As a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, I have a lot to say about alcohol, heavy drinking, and health. I write about it because I know firsthand the damages that alcohol can inflict and I want other people to know too. Most people appreciate this knowledge, but occasionally I have people write to me feeling upset that I’ve rained on their parade. They tell me things like, “YOLO! We’re all going to die someday, so let’s eat, drink and be merry.”
But here’s the thing, yes death happens to all of us eventually, but how would it change things if we knew that heavy drinking will rob us of our quality of life, even if we’re still young?
When I say ‘quality of life,’ I’m referring to a sense of wellbeing, energy, vitality, and mobility. Quality of life also encompasses our ability to think, create, nurture, and enjoy our lives. Most younger people have no concept of aging or failing health. In our 20’s, 30' and even 40’s we often take our health and vitality for granted. Most times, it’s that we’re blissfully unaware of the inner workings of our bodies. But alcohol is a deadly toxin, and if we take too much of it at once, we know we’ll risk our lives.
However, most people don’t understand how alcohol causes chronic health problems that will make us feel sick, exhausted, and less able to keep up with the demands of daily life. And even if we’re still young, these health problems will show up sooner than we think.
Most heavy drinkers don’t connect how they feel every day to the amount of alcohol they’re drinking. This is because there’s very little education about the health effects of alcohol. Also, once we’re addicted, we don’t want to learn about the health effects anyway. Not to mention that all marketing campaigns for alcohol make it look like the best thing to do to de-stress, feel happy, and live a good life. Very sad.
I drank heavily for many years. I started at 13 years old and vacillated between binge-drinking and daily drinking until I was 41 years old. By the time I quit, I was puffy, anemic, exhausted, had dark circles under my eyes, and nerve damage in my hands and feet. I also suffered from constant heartburn and other digestive problems. I was chronically inflamed and rarely slept well. At 41, I felt like I was in my 70's.
Heavy drinking may affect your mortality rate, yes. But what about living a good quality of life free of pain, discomfort, sluggishness, and feeling sick all the time?Almost all the health outcomes from heavy drinking are a slow process that causes a lot of suffering and discomfort along the way. Serious health issues from alcohol use never just show up one day; it takes years in the making.
Most of us think we’re doing ok so long as we’re not actually on death’s door. However, we rarely think about all the ways that alcohol robs us of our health and vitality when we’re still young. Here are some chronic conditions directly linked to heavy drinking that will absolutely affect your quality of life, even if you’re young.
Heartburn, diarrhea or constipation, slow digestion, and bloating are early signs of alcohol-related damage to the gastrointestinal system. Alcohol changes the way we digest food as well as decreasing the absorption of nutrients and water. It also depletes the gut microbiota. Lastly, anyone who drinks excessively will eventually be deficient in Vitamin B1, which has severe consequences if left untreated.
Alcohol can cause pancreatic issues, and this can start in our early years. Some people may get full-blown pancreatitis, which is life-threatening. I have a friend who had to quit drinking at 25 because he developed chronic alcohol-related pancreatitis. But more often, alcohol causes the pancreas to struggle with its role in food digestion. Alcohol also increases your chance of getting type 2 diabetes.
Alcohol is a serious toxin that the liver has to manage with every drink. While drinking, your liver has to divert all its energy to metabolize the alcohol so that it doesn’t poison your body. This means that all the other functions of the liver are on hold. If you take medication, it’s crucial to know that the liver may not metabolize them very well. This translates to feeling bloated, tired, and sick as the liver can’t do its other functions as well. Over time, this issue gets worse and leads to severe liver disease. Also, many people who drink heavily are prone to gallbladder issues as well.
Nervous system problems
Alcohol has perhaps the most significant effect on our nervous system. The reason we feel “buzzed” is due to the way it alters our nervous system. But over time, alcohol over-stretches our nervous system and may damage it permanently. This results in depression, anxiety, and peripheral nerve problems. Also, binge-drinkers and very heavy daily drinkers can die from serious nervous system complications if they withdraw from alcohol.
Alcohol affects small and large blood vessels and increases blood pressure. For anyone with cholesterol or vascular problems, adding alcohol can be extremely deadly. Over time, alcohol puts pressure on the heart and increases the chance of bleeding.
Alcohol is very inflammatory. This alone can cause a decrease in quality of life due to the side-effects of inflammation such as allergies, skin problems, autoimmunity, migraines, brain fog, swelling, and water retention. Once a body is inflamed, it can set off many other health problems like a domino effect.
Yes, we only live once, that’s for sure, but it’s how we live that counts. We may think that alcohol makes us enjoy our lives better. However, this lie has been fed to us by the media and alcohol companies. Also, the process of addiction causes denial that skews our rationality.
Unfortunately, the media and health industry doesn’t want to report these issues because of how they would affect the multi-billion dollar alcohol industry. Also, health professionals rarely educate people about the dangers of combining alcohol with medications, other health conditions, and an unhealthy diet. Unfortunately, this combination can double the chances of experiencing these health issues.
And now, there are companies advertising the use of high alcohol caffeinated products for young people. These products are especially dangerous for all the reasons I’ve listed above.
“But what if you stay within the safe drinking limits?” People often ask.
So long as we’re relatively healthy and can honestly drink only 1–2 drinks per day, then maybe we’ll be able to get by without decreasing our quality of life. But there’s still be a risk to our health if we have other health conditions, use medications (especially if they are hepatotoxic), and don’t eat or hydrate well.
My goal is to increase education about alcohol use and the health consequences. I firmly believe that this is missing in most health care systems, and I think the general public deserves to know the truth.