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The Dangers of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

Long-term alcohol abuse adversely affects physical and mental health, causing early death and chronic health conditions while contributing to the development of some cancers. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 31.8% of people dying from regular excessive alcohol use are between 50 and 64.

Alcohol is a legal substance, which causes people to believe it can’t cause harm. Unfortunately, a single episode of drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to heart issues, proving long-term use hazardous. 

How Alcoholism Impacts the Body

Adverse health effects can occur without an alcohol use disorder with only moderate drinking habits. Alcohol negatively affects every major organ in the body. A single episode of binge drinking can negatively impact health. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause irreversible damage to the major organs. Fortunately, preventing some diseases resulting from alcohol misuse is possible by reducing or stopping drinking alcohol. 

Individual factors such as genetic and environmental factors influence how alcohol metabolizes in the body. Researchers believe this is why some people are at greater risk for physical problems from alcohol misuse or abuse. Physical condition, gender, weight, and family history may also affect the intensity of physical damage alcohol wreaks on the body. Long-term alcohol abuse is also a determining factor in how much damage the organs incur. 

Long-Term Alcohol Abuse and The Vital Organs

Research reveals significant organ damage throughout the body from long-term alcohol abuse. However, damage to the major organs by alcohol can be a contributory negative factor when injuries, traumas, or illnesses occur. Alcohol abuse weakens the immune system, allowing diseases to intercept the body and hindering the ability to fight off infection. Alcohol dramatically affects the vital organs, and the results are sometimes irreversible. 

The pancreas, stomach, kidneys, and immune system are victims of long-term alcohol abuse. Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, is painful and dangerous for the body. Alcohol can disrupt the digestive process and rob the body of essential nutrients. 

The immune system fights off disease and infection in the body, but alcohol consumption weakens its capabilities. 

The Lungs

There is a high risk of aspiration of secretions or foreign materials into the lungs, causing pulmonary disease. When pulmonary disease is present, disruptions in lung functions occur, even in young people, and result in alcohol-impaired lungs.

Alcohol-impaired lungs can be a significant negative factor if injury, trauma, or other acute illnesses occur, making an individual more prone to lung infections. 

The Liver

Long-term alcohol abuse damages the liver, leading to various liver dysfunctions. When alcohol enters the liver, it breaks down through interaction with enzymes, contributing to extreme inflammation in the liver. Chronic fatty liver can occur, and a vulnerability to alcoholic hepatitis.

Cirrhosis of the liver develops when inflammation interrupts the blood supply to the liver, then cells die and cause scar tissue.   

The Heart

Alcohol-associated cardiomyopathy develops with long-term alcohol abuse. The heart muscle weakens, the left ventricle dilates and stretches and cannot contract sufficiently. Therefore, the heart cannot pump enough blood to the organs. Chronic cough, fatigue, swollen limbs, and irregular heartbeat occur, and heart failure is possible. Internal pacemaker systems are sometimes needed to keep the heart pumping consistently. 

Strokes, hypertension, and arrhythmias can occur from long-term alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking causes stress hormones to constrict blood vessels, elevating blood pressure. Alcohol also tightens the muscles within the blood vessels, affecting blood pressure. These adverse conditions can occur without the development of cardiomyopathy

Long-Term Alcohol Abuse and the Brain

Long-term alcohol abuse affects how the brain looks and works. When a substance changes brain functions by changing standard brain chemistry, an individual’s moods, behaviors, and cognitive ability are adversely affected. The sections of the brain controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment are all affected by substance use disorders. Adolescents with alcohol use disorders disrupt brain development, which continues into the mid-20s. 

The neurotransmitter glutamate is responsible for the creation of new memories. Alcohol, even in small amounts, interferes with this process and may be the cause of blackouts. During blackouts, the transfer of short-term memories into long-term storage or memory consolidation cannot occur due to excessive alcohol consumption. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is another neurotransmitter alcohol affects by inducing a lack of coordination, sedation, and sleepiness. 

Alcohol Abuse and Cancer Risks

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is a direct connection between long-term alcohol abuse and cancers. Researchers can provide evidence that the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the risk of developing cancer increases.

Certain cancers are directly linked to alcoholism, and other secondary cancers also bear a connection. Metabolizing ethanol in alcohol produces the toxic chemical acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA and proteins and is considered a probable carcinogen. 

The following forms of cancer directly connect to excessive alcohol consumption:

  • Head and neck cancer, including oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx cancers
  • Esophageal cancer, particularly esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
  • Liver cancer
  • For breast cancer, only 1 drink per day escalates risk by 5 to 9 %
  • Colorectal cancer

Alcohol Addiction and Withdrawal

Long-term alcohol abuse can cause irreversible damage to the body. Once an alcohol dependence develops, withdrawal when usage abruptly ends can be dangerous. 

Alcohol is 1 of the most dangerous substances to withdraw from, and the symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening. Delirium Tremens can occur during detox; therefore, medically monitored detox is essential, with an option for medication-assisted treatment to reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. 

Get Quality Treatment for Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol addiction is a medical illness, and treatment options are available for successful detox and treatment, leading to a sober lifestyle. Tennessee Valley Recovery can explain what happens in detox and options for inpatient and outpatient treatment plans. The medical and mental health professionals offer understanding and compassion to those wishing sobriety.

Contact the center for more information or to answer your questions and concerns.