Quality of life improves greatly for alcoholics who find their way into recovery. Unfortunately, there is a hidden side of alcohol addiction that you cannot see – internal damage to your body. Excessive alcohol use over time can wreak havoc on your organs, setting you up for cardiovascular disorders, neurological disorders, liver complications, digestive disorders, and even cancer. Sadly, though they can be managed, many of these health concerns are irreversible once the damage has been done.
It has been stated for years that moderate drinking is good for the heart. However, there is a fine line when it comes to what type of beverage and how much is beneficial rather than harmful. In fact, chronic excessive alcohol use can weaken the heart muscle leading to a wide array of cardiovascular disorders. Such as:
- Cardiomyopathy – This is a type of heart failure caused by alcohol abuse. It has no symptoms, unless the heart is going into failure. Then, the individual can expect shortness of breath, fatigue, leg swelling, weakness, etc. Cardiomyopathy can eventually lead to congestive heart failure and can be fatal.
- Irregular Heartbeat – Also known as Cardiac Arrhythmia, it is likely caused from issues within the hearts electrical system. Alcohol can affect your electrolytes that are important to maintaining regular heartbeat. While Cardiac Arrhythmia isn’t necessarily a concern for those in recovery, it can lead to Atrial Fibrillation which is much more serious.
- Atrial Fibrillation – This disorder affects your heartbeat, often leading it to beat rapidly or irregularly. It can lead to heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
- Increased Blood Pressure – Even if you don’t have high blood pressure now, excessive alcohol use can increase blood pressure and, over a period, can cause the walls of arteries to thicken and harden. This can result in heart attack or stroke.
Excessive drinking plays a key role in your heart health. The weakening of the heart muscle and the damages to your arteries cannot necessarily be reversed. The more alcohol consumed, the worse the damage can be.
Excessive alcohol use over time can affect nutrients in the body. In fact, it can cause the body to lose much needed nutrients such as:
- Vitamin B-1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-9 (Folate)
- Vitamin B-12
The loss of these vitamins over time can do permanent damage to the body’s central nervous system, leading to a host of possible diseases. Two of the most severe are:
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
Excessive use of alcohol can remove much-needed vitamins and nutrients from your body without realization. And, as you know, a healthy body is imperative for healthy functioning. Unfortunately, many alcoholics are not focused on their B-vitamin levels while amid their addiction, making damage to the central nervous system a very real possibility.
Complications with liver
Your liver is extremely important. Every time you eat, it flushes out the harmful stuff and turns the good stuff into energy. However, chronic alcohol abuse can terribly affect this organ. There are three major complications that can arise when it comes to liver damage:
- Fatty liver – This is the beginning stage of liver disease and you may not ever know you have it since it has no symptoms. Fatty liver results from the accumulation of fat cells in the liver. If drinking is stopped during this stage, there is a good chance the liver disease won’t advance!
- Alcoholic Hepatitis – The second stage of liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis results from fatty liver combined with inflammation of the liver and minor scarring. Symptoms include: jaundice, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, etc. Minor cases can be healed if drinking is halted. However, more severe cases likely move into cirrhosis.
- Cirrhosis – Cirrhosis of the liver is the most severe and advanced stage of liver disease. It means that the liver’s healthy tissue has been taken over by scarred tissue, greatly affecting its ability to function. Unfortunately, although stopping drinking can halt any further damage, it cannot undo the disease at this stage.
As small and minor as your pancreas may seem, it is a very vital organ in your body. It releases enzymes to help your digestive system break down food and it also produces and releases insulin (which regulates your body’s sugar levels). When it begins to malfunction and becomes inflamed, it produces damaged cells. This is known as Pancreatitis. And, yes, it can be induced by excessive alcohol abuse.
There are two types of Pancreatitis, acute and chronic.
In Acute Pancreatitis, the inflammation comes and goes for a few days at a time. It comes on quickly and then goes away. Symptoms may include fever, vomiting or nausea, and abdominal pain. Chronic Pancreatitis is much worse – the inflammation comes and it doesn’t leave. It has much of the same symptoms as acute pancreatitis, but also includes weight loss, jaundice, severe abdominal pain, etc.
Believe it or not, cancer can be caused by chronic excessive alcohol consumption. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 19,500 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2009 resulted from alcohol-associated cancer. Much research has shown that there are several types of cancer that appear to be linked to excessive alcohol use. They are:
- Liver Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Head and Neck Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
So how does alcohol consumption cause cancer? Our body turns ethanol (alcohol) into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. This substance can damage DNA and halt the body from repairing it. In addition, acetaldehyde can make the liver produce cells at a much faster rate, resulting in the chance that they pick up the changed DNA and lead to cancer.
Unfortunately, while there are methods to prolong life and attempt to fight cancer, there is currently no cure.
The overall key is to be educated on the potential health risks of chronic excessive alcohol use and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, exercise, and visit your doctor regularly. Taking charge of your health may not completely correct prior damage, but it can immensely increase your quality of life!