Alcohol Abuse

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021015_Mezcal_Carroll_02 Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Excessive alcohol can lead to some very serious health complications.

October 24, 2017

These 10 health conditions are linked to excessive drinking

Enjoying a cocktail, glass of wine or a few beers isn’t necessarily a bad thing when done in moderation. The problems begin to arise when this simple pleasure is taken too far – and we’re not just talking about a bad hangover. Excessive alcohol use (binge drinking and heavy drinking) is responsible for approximately 88,000 deaths each year and can also lead to some very serious health complications.

From mental dysfunction to physical damage, here are 10 health conditions that can result from alcohol abuse.

1. Cardiovascular Disease

Over time, consumption of alcohol raises the percentage of fat in the blood, resulting in bad cholesterol levels that cause arteries to clog and can lead to a heart attack. Alcohol also damages the heart by causing high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (a weakened heart), congestive heart failure and stroke.

2. Cancer

Our bodies digest alcohol by converting it into a cancer-causing carcinogen called acetaldehyde. Alcohol abuse is typically linked to certain cancers like liver cancer, as it causes serious inflammation of the organ and raises the risk. Excessive drinking can also lead to other cancers, like those of the mouth, breasts and colon.

3. Brain Damage

Alcohol can throw the brain’s hard wiring out of whack, and long-term heavy drinkers may be unable to think abstractly, including perceiving and remembering certain objects as a normal, healthy brain would. Other common symptoms of long-term brain damage include confusion, impaired muscle coordination and memory and learning problems.

4. Pancreatitis

The pancreas helps us digest our food and produces insulin to regulate glucose, or sugar levels. Certain molecules in alcohol can restrict the cells of the pancreas, which causes it to stop working properly. Acute pancreatitis, while treatable, can turn into its chronic version — which is a severe problem.

5. Osteoporosis

A condition where bones become weak and prone to fractures, osteoporosis leads to pain and disability. Alcohol negatively affects bone health by hindering the balance of calcium — a nutrient necessary for healthy bones. In addition, alcohol causes hormone deficiencies, which speeds up bone breakdown.

6. Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, can be seen in heavy drinkers who have been at it for many years. Those with alcoholic hepatitis may experience “loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal tenderness, fever, fatigue and weakness, and weight loss.” Without proper and prompt treatment, those with signs of the disease can die within three months.

7. Fatty Liver

A fatty liver, or steatosis, can result from excessive drinking and occurs when an accumulation of fat inside the liver cells makes it hard for the liver to function properly. A fatty liver is very common, and while it can occur quickly in anyone who drinks excessively, the condition fortunately tapers off when the individual stops drinking.

8. Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

When an extreme drinker is intoxicated, going through withdrawal or has majorly reduced alcohol intake, they may experience a secondary psychosis in which reality is blurred by delusions and hallucinations. With cessation of alcohol usage, however, alcohol-induced psychosis can be mediated.

9. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When women drink alcohol during pregnancy, they run the risk of passing on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), as alcohol blocks essential nutrients and oxygen from the fetus. Babies can be born with mild or severe disorders that can cause physical and mental birth defects ranging from learning disabilities to heart problems.

10. Anemia

The blood, spleen, bone marrow and liver make up our body’s hematologic system. This works to regulate the production of blood cells and function of our blood. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause anemia by aggressively lowering the body’s red blood cell count, which causes a person to experience fatigue, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem. If you or someone you know needs help with an alcohol addiction, check out this resource.