Long-Term Effects of Alcohol – The Facts & Dangers
Even when alcohol is consumed in moderation, it wreaks havoc on our mind and body over time. Learn how stopping now can benefit the rest of your life.
Alcohol is both legal and readily available across most of the world. It’s celebrated and placed in the limelight in the movies, music and a myriad of social settings. It’s popularity and cultural significance however can often mask its true identity – a highly addictive and toxic drug with devastating long-term effects, diseases and disorders. In large doses over prolonged periods of time, alcohol can be severely detrimental to a person’s mind, physical state and quality of life. So why do people continue their long-term relationship with alcohol? Let’s take a look at how a person’s mind and body react to drinking.
Our Dysfunctional Relationship with AlcoholWhen out with friends, many take that first drink with the intention of being responsible. Be that as it may, alcohol might have another idea. Once ingested, the body processes alcohol quickly and sends it to the brain where it stimulates the production of dopamine, a chemical associated with the desire and reward area of the brain. Endorphins are also released which tell the brain that alcohol is good. All this can occur within the first 10 minutes of consumption. And so, even against our best intentions, we belly up to the bar for one, two or six more. F. Scott Fitzgerald put it like this in the Great Gatsby, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” The next day begins with a hangover and promises to never drink again, but there’s a twist. The brain now thinks of alcohol as a ‘reward’ and so eventually, you will most likely reach for more. Research has shown that every time you drink, you may be training your brain to want more the next time. And so, a vicious cycle begins. Avoiding further descent into this cycle is the best thing you can do to avoid serious, long-term damage to your body and mind. At The Cabin Chiang Mai, we specialise in setting people free from the power alcohol has on their lives.
Alcohol and Long-Term Damage to the BrainEven small amounts of alcohol affect our emotions, judgement, memory, speech and anger levels. Excessive drinking and long-term consumption can kill brain cells and young brains are the most at risk. The brain is still developing in early adulthood and early abuse, such as binge drinking, can create irreversible damage leading to permanent brain disorders in adulthood. Drinking affects both the frontal cortex, which is used for planning, forming ideas and making decisions, and the hippocampus, which stores our memories. Once the hippocampus is damaged, you may experience difficulty learning new things and retaining new long-term memories. Even if you drink moderately, long-term use can also result in Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD). This disease alters both the structure and function of the brain and produces symptoms similar to dementia. Prolonged consumption of alcohol causes the brain to shrink, resulting in difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions. This contracting of the brain further causes confusion and irritation. The good news is that if ARBD is diagnosed in its early stages, there is a chance to undo some of the damage. In addition, some studies have shown that when a person fully abstains from alcohol prior to turning 50, they have an even greater chance of healing from alcohol-related brain damage. The sooner a person gets into treatment, the higher their quality of life will be in the years to come. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), often called ‘Wet Brain’ syndrome, is a combination of diagnoses that form a single disorder. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is damage to the brain caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Alcohol blocks the absorption of thiamine in the body and is the most frequent cause of the disorder. Left untreated the syndrome can progress to coma and death. While it cannot be fully reversed, abstinence and vitamin therapy can halt its progression. Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome include eye and vision problems, difficulty in walking, confusion and exaggerated storytelling.
Alcohol Destroys Body OrgansAlcohol is carried by the blood and travels throughout your body to your organs. Each organ is necessary for life and any deterioration can alter its function and health. Long-term use of alcohol ravages your most vital organs, particularly:
- Heart: Alcohol consumed over time weakens heart muscle and renders it inefficient to pump blood properly. Heart disease and failure may occur if left untreated.
- Liver: The liver acts as the body’s filter. Long-term alcohol use strains the liver and can cause it to harden and progress into cirrhosis. If the damage is not extensive, it can regenerate itself once the drinking stops.
- Pancreas: The pancreas breaks down sugars and can become overwhelmed by the high sugar content in alcohol. Prolonged drinking causes permanent organ damage that can lead to chronic pancreatitis.
- Kidneys: Alcohol dehydrates the body which can cause the kidneys to malfunction. Drinking also contributes to high blood pressure which can result in kidney disease.
Alcohol on Your Nerves: Alcoholic NeuropathyLong-term alcohol use is toxic to nerve tissue and causes alcoholic neuropathy, or nerve damage. Nerves transmit signals between the brain and the body, and when this system is damaged over time, symptoms will appear. This damage can also be attributed to nutritional problems linked to alcohol such as vitamin deficiency and malnutrition. It is heart breaking to know that alcohol induced nerve damage is often permanent and can include:
- Pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs
- Bowel and urinary disorders
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired speech
- Sexual dysfunction