What are the Health Risks of Heavy Drinking?

It’s well known that alcohol drinking can cause serious health problems, from cirrhosis of the liver to injuries sustained in automobile accidents. But if you think liver disease and car crashes are the only health problems caused by drinking, think again.

Chronic heavy drinking poses an enormous health risk. When alcohol is consumed in excess either on one single occasion or over an extended period of time, the body can suffer serious and irreversible damage.

When the body takes in more alcohol than it can metabolize, the excess builds up in the bloodstream. The heart circulates the blood alcohol throughout the body, leading to changes in normal body functions.

Here are some health risks related to heavy drinking:

Liver disease

The bulk of alcohol’s metabolism takes place in the liver, that is why the liver is mainly at risk of damage. Drinking too much alcohol primarily causes fat deposits to develop in the liver. With chronic excessive drinking, the liver may become inflamed, causing alcoholic hepatitis, that can result in liver failure and death. Moreover, excessive alcohol can permanently scar and damage the liver, resulting in liver cirrhosis and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Pancreatitis

Overconsumption of alcohol can cause pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, irritating the cells of the pancreas and causing inflammation. Chronic pancreatitis interferes with the digestive process, causing malnutrition, diarrhea and weight loss. Moreover, damage to insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, due to chronic pancreatitis, can also lead to diabetes.

Immune system

Heavy drinking weakens the body’s natural immune system, making the body a much easier target for diseases. Chronic drinkers are more prone to contract diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia than the people who do not drink. Moreover, drinking a lot on a single occasion slows the body’s capacity to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Cancer

Chronic alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing different cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

The increased risk arises when the body converts the alcohol you drink into acetaldehyde, a strong carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). Moreover, cancer risk rises even higher in heavy drinkers who also use tobacco.

Cardiovascular disease

Heavy drinking releases certain stress hormones that constrict blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure. Excessive drinking over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing complications, such as cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscles), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke, and heart attack.

Brain damage

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain works.  These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and can also make it harder to think clearly, make rational choices, and move with coordination. Excessive drinking can cause “blackouts” or the inability to remember events. Moreover, long-term heavy drinking can speed up the brain’s normal aging process, resulting in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.

The other health risks of heavy drinking include:

  • Ulcers and gastrointestinal problems
  • Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies
  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Nerve damage (alcoholic neuropathy)
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Accidents and injuries

No pattern of drinking is completely risk-free. Stop drinking alcohol entirely to reduce your chances of developing health complications from drinking.

Alcohol: Temporary fun with permanent consequences!