Information on Alcohol Use

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and chronic alcohol use can have many adverse effects on different body parts. The more a person drinks, the higher the risk of damaging their body and mind. Some problems can happen because of heavy or chronic alcohol use.

What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance. The consumption of alcohol leads to dependence, tolerance, and addiction. It causes a high burden of disease while causing social and economic consequences. According to the World Health Organization, it is the causal factor in more than 200 diseases, injuries, and health conditions. Most of the health burden is attributable to unintentional and intentional injuries, including DUIs, violence, and suicide or self-harm.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

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Chronic drinking can cause an overall reduction in brain size and increase the size of the ventricles. It can also damage the frontal lobes of the brain, leading to difficulty solving problems, changes in personality, inability to focus, and difficulty controlling impulses, among others. Alcohol interferes with the body’s stores and uses the B1 vitamin (thiamine). This can create a thiamine deficiency, leading to further brain damage and causing impaired memory, confusion, lack of coordination, apathy, disorientation, and a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is sometimes called alcoholic dementia or alcohol-related dementia. If a person stops drinking and makes lifestyle changes early, there can be an improvement, but some brain damage could be permanent.

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Drinking a lot of alcohol over time or binge drinking can cause damage to the heart. It can create a condition called cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle is stretched and begins having difficulty pumping blood to the rest of the body. Symptoms such as swelling of the legs, ankles and feet, fatigue, discomfort in the chest, and dizziness can occur when this condition is present. It can lead to heart failure if left untreated. Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to high blood pressure and a stroke as well as arrhythmias, a condition where the heartbeat becomes irregular. The longer the heavy drinking goes on, the more damage the heart will sustain. The sooner the person stops drinking, the better the chances of recovery without medical intervention.

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The liver’s primary function is to filter the blood from the digestive tract before it goes back into the rest of the body. As such, it detoxifies and purifies the body. Heavy alcohol consumption damages the liver because alcohol, as it gets processed by the liver, releases exceptionally toxic chemicals. This can lead to different conditions that carry their consequences. Steatosis (commonly known as fatty liver) will not necessarily carry symptoms but can lead to liver fibrosis (liver scarring). Fibrosis can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is severe liver scarring with symptoms such as weakness, abdominal pain, yellow skin and eyes, confusion, nose bleeds, etc. Another condition that can occur is alcoholic hepatitis. Liver damage caused by alcohol consumption can be treated if the condition is caught early on and the person stops drinking. However, if this goes on too long, the damage can be permanent and can lead to liver failure in severe cases.

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The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing and releasing enzymes to help digestion and release substances such as insulin to help the body use energy. When a person drinks alcohol over a long period, the pancreas can start producing toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis. This is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed, and its blood vessels become swollen. When a person develops this, they can have the following symptoms: fever, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, constant pain in the upper belly that radiates to the back, diarrhea, and weight loss. This is a severe condition, and once it is chronic, it cannot be cured, although symptoms can be managed.

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Immune system

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, research has shown that alcohol disrupts the immune pathways in the body. This can keep the body from defending against infection or recovering normally from injury. According to research, acute binge drinking, as well as chronic heavy drinking, can both affect the immune system.

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According to the National Cancer Institute, heavy alcohol use can increase cancer risk over time. In 2009, data compiled estimated that 3.5% of cancer deaths were related to alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption was associated with the following types of cancer: head and neck cancer (such as throat cancer), esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.

What Is Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcoholism is a chronic condition without treatment, whereby the individual cannot stop using alcohol and, as a result, becomes addicted to and or dependent upon the substance.

Individuals with an alcohol use disorder continue to consume alcohol despite any negative consequences. The substance becomes the most essential thing in their lives.

Preventing Alcohol Use

How Individuals Can Prevent Alcohol Use

  • Choose not to drink or drink in moderation, following recommended dietary guidelines.
  • Do not drink if you are pregnant or might be pregnant.
  • Do not drink if you are under the age of 21.
  • Do not drink if you are recovering from an alcohol use disorder.
  • Do not drink if you have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medications.
  • Learn more about the benefits of not drinking or drinking less alcohol.
  • Do not serve alcohol to anyone who should not be drinking.
  • If you are concerned, discuss your drinking behavior with your healthcare provider.

How Communities Can Prevent Alcohol Use

  • Implement effective prevention and education strategies for preventing excessive alcohol use within the community.
  • Reduce the availability and accessibility of alcohol and increase its prices.
  • Regulate the number and concentration of alcohol outlets.
  • Limit days and hours of alcohol sales.
  • Avoid further privatization of alcohol sales.
  • Enforce existing laws and regulations about alcohol sales and service.
  • Track the role of alcohol in injuries and deaths.
  • Monitor and report on measures of excessive alcohol use.
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