You can recover from drinking alcohol quite quickly if you have had a few drinks – a good nap and lots of water is enough to reduce short-term effects of alcohol fairly quick. Even a really bad hangover usually subsides in a day. The thing to keep in mind is that each drink has a negative impact on your body. Even if it is a little bit of harm each time you drink, with many years of drinking heavily, this hidden damage can accumulate and contribute to many long-term alcohol related diseases.
Both short-term and long-term effects of alcohol have an impact on the entire body. When alcohol is ingested it affects the stomach where some of it is absorbed, the liver where it is processed. And it also has an effect on the kidneys, brain, heart and lungs. While the organs may recover from the short term side effects in a few hours or in a few days, the long-term effects become worse with each additional drink.
The liver tends to be the organ that is most affected by heavy drinking for long periods of time and this is the organ that alcoholics are known to have problems with. In fact, many liver diseases stem directly from excessive alcohol abuse that is long-term. Even the brain suffers as the circuits become altered and this can lead not only to alcohol cravings but also many psychiatric disorders.
Diseases caused by the abuse of alcohol can include:
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Liver disease (alcoholic)
- Cardiomyopathy (alcoholic) – heart disease
- Pancreatitis (alcoholic) – alcohol induced inflammation of the pancreas
- Gastritis (alcoholic) – alcohol induced stomach inflammation
- Myopathy (alcoholic) – muscle tissue disease
- Polyneuropathy (alcoholic) – peripheral nerves disease
There is also an increased risk of the following diseases with alcohol consumption:
- High blood pressure
- Disorders related to depression
The chronic use of alcohol results in alcoholism, which is a well known disease. What makes it unique is that it induces a craving in the body for a substance that worsens the disease. This is also a disease that leads to other diseases. Even people who are not alcoholics can experience diseases that are normally related to alcohol abuse; however alcoholism increases the risk of having illnesses that are alcohol related.
Alcohol Induced Liver Diseases
Interestingly, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine alcoholic liver diseases can occur even with moderate alcohol consumption that is chronic. This is unlike other health problems that are alcohol related like poor judgement, alcohol poisoning or passing out that occur with the ingestion of large amounts of alcohol at one time.
Generally speaking, the more alcohol that is consumed, the higher the risk of developing diseases of the liver. Women tend to be more vulnerable even though both sexes are affected by alcohol induced liver diseases. While due to genetics, some heavy drinkers never get liver disease.
Problems related to the liver can be detected by these early symptoms:
- A lack of appetite
- Lower energy levels
- Pain in the stomach area
- Spider like blood vessels on the skin
Symptoms for more severe liver problems include:
- A buildup of fluids in the abdomen and legs
- Palms that are red
- Problems with thinking
- Shrinking testicles and impotence in men
Depending on the health of the liver symptoms can appear gradually or suddenly and can become worse after heavy consumption of alcohol. Fatty liver disease is usually the starting point and with continued heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic hepatitis. The final stage of liver disease is liver cirrhosis.
Fatty Liver Disease
This simply refers to fat buildup on the liver and it can result from even a short period of heavy drinking (like a party weekend). Since there are no noticeable symptoms it is hard to detect fatty liver disease, but the good news is that it can be reversed if alcohol consumption is stopped for several weeks.
Surprisingly, alcoholic hepatitis can result even if one does not get drunk but consumes on alcohol on a regular basis for a long time. Heavy drinking is usually the cause and symptoms can be few in some while it can cause liver failure in others. Things to look out for early symptoms like nausea, pain in the stomach area and a loss of body weight. This disease can be reversed if alcohol use is discontinued for a certain period or sometimes permanently.
Cirrhosis Of The Liver
Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when the liver has become scarred this is the final stage of alcohol related liver disease. Many of the symptoms are the same as in alcoholic hepatitis. At this stage the scarring can’t be treated or reversed and the only way to avoid permanent liver failure is to stop drinking altogether.
Alcohol-Related Brain Damage
According to The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse found that the chronic consumption of alcohol can lead to problems in brain function including alcohol cravings, memory problems as well as difficulties in the ability to process visual information. These problems occur because the brain shrinks and gray brain cells and white brain cells which are required for spatial processing and visual cues are destroyed through heavy drinking.
While some alcohol-related brain diseases are permanent, many of these problems can be reversed allowing the brain to return to its normal size and function when alcohol consumption has stopped.
“Wet Brain” Or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Although it is not a direct result of alcohol consumption, the long-term alcohol use can also cause very debilitating brain diseases -thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy results when there is not sufficient thiamine in the brain and even though this is not a direct result of alcohol. This results in problems with vision, muscle incoordination and confusion. People with Wernicke’s encephalopathy often develop Korsakoff’s psychosis once Wernicke’s encephalopathy symptoms subside.
Memory loss, hallucinations, learning difficulties, psychosis is symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis, or “wet brain”. This syndrome refers to when Korsakoff’s psychosis happens after Wernicke’s encephalopathy. The effects are permanent and the only way to prevent further damage is to abstain completely.
Hepatic encephalopathy is another indirect result of alcohol consumption that occurs when the liver is unable to filter toxins out of the blood stream as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. When these toxins reach the brain the result can be symptoms like drowsiness and slurred speech and when the brain damage is severe, it can result in a coma.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Since the brain is most vulnerable during the growth and development stage, unborn children have the most vulnerable brains. Teenagers who drink often have alcohol related diseases in later life and children of mothers who drank during pregnancy are more susceptible to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Some examples of FASDs are reduced brain size, as well as reduced brain cells as well as behavioral and learning problems.
People who drink alcohol are more likely to get diabetes and high blood pressure and be obese. These side effects combined with a poor diet and reduced physical activity increase their chances of having heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, each of these side effects is a risk factor for heart disease.
Alcohol also directly affects the heart since it harms the muscle cells every time alcohol is consumed and drinking alcohol for prolonged periods of time can weaken the heart making it harder to pump blood.
Alcoholic heart disease, also known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy results when the heart enlarges and becomes thinner. It is only when the heart begins to fail that the following symptoms appear: heartbeat that is irregular, ankles or feet that swell, reduced alertness, fatigue, less urine production.
Although some claims are made that drinking small amounts of red wine can reduce heart disease, and that low level alcohol consumption can increase good cholesterol, there are no studies that prove these health benefits. In fact the American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet and moderate exercise instead of drinking alcohol to benefit one’s health.
Pancreatitis (Alcohol Induced)
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine heavy alcohol consumption can inflame and then scar the pancreas.
Acute pancreatitis is a single episode and includes symptoms like vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. This can reoccur and lead to alcohol-induced pancreatitis and while the inflammation may be reduced the damage to the pancreas can contribute to other diseases like diabetes.
Some people develop alcohol-related pancreatitis from the consumption of a few drinks on a daily basis over a long time while others are affected by drinking heavily for several weeks. In any case, stopping alcohol consumption can reduce the likelihood of future episodes of acute pancreatitis can be reduced and symptoms made more manageable by abstaining from alcohol.
Alcohol And Cancer
Alcohol contributes to the development of several types of cancer, according to The National Cancer Institute has found that alcohol consumption contributes to many different types of cancers and the likelihood increases with increased alcohol consumption.
According to experts cancer risk increases with alcohol consumption as a result of the creation of chemicals and molecules that can be harmful to fats, protein and DNA; the disruption of the absorption of nutrients that normally prevent cancer. There may even be cancer causing toxins that result from the process of fermentation of alcoholic beverages.
The most common alcohol related cancers are colorectal (also known as bowel cancer and colon cancer), breast, liver, esophageal (cancer arising from the esophagus—the food pipe that runs between the throat and the stomach), head and neck cancer.
While experts don’t have evidence that alcohol contributes to cancer of the bladder, stomach, prostate ovaries and uterus, they have been found to be linked to alcohol consumption even though experts don’t have solid evidence that alcohol contributes to them. Experts cannot explain why, but there is evidence that shows Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney cancer are reduced with alcohol consumption. While many people believe that resveratrol can help with cancer prevention there is no solid evidence to back up this claim.
The good news is that even if you have been abusing alcohol for a long time, stopping alcohol consumption for an extended period of time reduces the risk of cancer.
Even though you do not have to be an alcoholic to get alcohol related diseases, if you have heavy alcohol consumption on a regular basis, the risk for many diseases increases. Even functioning alcoholics, that is, those who drink moderately for long periods, are susceptible to these diseases.
Generally speaking, diseases that result from alcohol consumption can be very debilitating and even life threatening. The common way to treat all alcohol related diseases is by abstaining from alcohol consumption. This alleviates symptoms and prevents further harm. In some cases damage is permanent and damage cannot be reversed so the best prevention is abstaining from alcohol or drinking up to a moderate level on occasion.