Many people know that alcohol abuse can cause health problems such as cirrhosis--a degenerative disease that occurs when healthy cells in the liver are damaged and replaced by scar tissue - which can lead to liver failure and even death. Yet, many do not understand the full health implications that alcohol can have on the body both in the long-term and the short-term. Short-term effects include:
- Changes in cognition
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Glassy eyes
- Very emotional
- Nausea & vomiting
- Excessive intake of alcohol in one sitting can cause alcohol poisoning which is concerning as it can be fatal. Symptoms include:
- Vomiting, slurred
- Irregular pulse and breathing
- Clammy skin
If someone’s breathing or pulse has slowed down or become irregular, or their lips have turned blue, you should call 911 immediately. Alcohol is a depressant, and alcohol poisoning can be deadly. A person in this state could choke on their own vomit, or their system can become so depressed by the alcohol that it can no longer function.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause chronic illness and eventually lead to death. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, long-term use can cause damage to your brain, heart, pancreas, liver, and has also been linked to multiple cancers.
Alcohol works on the brain by effecting its pathways of communication. It can also change the way the brain works which causes changes to a person’s behaviors, effectively changing who they are.
A person’s heart can be damaged through alcohol by causing cardiomyopathy (the stretching and drooping of the heart muscle), arrhythmias (an irregular heart beat), stroke, and high blood pressure. Women's hearts tend to be affected more easily from alcohol than men’s, but a man can still certainly suffer from the same heart complications.
Alcohol misuse can also affect a person’s pancreas. Alcohol can cause pancreatitis. This causes a swelling of the pancreas that is dangerous and can cause problems in the digestive tract.
The most well-known long term symptom of alcoholism is the effect that it has on the liver. Damages to the liver include steatosis, or fatty liver, which is generally benign. However, if left untreated can progress to cirrhosis. A more serious complication of alcohols use on the liver is alcoholic hepatitis which is a more serious inflammation of the liver and may include jaundice or fluid retention in the belly. Excessive drinking may also lead to fibrosis which is the scarring of the liver. Fibrosis is extremely serious and indicates that there is permanent damage done to the liver. Symptoms include jaundice, fluid retention, nausea, weight loss, and difficulty thinking.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the final step in liver scarring. For end stage cirrhosis, the only remedy is a liver transplant.
Research has shown that another serious side effect that can come about due to heavy drinking is cancer. Research has indicated that 3.5% of all cancer deaths are related to alcohol and range anywhere from esophageal to colorectal cancer.