Effects of Alcohol on Health
You have heard the old adage that says you are what you eat. If that’s true, and we generally accept that it is, you are also what you drink as well. If you drink large amounts of alcohol, that alcohol can damage your body to such an extent that it puts your health and life in danger. This is why experts so often recommend that alcohol consumption is practised in moderation so that alcohol abuse never occurs.
In biological and chemical terms, alcohol is a recognised neurotoxin. If you are not sure what neurotoxins are, allow us to explain: they are chemicals that have the ability to damage, and even kill, certain kinds of brain cells. Alcohol is a dangerous drug because it goes well beyond just being a neurotoxin. It can also damage just about every other form of tissue in the body, including the liver and pancreas.
Medical science has proven that the effects of alcohol on human health are profound. Therefore, casual drinkers able to maintain moderation need to do everything within their power to do so. Those who cannot need to get professional intervention and treatment before excessive drinking causes irreparable physical harm.
Alcohol Consumption and the Liver
The liver is one of the most remarkable organs in the human body. It is the only organ with the capability of regenerating itself with just a very small amount of healthy tissue remaining. But it can also be damaged beyond repair. Alcohol does that over time.
The primary purpose of the liver is to filter the blood to remove any and all toxins. When alcohol passes through the system, the liver goes to work right away. The problem is that it only has a limited capacity to absorb and process alcohol. For purposes of reference, the liver of an average adult male can process one unit of alcohol in about 60 minutes. That same process takes about 90 minutes for the average female.
Consuming more than one unit of alcohol within either time frame – depending on your sex – puts a lot of stress on the liver which, over time can create significant problems. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to developing:
- Cirrhosis – a devastating disease in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue; it can be fatal.
- Hepatic Steatosis – Also known as fatty liver disease, this condition is one in which the liver is enlarged due to gradually increasing volumes of fat. It prevents the liver from functioning efficiently.
- Liver Cancer – Like any other form of cancer, liver cancer can be fatal if not detected and treated early enough.
It is very common for chronic alcohol abusers and alcoholics to develop some sort of liver disease. What you need to know is that complete liver failure is irreversible. If years of heavy drinking and alcohol addiction destroy most of the healthy tissue in your liver, you could die without a liver transplant.
Alcohol Consumption and Other Physical Problems
The effects of excess alcohol consumption on the liver are bad enough. But please understand that the damage is not limited to liver disease. Alcohol affects other parts of the body as well, including the heart.
Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to heart disease due to the stress drinking puts on the heart. Making matters worse is the fact that heavy drinkers also tend to have poor diets that only exacerbate early-stage heart disease. Drinking increases heart rate, blood pressure and the risk of stroke. All three can contribute to heart failure during alcohol withdrawal.
Lastly, long-term drinking significantly increases the risk of several kinds of cancer, including oral and breast cancer. Although science does not know the exact trigger, it is believed that excess alcohol in the system robs the body of nutrients that would otherwise be used to fight cancer while at the same increasing the process of oxidation. We do know that the metabolising of ethanol alcohol does create a carcinogen known as acetaldehyde.
Alcohol Consumption in the Brain
One final area of concern is how alcohol affects the physical functioning of the brain. When alcohol reaches the brain, it causes certain chemical reactions that induce feelings of pleasure. But it also causes other dangerous chemicals to be released. Over extended periods of time, continued exposure to alcohol can alter the balance of chemicals in the brain, thus resulting in mental illness.
Alcohol abusers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, psychosis and certain kinds of compulsive disorders. In fact, it is normal for diagnosed alcoholics to also be diagnosed with a coinciding mental illness. This is called dual diagnosis. It is a complicated condition that requires special treatment to overcome.
Some Damage Is Permanent
Now that you know about the most common effects of alcohol on human health, there is one last thing to consider: some of the damage caused by alcohol could be permanent if you let things go too long. We have already cited the example of complete liver failure, but there are other conditions to be worried about.
One of those conditions is diabetes. Once insulin-dependent diabetes sets in, you have it for life. You can manage the disease through diet, exercise and medication, but you will have to deal with it permanently. It will eventually lead to other complications that could make your life very unpleasant.
Some of the damage done to the brain can also be permanent. For example, teenagers who drink excessively are at a much higher risk of permanent memory loss and cognitive impairment. Counselling and support can help keep the thoughts and emotions on track, but patients may never regain full mental function.
The conclusion of the matter is that alcohol is a dangerous drug that causes harm when used in excess. If you drink, do so in moderation according to the established government guidelines of no more than two units per day and 14 per week. If you suspect you already have a drinking problem, now is the time to get help before the damage alcohol has inflicted gets any worse. Delaying treatment is a mistake. Don’t do it.