When someone abuses alcohol, they may believe that its effect lasts only as long as they feel drunk. But heavy alcohol use can have dire consequences, even years later.
Here is a list of five long-term side effects of alcohol commonly associated with alcohol abuse and addiction.
1. Liver Damage
The liver can process moderate amounts of alcohol without long-term effects, but excessive drinking produces toxic substances that damage the liver. Liver disease can occur at different levels of severity.
Some people develop high levels of fat in their liver when they drink too much. This is called “alcoholic fatty liver” and can generally be reversed when someone stops drinking. It does not necessarily lead to more severe stages of liver disease.
Alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, can also result from heavy drinking. People with this condition have a high risk of liver failure and death.
Alcoholic hepatitis may be indicated by:
- yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
- abdominal pain
The most severe type of liver disease is cirrhosis. When the liver is damaged by alcohol, it forms scar tissue to repair itself. The more scar tissue, the less the liver is able to function properly.
Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition of severe scarring that may lead to liver cancer and require a liver transplant.
2. Heart Problems
Some people argue that alcohol in moderation is good for the heart, but there is no question that heavy drinking leads to long-term heart problems.
Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) is a common result of alcohol abuse that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood properly.
This can cause a lack of blood flow to the body and brain that results in congestive heart failure or stroke.
Drinking too much also raises blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is the root of many heart issues, such as clogged arteries, irregular heart rate, and heart attacks.
The liver breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic to the body. Acetaldehyde quickly changes to acetate, which is used for energy. But high amounts of acetaldehyde can be dangerous.
Alcohol also prevents the body from absorbing vitamins that prevent cancer and produces free radicals that can damage DNA and create cancer cells.
Abusing alcohol can lead to cancer of the:
- larynx (voice box)
- breast (in women)
4. Brain Damage
Alcohol is known to cause short-term memory loss or “blackout.” It can also lead to long-term memory loss and brain damage.
People who are addicted to alcohol often drink so much that their diet suffers. They take in most of their calories from alcohol rather than food. This means they do not receive the necessary nutrients to stay healthy, such as thiamine (vitamin B1).
The body does not produce thiamine, but it needs it to convert food into energy. When someone does not eat food that contains this essential vitamin, they may develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as “wet brain.”
Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include:
- loss of coordination
- vision changes
- memory loss
- inability to form new memories
- inventing stories
5. Mental Health Issues
Alcohol enhances the function of a brain chemical called gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). GABA produces a sense of calm to maintain balanced brain activity.
When someone drinks excessively, they become dependent on alcohol to increase the effectiveness of GABA. Their brain changes in structure and becomes less effective at regulating its activity levels.
This can cause depression and anxiety if a person stops drinking, or even if they go a little longer than usual between drinks. Many people are unable to stop drinking on their own because of the intensity of these mental effects.
Alcohol abuse and addiction can lead to a lack of sleep and proper nutrition, as well as dehydration.
All of these factors contribute to mental instability and make it harder for someone to deal with stress in the absence of alcohol.
When someone suffers from alcohol addiction, it may not be possible for them to stop drinking on their own. The longer they drink excessively, the more they risk developing adverse long-term side effects.
Our inpatient rehab program at Vertava Health Texas offers constant support through the healing process.
Alcohol abuse treatment begins with medical detox to safely rid a person’s body of alcohol. Detox helps people overcome physical dependence before dealing with their mental addiction.
For some people, the next step is medication-assisted treatment, which combines medicine with counseling and other therapies. This helps them fight cravings so they can focus on changing their thoughts and developing healthier habits.
Our individualized programs at Vertava Health Texas consider each person’s experience with addiction before creating a recovery plan. This ensures that treatment is appropriate for their needs and gives them the best chance at success.