While the short-term effects of alcohol can be severe, there are also serious long-term effects. Alcohol abuse and addiction can affect individuals both mentally and physically. Although it would be virtually impossible to list all of the adverse, long-term effects of alcohol abuse, this article will certainly try.
Increase in Blood Pressure
Even in the short term, drinking several alcoholic beverages in a row can increase blood pressure. In the long term, the problem goes from temporary to chronic. Heavy drinkers tend to have both a higher diastolic blood pressure and a higher systolic blood pressure than abstainers.
High blood pressure is more than just a set of unfavorable numbers on a physical exam. It can also lead to a number of serious cardiac conditions. High blood pressure may be a factor in a stroke, an aneurysm or damaged arteries. Fortunately, cutting out alcohol can almost immediately lead to a reduction in blood pressure.
Development of Anemia
Anemia is a common condition that occurs because of a lack of iron or B12 vitamins in the body. Even if those who abuse alcohol take enough of both iron and B12, they can suffer from anemia. This is because alcohol abuse damages vitamin and mineral absorption.
Anemia can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms. The most common include feeling dizzy, feeling weak, struggling with shortness of breath and having a headache. Those with anemia also often feel cold, no matter the external temperature. Anemia may also lead to heartbeat changes, such as an arrhythmia.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Alcohol abuse doesn’t just impact the drinker. It can also impact their future and that of her children. This is no more pronounced than when it comes to the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder develops when pregnant women, whether or not they are aware of their pregnancy, consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
Sadly, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can have devastating effects for their smallest victims. Children born with this condition may struggle with their vision, and physical abnormalities are possible. Even cognitive impairment may result from the alcohol abuse of the pregnant mother.
Alcohol Hepatitis and Other Liver Damage
Liver damage is perhaps the health problem most commonly associated with alcohol abuse. That is for good reason. Alcohol abuse can absolutely impact the liver in a myriad of negative ways. For as many as one in three heavy drinkers, there will be either fatty deposits in the liver or some level of scarring. These symptoms typically point to alcohol hepatitis.
While alcohol hepatitis is a devastating condition, it can get worse. Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to complete cirrhosis of the liver. When cirrhosis occurs, patients may suffer from symptoms such as yellowing skin, fatigue, swelling in the legs or abdomen, bone disease and even liver cancer.
Worsening or Development of Mental Illness
Substance abuse and mental illness are strongly connected. Many individuals struggle with both simultaneously. It is not always clear whether one causes the other, or whether both are caused by similar factors. What is clear, however, is that alcohol abuse can cause the worsening of or the development of several mental health conditions.
Alcohol abuse, and specifically alcoholism, can change the brain’s chemistry. When alcoholism is present, serotonin may only be produced or recognized with the consumption of alcohol. One of the results of this can be changes to mental health.
Those who already have a mental illness may see it worsen as a result of alcohol abuse. This can happen during drinking, but it may also be associated with hangovers the following day.
Alcohol abuse can also lead to mental illness, even for those who have never struggled with mental health in the past. Common disorders may include depression and anxiety.
Development of Pancreatitis
The pancreas is one of the internal organs that can be most damaged through alcohol abuse. In many heavy drinkers, pancreatitis can develop. Pancreatitis is a disorder characterized by significant inflammation in the pancreas itself.
The symptoms and side effects of pancreatitis can be severe. Some of the most common include nausea, vomiting, weight loss and bloating. A few of the more extreme symptoms of pancreatitis include chronic abdominal pain, cardiac problems and the development of diabetes.
Death and Damage to Brain Cells
There is no doubt that alcohol abuse can damage the body. However, it can also damage the brain. In addition to the potential of addiction, which can lead to lasting changes in brain function and chemistry, alcohol abuse can damage and even kill brain cells.
When excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed, the brain can’t handle it. As a result, brain cells can die. Over time, this can lead to reduced cognitive function. For young people whose brains are still in development, it can lead to a permanently stunted brain.
Decrease in Male Sperm Production
It is not just women whose reproductive systems can be affected by alcohol abuse. For men, there is the potential for a rapid decrease in male sperm production. It can also drastically reduce libido as well as the quality of the sperm that is produced.
Reproductive issues happen in part because of the stress on the body. Alcohol abuse tells the body that it is not healthy enough for reproduction. In addition, alcohol limits zinc absorption, which is a key element in sperm production. These factors are absolutely bad news for any men who want to have biological children in the future.
Chronic Acid Reflux or a Peptic Ulcer
Alcohol is an irritant. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it irritates the entire digestive system. Alcohol abuse creates more acid in the stomach, which can irritate and even damage the stomach lining.
Alcohol can also cause chronic acid reflux. When this happens, that stomach acid can start to burn the throat. Even worse, alcohol abuse may lead to a peptic ulcer. A peptic ulcer brings with it severe abdominal pain and even perforation.
Clearly, the long-term effects of alcohol abuse affects individuals in countless ways. It can negatively impact everything from reproduction to brain function, and sobriety is the only way to completely avoid the symptoms.