Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol ranks as the second most widely used and abused drug in the United States after Nicotine. According to addiction center.com, at least, if not more than 18 million American adults are said to be addicted to Alcohol.
Needless to say, alcohol is often viewed as a socially acceptable drug. People bond over alcohol and it is often the prerequisite to almost every party or social festivity. It’s considered a legal drug within the boundaries of the American continent, and in some cases, helps lower anxiety.
However, as acceptable as this drug may be, it is responsible for over 87,000 deaths per year in American alone. Alcohol, due to how it is highly accepted, is often viewed as a less dangerous drug when compared to drugs such as cocaine. Yet, it still holds as much potency and can easily destroy any organ in the body that it touches.
Starting from the very first sip, your body may be impacted tremendously. Alcohol addiction is a problem. Consumers and abusers are at risk of suffering from short to long-term effects. These effects often include physical, emotional, social, and financial effects.
That said, how can one define alcohol?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol includes and is not limited to the following:
The above alcohol beverages are said to contain a chemical ingredient known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol. To manufacture it, sugars, starches and yeast often undergo an extended period of fermentation. The yeast interacts with the sugars to produce carbon dioxide and ethanol.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. A central nervous system depressant, as defined by The National Cancer Institute, is a drug directly interacts with the brain. The interaction hence slows down brain functionality. In other words, central nervous system depressants such as alcohol inhibit proper brain functionality.
Alcohol achieves this by stimulating the signaling of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter present in the Central nervous system. The more an individual consumes alcohol, tore GABA signaling is increased. This is why alcohol users tend to experience problems with their memory and experience blackouts, just to name a few.
It is important to note that once alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream almost immediately. This way, alcohol is transported throughout the body to vital body organs, including the brain. Hence the reason the central nervous system is so easily affected and impacted by it.
Since alcohol is a depressant, it tends to stimulate the feeling of relaxation. Moreover, as the chemical interacts with the neurons in the brain, it encourages the release of a hormone known as dopamine. Dopamine, among other neurotransmitters, is known to lead to heightened emotions of euphoria and happiness.
The more a person drinks, the more the brain adapts to the changes. Hence, for the person to experience feelings of heightened euphoria, they have to drink more and more. This is how people change from moderate alcohol consumers to heavy ones. Once a person becomes a heavy drinker, they are likely to become dependent and addicted to the depressant.
Statistics on Alcohol Use
The alarming fact of alcohol use and abuse is that not only affects American adults. Research points out that children as young as 12 years of age are consuming alcohol.
According to drugabuse.com, 140.6 million United States Citizens consume and use alcohol. This statistic takes into account children as young as twelve years of age.
Notably, the above statistic includes individuals that are moderate, binge or heavy alcohol users. There are certain studies refer to the moderate consumption of alcohol as beneficial. While drinking moderate amounts of alcohol occasionally may work for some, it may not necessarily work for others.
According to Educational Consultant, Kendra Cherry, most depressants can be highly addictive. Hence, it is advisable to not even start consuming alcohol at all. The below statistics will help paint a picture of the severity of the situation.
A study conducted in 2014 by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found alarming statistics in terms of alcohol use. According to them, 61 billion if American individuals between the ages of 12 and over are binge users. Heavy alcohol users, from ages 12 and above, were found to be heavy users.
That said, what are the differences between moderate, binge and heavy drinking?
Difference between Moderate, Binge and Heavy Drinking
Moderate drinking, as previously mentioned, is said to be beneficial. However, numerous health and research centers discourage people from starting the use of alcohol at all.
Moderate drinking, as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is when a woman consumes only one drink of alcohol per day. For men, moderate drinking is when they consume two drinks of alcohol per day. Any more, and they have exceeded the recommended moderate amount.
Both binge and heavy drinking are often and rightly, categorized as excessive alcohol consumption.
Binge drinking is when a woman exceeds the recommended moderate amounts. More specifically, it is when women consume at least four drinks and men consume five drinks within a short time span. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identifies the short time span as being at least two hours.
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is when women drink over eight drinks and men drink over 15 drinks per week.
From the above statistics, it is easy to see that men have a certain level of leeway when it comes to drinking than women. Why is this so? Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related problems than me, even if the consumption is low.
According to Christian Nordqvist, women have lower levels of a chemical known as alcohol dehydrogenase (AHD). This chemical is often responsible for breaking down alcohol once it is consumed. Yet, since the chemical is scarce, the alcohol is not easily broken down, and instead builds up.
Another study conducted and done by the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education at the University of Notre Dame proves the above-stated fact. According to them, the body of a woman has the ability to absorb 30% more alcohol than a man’s body. Hence, women should try the best to cut down on their drinking, or avoid it as much as possible.
That said, heavy and binge drinkers are more susceptible to developing an addiction to alcohol. When a person is addicted to alcohol, they are said to be suffering from a chronic disease known as alcohol use disorder. Previously, this condition was commonly referred to as alcoholism. Try this alcohol detox orange county.
Moreover, a heavy drinker is more likely to suffer from psychological and physiological health. So, what is alcohol use disorder and how does it come about?
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Our bodies are different; hence, they interact with alcohol differently. Some may be able to consume large amounts of alcohol without becoming dependent upon it to function. However, others easily develop an addiction. We’ll look a further look as to why this is so.
Alcohol Use Disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is a severe disease that affects the brain of the individual using alcohol. They continue to state that this disorder is characterized by the following:
- Relapsing back to the use of alcohol once a person tries to stop consuming it
- The person addicted to the alcohol exhibits a lack of control when it comes alcohol intake
- The individual uses and consumes the alcohol compulsively
- Experiences uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when/if he or she tries to stop
- The addicted individual experiences emotions that are negative in nature, etc
Are there any risk factors to look out for? Who is more likely to develop alcohol use disorder?
- Engaging in alcohol use at a tender age: From the alcohol statistics that aforementioned earlier in the article, alcohol use can start as early as 12 years of age. Those that start using alcohol early are very likely to develop alcohol use disorder later in life.
Moreover, they are more likely to suffer from far more severe consequences that range from temporary to permanent. Notably, as recent research confirms, cognitive development continues until an individual turns 25 years of age. For others, cognitive development and maturity could continue well beyond that.
Hence, a child and teenager’s brain is still very tender since it is at its early stages of development. However, alcohol consumption can tremendously interfere with the proper cognitive development of a child.
Below, are two vital parts of the brain that are often affected:
- The prefrontal lobe: Alcohol will discourage the proper development of this area significantly. Hence, they are likely to have problems when comes to decision making, making proper judgment and so forth.
- The hippocampus: Numerous research and studies confirm that alcohol has the ability to completely destroy the nerve cells of the hippocampus. Of course, its proper development will be interfered with significantly. Hence, the affected person is likely to have problems remembering things and even learning.
- Family History: According to drugabuse.com, children from a family that suffers from alcohol use disorder are at least four times to suffer from the same disorder. Children from families that even use alcohol are also at risk of developing the same disorder. Children learn from observations and are highly likely to repeat the same actions their parents portray.
Children from unstable homes, be it due to alcohol or any other drug use, are at risk of developing an alcoholic problem. This is due to the early exposure to such substances. Additionally, some children and teenagers use alcohol as a temporary escape from their current life.
- Genetic factors: The American Society of Addictions Medicine confirms that genetics plays a huge role in contributing to developing an addiction. However, only the genetic predisposition towards alcohol is passed along from parent to child. Hence, only alcoholic tendencies are inherited.
- Mental Health problems: Mental health problems range from depression and anxiety to Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder. Drug addiction is also referred to as a mental health problem. When a person is suffering from more than one mental health disorder, he is said to be suffering from Comorbidity.
Individuals that suffer from mental health problems often use drug substances to self- medicate themselves. For instance, if an individual is suffering from anxiety, they may use alcohol to alleviate those emotions. Others may use and abuse drugs as a form of escape.
Please note, even if a normal person starts using drugs and alcohol, he likely to develop mental health problems. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), individuals with mental health disorders consume up to 38% of alcohol.
- Cultural and Social factors: In some countries, drinking alcohol is often encouraged. In African countries, drinking alcohol has been known to part of their culture. Where most social gatherings or festivals are often accompanied by some form of alcohol consumption.
Having a large group of friends that engage in alcohol consumption could increase the chances of you doing the same.
- Trauma: Individuals that have suffered from a traumatic experience are highly likely to turn to alcohol. Due to the inhibitory and euphoric effects of alcohol, they may try to use them in an attempt to block out the memory.
The amount of alcohol consumed over time: The more alcohol a person consumes over time, the more he/she gets used to its effects. Hence, in order to experience the effects of alcohol, he/she must consume more and more. High consumption of this substance increases the likelihood of developing an addiction.
That said, what are the effects of drinking alcohol? For the purposes of this article, we shall be focusing on the long-term effects of alcohol consumption.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption
It is important to note that there are consequences of drinking alcohol, be it short term or long term. Some of the consequences may be temporary and treatable, while others may be permanent.
As previously stated, when alcohol is consumed, it immediately seeps into the bloodstream. This, in turn, exposes bodily organs to alcohol, impacting them negatively. Organs that are usually affected and impacted by long-term use of alcohol includes and is not limited to the following:
- Kidneys, etc
Please note, that how alcohol impacts body is often dictated by the following factors:
- A person’s age
- Gender: As we’ve already established, women are more likely to develop alcohol dependence faster than men. Since a woman’s body absorbs at least 30% of every alcohol consumed, it is easier for them to be affected by it.
- Amount of alcohol consumed
Below, we take a look at some of the long-term effects of alcohol consumption:
Alcohol directly interacts with the brain once it is consumed. It then stimulates the signaling of the aforementioned neurotransmitter GABA. Its inhibitory effects tend to slow down brain functioning, leading to slurred speech and poor decision making.
Consistent and long-term consumption of alcohol is certain to damage the neurons present in your brain. For children that start drinking early, two parts of the brain, prefrontal and the hippocampus will not develop properly. For adults, the frontal lobe is also likely to be damaged.
There have been cases where alcohol abusers and addicts have developed permanent brain damage. Permanent brain damage, according to healthline.com, may lead to the development of certain disorders. For instance, those with permanent brain disorders are said to suffer from disorders such as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Cardiovascular Problems and Diseases
One of the vital organs that is exposed to the consumed alcohol is your heart. According to drugabuse.com, even a single night of drinking can seriously affect the health of your heart. One of the long-term consequences includes developing a condition referred to as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Other long-term effects on the heart include:
- Heart- disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Cardiac arrhythmia
The development of various cancers has been intricately linked to the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol lowers an individual’s immunity exposing him/her to dangerous toxins and harmful substances. Below are some of the common cancers alcohol consumption may cause:
- Breast Cancer
- Throat Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Mouth Cancer
- Bowel Cancer
Heavy ad addicted users of alcohol are known to suffer from Pancreatitis. Over time, the build of alcohol in the body damages or destroys the pancreas. Pancreatitis can generally be described as an anti-inflammatory process.
This condition often involves the spilling of pancreatic enzymes into the cavity of the stomach. This condition is often accompanied by symptoms of frequent pain that may range from mild to severe.
The liver is a tremendously vital organ in the body. It is responsible for the breaking down and excretion of harmful substances such as alcohol from the body. However, the more alcohol you consume over time, the more you damage it.
Liver damage reduces its ability to excrete alcohol, causing this harmful chemical to build up over time. Long-term exposure to alcohol will, in turn, lead to scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis.
Alcohol tends to inhibit proper brain functioning. Hence, an individual is unlikely to make proper judgments or even think straight. Moreover, the inhibiting ability of alcohol impacts a person’s ability to react to certain situations appropriately. Their movements tend to be much slower.
The above-named inhibitions expose people to injury or death that can result from car accidents.
Suicide incidences are increasing over time, causing it to be declared as a public health problem. According to the NCBI, suicide cases are responsible for 14.5 deaths per 100,000 people. NCBI continues to state that alcohol is responsible for a good number of the above-stated suicide deaths.
As previously mentioned, alcohol damages the liver, inhibiting it from performing its function adequately. When this happens, the kidney takes over the functions of the liver. This, in turn, will overwork the kidneys which can weaken them over time.
High blood pressure is also linked to the development of kidney disease.
Reproductive Health Problems
Men that tend to drink too much have been found to suffer from erectile dysfunction. Alcohol has been found to be a contributing factor to the lowering of sex hormones in both men and women. Hence, both men and women stand at a higher risk of suffering from infertility.
Skeleton and Muscle Problems
Alcohol consumption robs the body of its ability to absorb nutrients effectively and efficiently. The lack of nutrition can cause an individual to become malnourished and develop certain diseases. One disease that is likely to develop is anemia.
Malnutrition can also weaken a person’s bones and muscles over time. Hence, alcohol users are likely to suffer from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
In conclusion, alcohol consumption is dangerous to our health overall. Whether an individual consumes alcohol moderately or highly, he or she is at risk of physical, mental, social and financial effects.
It is better and more advisable to not start drinking alcohol if you haven’t already started. If you have already started consuming alcohol, then try and limit your alcohol consumption. If you can, avoid it completely. Those that may be suffering from Alcohol use disorder are advised to seek professional help.