It’s no secret that alcohol consumption can cause major health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and injuries sustained in automobile accidents.
“Habitual drinking increases the risk of cancer” says Jurgen Rehm, PhD, chairman of the University of Toronto’s department of addiction policy and a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, also in Toronto.
Scientists believe the increased risk comes when the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen. Cancer sites linked to alcohol use include the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal region. Cancer risk rises even higher in heavy drinkers who also use tobacco.
Heavy drinking, especially bingeing, makes platelets more likely to clump together into blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. In a landmark study published in 2005, Harvard researchers found that binge drinking doubles the risk of death among people who initially survived a heart attack.
It’s long been known that heavy drinking often goes hand in hand with depression, but there has been debate about which came first – the drinking or the depression. One theory is that depressed people turned to alcohol in an attempt to ‘self-medicate’ to ease their emotional pain. But a large study from New Zealand showed that it was probably the other way around – that is, heavy drinking led to depression. Research has also shown that depression improves when heavy drinkers go on the wagon, Saitz says.
As people age, their brains shrink, on average, at a rate of about 1.9% per decade. That’s considered normal. But heavy drinking speeds the shrinkage of certain key regions in the brain, resulting in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia. Heavy drinking can also lead to subtle but potentially debilitating deficits in the ability to plan, make judgments, solve problems, and perform other aspects of “executive function,” which are “the higher-order abilities that allow us to maximize our function as human beings,” Garbutt says.
In addition to the “nonspecific” dementia that stems from brain atrophy, heavy drinking can cause nutritional deficiencies so severe that they trigger other forms of dementia.
Heavy drinking suppresses the immune system, providing a toehold for infections, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV /AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases (including some that cause infertility). People who drink heavily also are more likely to engage in risky sex. “Heavy drinking is associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease,” Rehmn says.
High Blood Pressure
Alcohol can disrupt the sympathetic nervous system, which, among other things, controls the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to stress, temperature, exertion, etc. Heavy drinking – and bingeing, in particular – can cause blood pressure to rise. Over time, this effect can become chronic. High blood pressure can lead to many other health problems, including kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.
A painful condition, gout is caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints. Although some cases are largely hereditary, alcohol and other dietary factors seem to play a role. Alcohol also seems to aggravate existing cases of gout.
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including: Steatosis, or fatty liver Alcoholic hepatitis Fibrosis Cirrhosis.
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
Erectile dysfunction is a common side effect of alcohol abuse in men. It can also inhibit hormone production, affect testicular function, and cause infertility. Excessive drinking can cause a woman to stop menstruating and become infertile. It also can increase her risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and stillbirth.
Alcohol has a huge effect on fetal development. A range of problems, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), can occur. FASD symptoms, which include physical abnormalities, learning difficulties, and emotional problems, can last a lifetime. For women, the risk of breast cancer rises with alcohol use.
Note: Even a small amount of alcohol has an affect on your body. When you drink, alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream and distributed throughout your body. A tiny amount of alcohol exits your body in your urine and your breath.
Furthermore, Drinking too much on a single occasion or over time can take a serious toll on your health. You absorb alcohol more slowly if you eat, especially if the food is high in fat. However, if you drink more than your body can process, you’ll get drunk. How quickly alcohol is
metabolized depends on your size and gender, among other things. Heavy consumption of alcohol causes physical and emotional changes that can do great harm to your body. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse are many, putting your health in serious jeopardy and endangering your life.
Finally, Over time, a heavy drinker can become physically and emotionally dependent on alcohol. It may be very difficult to gain control. Unlike most other common addictions, acute alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Cases of severe, chronic alcohol addiction often require medical detoxification.