Effects of Alcohol Abuse (And How to Get Help)

Become familiar with the signs of a "functional" alcoholic and the effects of alcohol abuse.

Drinking alcohol in excess, whether just for an occasion or over a long period of time can negatively impact your health. An individual's mood and behavior are altered every time he or she drinks alcohol, starting from the first sip. While having an occasional glass of wine or beer is not normally a cause for concern, the cumulative effects of drinking alcohol can be when a person drinks heavily or on a regular basis. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol disrupts the flow of communication within the brain's pathways. This results in impaired coordination, and the inability to rationalize and make sound decisions. Alcohol consumption slows down brain function, causing the entire body to be impacted by the effects of alcohol. Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to the development of many chronic diseases and other serious health complications. Here are some of the effects of alcohol that someone who abuses alcohol regularly may experience:

  • Heart damage can occur when an individual drinks too much on a single occasion or over a long time. Conditions such as cardiomyopathy, (a stretched or drooping heart muscle), an irregular heartbeat, stroke, or high blood pressure are common effects of alcohol.
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol is known to negatively affect the liver, causing inflammation as well as a host of other problems, such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, steatosis (fatty liver), or cirrhosis are common.
  • The pancreas will produce toxic substances that will eventually lead to pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse. This is a serious condition in which inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas inhibit the proper digestion of food.
  • Short term health risks associated with alcohol abuse include injuries, such as those sustained in auto accidents or falls. Alcohol poisoning is also common and is a result of high blood alcohol levels. Risky sexual behaviors that can result in sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy are also common, as alcohol consumption causes reduced inhibitions and poor decision making.
  • Long term effects of alcohol abuse include mental health problems, such as memory difficulties, dementia, depression, and anxiety. There are certain cancers linked to alcohol abuse as well, such as breast, liver, mouth and throat cancers. Alcoholism can also cause ulcers in the intestines or stomach. Alcohol abuse over a long period leads to dependency and addiction.

Signs of an alcoholic may be present even in individuals who appear to be functioning normally. These functional alcoholic symptoms are often overlooked because the individual can maintain consistent performance at work or at school and fulfill his or her responsibilities. These individuals are usually in denial about the extent of their alcohol abuse, and convince others that they don't have a problem. Many alcoholics can manage this way for years, even as their addiction progresses, until consequences catch up to them. A major event such as a DUI, or other legal trouble may occur that forces them to confront their addiction. Other problems may manifest at work or in an alcoholic's marriage that can no longer be disregarded. Signs of an alcoholic should not be ignored, even if the person exhibiting them appears to have things under control and "together". Functional alcoholic symptoms include:

  • When an individual states that he or she is just going to have one or two drinks, but then proceeds to drink until intoxicated, and this has become typical behavior.
  • The person's behavior changes when drinking and he or she becomes aggressive or belligerent.
  • Telltale functional alcoholic symptoms include individuals who plan their day around drinking, whether it be martinis at lunch, regular visits to the bar for happy hour after work, or reaching for a bottle as soon as they get home.
  • Signs of an alcoholic include someone who cannot remember what he or she did or said after an episode of drinking, which is also known as a blackout.

Typically, there is more than just one of the functional alcoholic symptoms present in a person's behavior, making the situation easier to recognize. For more information about the effects of alcohol on your health, visit: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.







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