Alcohol, when consumed regularly in large quantities, is very hard on the body. Though people may be reminded of this in information campaigns and warnings, most don’t think of alcohol being as physical devastating as illicit substances like heroin and methamphetamine. However, if abused in the way that illegal drugs often are, the physical consequences of alcohol can be both devastating and permanent.
Some of the most alarming physical impacts of this intoxicant are on the brain. Most people are aware that alcohol binges can cause temporary memory loss, including complete blackouts. When this happens, the brain endures a small amount of damage that can be permanent. With enough drinking, permanent brain damage will be sustained, causing chronic memory issues, cognitive impairment, and mental health problems. Young people are especially vulnerable to this as their brains are still developing. Alcohol can damage the still-developing parts of the brain, resulting in stunted development that can never be corrected.
Alcohol also has physical effects on nearly every major organ in the human body.
- Heart: Alcohol abuse often leads to high blood pressure, which can lead to a temporary irregular heartbeat that can result in sudden heart failure. Over time, it can weaken the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Lungs: People who regularly abuse alcohol tend to have more frequent lung infections and cases of pneumonia. In cases of intense bingeing or overdose, vomiting while unconscious can lead to the fluid being sucked into the lungs, causing choking and possibly death.
- Stomach: Frequent alcohol abuse can lead to gastritis, ulcers, internal bleeding, and stomach cancer.
- Intestines: Alcohol interferes with the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Eventually, abuse can result in colon cancer.
- Kidneys: The high blood pressure caused by alcohol is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease, which is a very dangerous condition.
- Pancreas: Sustained alcohol abuse can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, causing pain, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. The sugars present in many alcohol drinks can also lead to diabetes.
- Genitals: Alcohol tends to temporarily inhibit sexual functioning. Worse, the lowering of inhibitions caused by the substance can lead to unprotected sex and the contraction of potentially incurable and dangerous STIs.
- Reproductive organs: Alcohol can affect fertility and sperm count. It’s also well known how alcohol can cause permanent damage to developing fetuses, resulting in fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Bones: Alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to absorb calcium. This can lead to osteoporosis, especially in women.
Alcohol is of course notorious for its effects on the liver. In 2013, 45.8 percent of all deaths from liver disease involved alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Even short-term bingeing can cause fat deposits to form in the liver, leading to a condition called fatty liver. This is temporary if the alcohol abuse stops, but if it continues, hepatitis of the liver can occur as well as eventual scarring of the liver tissue, called cirrhosis. Scarring is permanent and can eventually lead to liver failure and death. All of this also increases the risk of liver cancer.
These are just the basics when it comes to the physical effects of alcohol abuse. There are many other illnesses and conditions that can be related to alcohol. Because of this, it’s essential that any person who is suspected of being addicted to alcohol is treated as soon as possible before the damage is irreversible.