Effects of alcoholism on your body

What Alcoholism Does to Your Body

For most people, drinking alcohol is a way to socialize and celebrate. After all, an occasional sip or two doesn’t hurt. However, everything changes when you go over the limit – four glasses for women and five glasses for men in two hours, for more than five times a month. This habit is what professionals define as binge drinking.   

What Alcoholism Does to Your Body

Alcohol affects the body in little amounts – remember getting tipsy and dizzy after a shot or two? Now, imagine what it can do when you consume bigger quantities. The picture is not at all pretty, as you will read here on what alcoholism does to your body: 

Excessive alcohol intake can lead to heart failure.

Alcohol can be beneficial to the heart – if taken in moderate amounts. However, it does more harm than good when taken in excessive amounts. Studies show that binge drinking can lead to the development of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, an illness is hallmarked by adverse changes to the left ventricle. Symptoms shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and swelling of the lower extremities, to name a few.  

Ventricular damages make the heart unable to pump blood properly. As major organs receive lesser amounts of blood, their structural health and functioning are compromised, and such can lead to multiple organ failure. 

Alcoholism can lead to liver disease.

Excessive drinking can cause damage to the liver, thereby resulting in alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD.) It is characterized by the swelling and inflammation of the liver, an organ responsible for blood detoxification, protein synthesis, and digestive enzyme production. 

ARLD occurs in three stages. The first is fatty liver disease, which can be reversed by stopping drinking. It can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, where swelling of the liver occurs. Symptoms includefatigue, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, jaundice, increased thirst, and nausea.  

If this is not treated, it can develop to alcoholic cirrhosis, where irreversible scarring of the liver takes place. Consequently, liver disease can later on progress to liver cancer. Alcohol-related liver disease is often fatal, and because of the organ’s many essential functions, it is impossible to live without a healthy, functioning liver.

Chronic alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis.

Sadly, 60-90% of people diagnosed with pancreatitis, or the inflammation of the pancreas, have histories of chronic alcohol use. They usually occur in the 40s or 50s in individuals who take at least 10-11 drinks for 6-12 years. The mortality rate for this condition is relatively high at 17%, as reported in a study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases.

The pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach, is an integral part of the digestive system. It secretes enzymes that are needed for digestion.  Chronic alcohol intake upsets the balance, leading to increased secretion of enzymes that end up digesting the pancreas itself. 

Symptoms of pancreatitis include abdominal pain, tenderness, nausea, itchy skin, dark-colored urine, pale-colored stools.

Alcohol use can affect your digestive system.

Alcoholism can lead to many gastrointestinal disorders. For one, it can lead to heartburn, since alcohol can impair the function of the esophageal sphincter. This involuntary muscle keeps stomach contents from going back to the esophagus. This constant reflux of acidic materials damages the esophageal lining, and such can lead to the development esophageal cancer.

Alcohol use can also decrease acid production in the stomach. When this happens, the bacteria that comes with food are not killed. These microorganisms then end up wreaking havoc in the small intestines. 

Apart from that, alcohol also affects the activities of the small and large intestines. It inhibits the absorption of nutrients and disrupts motility, with the latter leading to diarrheic episodes. It also increases toxin transport across the intestines, which are said to contribute to further liver and pancreatic damage. 

Heavy alcohol drinking can lead to blood disorders.

Apart from affecting the major organs, alcohol abuse can alter the blood components as well.  

Alcoholics often suffer from anemia since they produce defective blood cells that do not function well. Symptoms of this illness include lightheadedness, fatigue, and shortness of breath, to name a few. 

Alcohol also affects the production of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections. As a result, a binge drinker often has impaired immunity, rendering him at risk for developing for infectious diseases. 

Platelet production is also decreased by alcohol use, and such can lead to impaired blood clotting. Manifestations may vary from the simple nosebleed to an often-fatal stroke. 

Excessive drinking can weaken your bones.

As it was mentioned earlier, alcohol can affect nutrient absorption in the intestines. Unfortunately, this leads to decreased absorption of calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Additionally, a diseased liver’s is unable to activate Vitamin D, which is vital for calcium absorption.

Since there is a decreased amount of calcium circulating in the body, the needed mineral is extracted from the bones. As this continues, bones become brittle – leaving the person at risk for fractures and osteoporosis. 

Increased alcohol intake can affect fertility. 

In women, alcoholism affects fertility by upsetting the ovulatory cycle. It can lead to a diminished number of egg cells – this is dire since a woman can only produce about 400 to 500 eggs in a lifespan.  

Even men are not immune to alcohol’s fertility effects. Heavy drinking can lead to a decrease in hormones that affect testosterone production and sperm development.

Alcohol abuse can affect sexual performance in men.

Most men think that alcohol use can improve the overall bedroom experience. Sadly, it is the opposite! A study has shown that as much as 72 in 100 men with alcohol dependence experience sexual dysfunction. Manifestations include premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and decreased libido. 

Alcoholism can increase your risk of developing certain cancers. 

Many studies have linked chronic alcohol use with the onset of several malignancies. Heavy drinkers indeed have higher risks of developing oral, pharyngeal, and laryngeal cancers compared to those with little/no alcohol consumption. 

Compared to non- drinkers, alcoholics also have 1.2 to 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer. 

The risk for breast cancer is also increased with heavy alcohol use. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has shown that breast cancer risk was relatively increased in females who report a higher lifetime alcohol intake. 

Alcohol can bring pleasure and euphoria at first, but excessive use can lead to many deleterious effects, as mentioned above. Now that you know what alcoholism does to your body, it is high time that you made a choice. The question is, are you going to let these bad things continue to happen, or are you going to make a move towards a healthier, alcohol-free life? 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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