Health Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Gillian May

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As a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, I’m concerned with the lack of awareness that most of us have with regard to how alcohol destroys our health. Believe it or not, I also had little understanding of my own budding health issues when I was drinking heavily. It wasn’t until I quit and felt so much better that I realized how destructive alcohol is for our health. This led me to do some deep research and reading about alcohol and its effect on the body. This is timely, considering how alcohol abuse is on the rise.

Since the pandemic started, alcohol consumption has increased dramatically. According to a study in September of 2020, alcohol consumption rose by 14% amongst adults over 30 years old. Also, heavy alcohol use rose by 41% amongst adult women. Lastly, the study uncovered many people who had quit drinking but then relapsed during the pandemic.

Suffice it to say; there will be many more adults showing health signs of chronic alcoholism. Although this was already a factor before the pandemic, it will be an even more significant issue moving forward in the current times.

People need to understand how chronic alcoholism shows up in the body. Many changes occur in our physical health when we consume frequent and large amounts of alcohol. However, most people aren’t aware of these changes or confuse the differences with other health issues. The symptoms are often downplayed and overlooked, especially among people who suffer from alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, denial is a huge side effect of addiction and that alone can seriously harm people.

The more the general population is educated about alcohol abuse and the health issues that accompany it, the more that people can make informed decisions. Also, more education means preventing the most severe problems with chronic alcoholism. You may not necessarily need to quit altogether, but might need to cut back significantly if health issues are present. However, for those with serious addiction, cutting back may not be possible and as such, finding help to quit drinking is paramount.

As a former nurse and a recovering alcoholic, I’m determined to provide this information for the general public so they can learn the facts. The truth is, alcohol education doesn’t get widely distributed in our society. Unfortunately, the consequences of alcohol addiction result in serious health issues, accidents, injuries, violence, mental health problems, and trauma for family members.

Below are some health signs of chronic alcoholism. Knowing these signs can help people understand how alcoholism affects them and can provide a starting ground for health promotion and change. If you or someone you know has some of these signs, it’s essential to seek medical attention. More so, it’s important to tell the doctor about the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption.

Tremors

Frequent and large amounts of alcohol consumption can cause the hands and parts of the body to tremor. Alcohol causes the nervous system to become over-excited,especially once a person stops drinking after consuming a lot of alcohol.

Most people who drink frequently and heavily have some kind of tremors after they stop drinking and before they begin drinking again. This is a sign that alcohol is seriously affecting the nervous system, which can be dangerous over time. This nervous system disruption can also affect one’s balance. The mildest sign of tremors is shaky hands, but these symptoms can escalate into serious alcohol withdrawal with a risk of delirium tremens. Frequent alcohol withdrawals can cause serious damage to the nervous system and make it more likely to have severe complications during the withdrawal process in the future.

Redness in the face and hands

Alcohol can cause temporary flushing in the face and hands after a person begins drinking. However, with chronic alcoholism, this redness can become more permanent. The redness is from an inflammatory process under the skin and dilated blood vessels. However, the redness can be due to an actual allergy to alcohol.

Lastly, with prolonged and heavy alcohol use, the liver can become affected by the toxic quality of alcohol. This causes the liver to struggle, which has many complications once the liver begins to break down. One sign of liver issues is a red face with tiny visible capillaries called spider angiomas. Once this sign becomes visible, it’s essential to have a complete liver check-up with scans and extensive blood work. Be sure to tell the doctor how much and how frequent you drink as this will guide the doctor towards more specific testing.

Digestive problems

Alcohol is a toxin and can be very hard on the stomach and digestive tract. Heavy alcohol use can cause digestive issues almost immediately after one episode of heavy drinking. However, with chronic alcohol use, the digestive tract is constantly bombarded, which means the digestive issues are frequent and ongoing.

Also, alcohol can contribute to metabolic issues, liver damage, and vitamin deficiencies which can manifest into digestive symptoms like heartburn, less ability to digest fats and protein, bowel issues, upset stomach, and anorexia.

Vitamin deficiencies/malnutrition

Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is an essential vitamin for the functioning of our nervous system, heart, and digestive system. Almost all chronic alcohol users are deficient in thiamine which causes issues with balance, decreased mental capacity, heart problems, nervous system dysfunction, and digestive issues. The symptoms are usually mild initially, but over time they can become more serious and even life-threatening.

Other vitamins are also affected by alcohol abuse which can cause various issues like anemia, skin problems, immune dysfunction, and nerve issues. Many chronic alcoholics are often malnourished as they have less capacity to eat full nutritious meals. Also, alcohol can eventually decrease the appetite or diminish the “buzz” from alcohol, making people eat less.

Feeling sick in the morning

Most people are pretty familiar with the hangover, making mornings very difficult. However, chronic alcohol users often don’t get hangovers as they have built a tolerance for alcohol and have figured out how to avoid hangovers. However, the health-related issues mentioned above can also cause a feeling of illness in the mornings. Headaches, upset stomach, brain fog, and dehydration can make mornings miserable in chronic alcoholism.

Rising mental health issues

Research is beginning to show how brutal alcohol is for mental health. There’s no doubt that alcohol makes mental health issues worse, but more so, chronic alcoholism can actually cause mental health issues. Those who never had a mental illness before can develop things like anxiety and depression just by consuming large and frequent amounts of alcohol.

This issue can be really confusing because some people drink to soothe mental health symptoms, and in the beginning, it may seem to work. However, over time, alcohol causes changes in the nervous system that can manifest as mental illness symptoms. In particular, anxiety is the number one symptom of alcohol withdrawal. So with increased alcohol use comes increased problems with anxiety.

Metabolic issues

This issue can be confusing because many factors lead to metabolic problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. Some studies showed that light drinking might decrease metabolic problems in the past. However, new studies show that heavy chronic alcohol use can contribute to metabolic issues. Also, continuous alcohol use can worsen metabolic issues once they start.

These are 7 health signs of chronic alcoholism that the general public should know about. The more people are educated about the truth, the more they can be armed with the knowledge to make better decisions.

The best way to prevent these problems is by quitting drinking or sticking to the CDC’s safe drinking guidelines, which are 1 drink for a woman per day and 2 drinks for a man per day. However, chronic alcoholism is a highly complex issue that requires multiple approaches for treatment. Education is just the beginning.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational.

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