Although alcohol is a legal substance, consuming alcohol in excess and long-term can severely damage a person’s health. While drunk driving, and binge drinking rates among teens have decreased in recent years, excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol addiction are serious problems that continue to plague all levels of society. The U.S. economy loses over 249 billion dollars per year because of alcohol abuse, and other economic effects of alcohol addiction are well-documented. But how does alcohol use put someone’s health at risk? We’ll explore how alcohol is metabolized and damages the body, and who is most in danger of alcohol-related health issues.
How does alcohol consumption damage the body?
When someone consumes alcohol, the body treats it like a poison. When alcohol is metabolized, two different enzymes are produced; alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). These enzymes break down alcohol molecules, otherwise the body would not be able to eliminate them effectively.
During the metabolization process, ADH turns alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a highly toxic chemical, and it’s carcinogenic effects are well-known. Also during the metabolizing process, a small amount of alcohol is also removed by interacting with fatty acids, which then form compounds called FAEEs. FAEE compounds damage the liver and pancreas. Next, acetaldehyde is turned into the byproduct acetate and then broken down into water and carbon dioxide before it is finally eliminated from the body.
Although the toxic substance acetaldehyde is only in the body for a small period, it can do a lot of damage. The metabolization process interacts with different bodily systems, and chiefly damages the liver and the pancreas. This is the primary cause of fatty liver and subsequent liver cirrhosis seen in long-term alcoholics. Some alcohol metabolization will occur in the brain too, damaging brain cells and tissues. The gastrointestinal tract will also try to metabolize alcohol, and gastrointestinal tissues are left exposed to the carcinogenic effects of acetaldehyde.
What are the significant health risks of alcohol consumption?
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to traumatic injuries. Alcohol severely impairs a person’s judgment and coordination. People who have had too much to drink may decide to get behind the wheel of a car and cause an accident, injuring themselves and others. Alcohol abuse can also lead to trips, falls, broken bones and head injuries. In addition, alcohol abuse can put someone at risk of sexual assault.
Alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for certain cancers, too:
- Esophageal and Throat
Research indicates that genetics play a significant factor in whether or not someone will become an alcoholic, and if alcohol consumption will cause cancer and other health problems in vulnerable individuals.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Disorder
The toxic effects of alcohol on a developing fetus cannot be understated. Pregnancy slows the body’s metabolism, and in turn, the fetus is exposed to higher levels of alcohol and its toxic byproducts for more extended periods of time. Alcohol also prevents the embryo from getting the nutrients it needs from the placenta to develop properly. Studies also indicate that pregnant women who drink and who also suffer from poor nutrition give birth to children with more severe cases of fetal alcohol syndrome. The findings suggest that managing the diet of a pregnant woman who struggles with alcoholism may reduce the severity of fetal alcohol syndrome in her baby.
The liver plays a central role in the alcohol metabolization process. Unfortunately, that makes this organ the most susceptible to the adverse effects of drinking. Up to 90% of people who struggle with alcoholism will develop fatty liver, which is a type of liver disease. Fatty liver left untreated will lead to cirrhosis, a deadly liver disease.
The pancreas also plays a vital role in the metabolization process. When alcohol is consumed, the pancreas is exposed to high levels of acetaldehyde and FAEEs. About 10% of long-term alcoholics will go on to develop pancreatitis, an irreversible and painful disease where the pancreas becomes inflamed, and its function becomes impaired. Studies indicate that environmental factors can also influence the risk of developing pancreatitis, mainly smoking, genetics, and poor diet.
The immune system can take a severe beating in chronic drinkers. Untreated alcoholism puts people at-risk of pneumonia. Binge drinking can also decrease the body’s ability to fight off an infection up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Do certain types of alcohol produce more negative effects than others?
The amount of alcohol and the time in which it is consumed is what will produce adverse effects, not necessarily the type of drink someone consumes. It’s true that consuming straight liquor will raise a person’s BAC to a dangerous level more quickly than if someone were to consume beer. But the damage that’s inflicted is less related to the type of drink, and more related to how the body metabolizes alcohol regardless.
What should someone do if they are facing health consequences related to drinking?
The good news is, fatty liver, the most common alcohol-related health issue, can be reversed. If someone is experiencing health problems related to alcohol abuse, they need to seek treatment for their addiction.
Unfortunately, long-term dependence on alcohol is not something a person should attempt to do at home, by quitting cold-turkey. Sudden cessation of drinking, especially in someone with a long-term addiction, can lead to severe and deadly seizures. These seizures can lead to coma and death.
Also, alcohol is a legal substance and readily available across the U.S. A rehab facility can put together aftercare plans to help prevent someone from becoming tempted to drink and experiencing a potentially deadly relapse.
There are hundreds of medical detox facilities and rehab centers across the U.S. that are experienced in helping people overcome alcohol addiction and improve their health. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, reach out to a qualified rehab specialist today and get your health back on track.
The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.
Get Help Now
Alcohol addiction is extremely difficult to overcome on your own.. Seek specialized help and let professionals guide you in your recovery.