When consumed responsibly and in moderation, alcohol can be enjoyed without repercussions. Unfortunately, when drinking becomes a problem the effects can be disastrous for the health of the human body. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the immediate effects of alcohol including an increase in blood alcohol concentration can begin 10 minutes after your first sip. However, it’s the long term effects alcohol can have on the body that you should be more worried about. Research suggests that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of different cancers including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast. It can also cause severe damage to almost all of the body’s major organs.
We’re all familiar with recent studies that attribute the antioxidants found in a single glass of red wine to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, but what happens when the single glass turns into a bottle? Over time, excessive alcohol consumption begins to weaken the heart muscle resulting in blood flow irregularities. Alcoholics and binge drinkers are often plagued by a condition known as cardiomyopathy where the heart stretches and droops. People diagnosed with cardiomyopathy caused by alcohol tend to experience shortness of breath, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), fatigue, enlarged liver, and a persistent cough. Alcohol can also increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke, and hypertension.
Beyond that initial feeling of euphoria, alcohol can have a detrimental effect on the brain. By slowing the relay of information between neurotransmitters, the ethanol found in alcoholic drinks can cause damage to multiple areas of the brain. Prolonged damage to the brain’s neurotransmitters can result in behavioral and mood changes such as depression, anxiety, memory loss, and seizures. Alcoholism combined with poor nutrition can also trigger Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, “Wet Brain.” Alcoholics with “Wet Brain” experience a form of depression characterized by memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, loss of muscle coordination, and an inability to form new memories.
We tend to underscore the importance of the human liver, however, many alcoholics can tell you with certainty just how important liver function really is. Our livers are essential when it comes to proper food digestion, nutrient absorption, controlling infections, and ridding the body of toxins. There are over two million people in the U.S. who suffer from liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Liver cirrhosis ranked as the 12th leading cause of death among Americans in 2009. Out of the 31,522 deaths reported that year, 48.2 percent were considered alcohol related. Around one out every three liver transplants in the U.S. is the result of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption.
A lot like the brain, large amounts of alcohol can confuse the pancreas causing it to secret enzymes internally instead of sending them to the small intestines. The buildup of enzymes in the pancreas will eventually cause inflammation. This inflammation, also known as pancreatitis, can either occur as a sudden attack (acute pancreatitis) that includes symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, increase heart rate, diarrhea, and fever or chronic pancreatitis which slowly deteriorates the pancreas, leading to diabetes and even death.
The effect alcohol has on the liver can also spread to the kidneys. Due to the diuretic effect alcohol has on increasing the amount of urine the body produces, the kidneys are not able to do their job of regulating the flow and makeup of body fluids including the distribution of sodium, potassium, and chloride ions. This can in turn disturb our balance of electrolytes. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, the second leading cause of kidney failure.