Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in America. One in 12 adults in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder. Excessive drinking—on a single occasion or over a length of time—can lead to serious health problems, chronic diseases and even death. Alcohol abuse also impacts users’ behavior, which can result in accidents and violence. The effects of alcohol addiction and alcohol addiction are grave and far-reaching. While some people can overcome this addiction on their own, most people need assistance. Substance abuse treatment programs can help end the grips of alcohol on you or a loved one.
What is alcohol abuse and alcoholism?
Many people drink a moderate amount of alcohol without harmful consequences, while for others, just one drink can lead down a dangerous path. Problem drinking is not defined only by how often or even how much a person drinks. Instead, it comes down to the effects of alcohol addiction on a person’s life. People who have issues with their work life, family relationships, finances or emotions because of their alcohol use could have a drinking problem.
A pattern of unhealthy or dangerous drinking habits, clinically known as an alcohol use disorder, can range in severity. Over time, it can affect the brain and lead to compulsive alcohol use and dependency, or alcoholism. It can be difficult to assess a drinking problem, but we can help. If diagnosed early, some alcohol addiction effects can be reversed.
Effects of Alcohol Addiction on Health
Over the long-term, the effects of alcohol addiction on the body and overall health can be significant. They can be difficult or impossible to reverse. Studies show alcohol use can affect these parts of the body:
High blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke
Inflammation, including alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
Acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease
Inflammation and swelling of blood vessels that prevent proper digestion
Increased susceptibility to diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia
Alcohol abuse has been linked to cancers of the breast, mouth, esophagus, throat, larynx, colon and rectum. It may also increase the risk of stomach and pancreas cancers.
Alcohol Effects on the Brain
Alcohol can have short- and long-term effects on the brain and disrupts the brain’s communication pathways. These can influence mood, behavior and other cognitive function.
Brain damage may also occur through alcohol-induced nutrition deficiencies, alcohol-induced seizures and liver disease. In pregnant women, alcohol exposure can impact the brains of unborn babies, resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
It is reported that alcohol-induced brain problems can often be corrected with proper treatment. Abstinence from alcohol for months or years can help partially repair some effects of alcohol addiction, including thinking abilities, like memory skills.
Alcohol Effects on Behavior
Slurred speech, motor impairment, confusion and memory problems are just a few common consequences of alcohol consumption in the short-term. This can make drinkers more prone to accidents, injuries and violent behavior. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides. It’s also a significant factor in moderate to severe injuries, suicides and sexual assaults. Alcohol plays a part in 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes.
Heavy drinking may also result in risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex, which can lead to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. These alcohol addiction effects can have lifelong consequences.
Effects of Alcohol on Different Populations
Alcohol affects everyone in different ways. Genes, environment and diet can influence whether a person is prone to develop an alcohol-related disease, while factors such as age, weight and sex can impact alcohol’s more immediate effects.
Women tend to be more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol due to differences in how their bodies absorb and metabolize alcohol. For women, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks during a single occasion, while heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks per week. For men, binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks during a single occasion, while heavy drinking is 15 or more drinks per week.
The effects of alcohol addiction may also have a more serious impact on seniors, as aging changes how the body handles alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse may worsen some health problems like diabetes, osteoporosis, memory loss, high blood pressure and mood disorders. It may also increase the likelihood of accidents such as falls and fractures.
Alcohol Overuse vs. Abuse
There’s a lot of mistaken “all or nothing” thinking about alcohol use. Many people assume there are two options: Either you don’t have a drinking problem, or you’re a “total alcoholic” whose life is falling apart. The reality is not simply black or white, but a spectrum with shades of gray. An alcohol use disorder—that is, alcohol abuse or alcoholism—can be mild, moderate or severe. People with an alcohol use disorder can be highly functioning, highly compromised or somewhere in between.
Even a single bout of binge drinking can destroy the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, causing them to relay information too slowly and trigger mood changes. This can result in depression, agitation, memory loss and seizures. Sadly, many people die every year during bouts of binge drinking. For heavy, long-term drinkers, alcohol has been found to reduce the size of brain cells and overall brain mass. This can impact motor coordination, sleep, mood and an array of cognitive functions.