse
Another alarming alcohol related crime is child abuse. Statistics show that 13% of all child abuse cases are attributed to excessive consumption of alcohol. While there is no scientific reasoning for the high number, it could again be due to a lack of inhibition. When a person is under the influence, they tend to react more aggressively than they would if fully sober. As a person reaches a point where they can no longer control their emotions, there is a lack of concern for the wellbeing of their child. Their decisions become irrational and impulsive leading to a situation where their child may be taken away.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
The effects of alcohol abuse can negatively impact every part of a person’s life. From the potential of losing one’s job to putting others at risk by getting behind the wheel, excessive drinking comes with a major cost. The long term effects binge drinking has on the body and mind can not be underestimated and continues to be studied by professionals.
For people who are looking for treatments for alcohol abuse, several experts recommend heading to a doctor and discussing your situation. While they may not be able to offer you a plan of action, it is great way to help you understand why alcohol is your crutch.
While no treatment is universal, another recommended method is detoxing. The goal of detoxing is to stop drinking, which gives your body time to get the alcohol out of your system. A detox will normally span a couple of days to a few weeks. Detoxing combined with seeking professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist allows the addict to refresh their body and mind. A counselor or therapist can help an addict by providing tools that can help them deal with stress, set goals, and change behaviors.
There are also different medications that can be prescribed to a patient that will make their road to recovery slightly smoother. For example, the drug disulfiram (antabuse) will make a person feel sick or throw up if they drink.
Finally, joining a group can also help with the rehabilitation process. Being surrounded by a group of people all working towards the same goal is a great way to constantly feel motivated and safe. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery allow people with alcohol use disorder to seek advice while also being held accountable every step of the way.
Making sure to moderate your drinking and seeking help if you feel as though things are getting out of hand are ways to make sure that your road to recovery starts off on the right foot. If you or a loved one feels they may suffer from alcohol use disorder, hope is not lost. Seek treatment and begin your journey toward a sober and healthy life.