Most people are aware of the initial side effects of alcohol. In addition to feelings of warmth, happiness, relaxation, and lowered inhibitions, there are a number of unpleasant effects that can come along with it, depending on the type and quantity of alcohol. The after effects can also be quite rough if too much alcohol is consumed at one time.
Common side effects of alcohol consumption include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Impaired judgment
- Distorted vision
- Memory impairment
Most of these effects wear off in the hours after the last drink, though nausea, headaches, and diarrhea can continue throughout the day after a serious drinking binge. A person’s memory of the night may never be restored if they experienced a blackout.
These, however, are minor problems that most people experience at least once in their lifetimes. The real concern comes when alcohol abuse becomes a regular activity and an addiction starts to develop. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 16.3 million adults in the US were considered to have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014. This represents 6.8 percent of the adult population and means that the vast majority of Americans know someone with an alcohol addiction.
Like any intoxicant, alcohol is very hard on the body if abused on a regular basis for an extended period of time. Because alcohol is only consumed orally, it’s taken through the entirety of the bloodstream and affects nearly every major organ and organ system in the body.
- Liver: If overwhelmed by alcohol, the liver will begin producing fat to store it in, eventually resulting in a condition called fatty liver. If alcohol abuse continues, this can progress to alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and eventually liver failure.
- Heart: High blood pressure associated with alcohol abuse can lead to irregular heartbeat and the stretching and drooping of the heart muscle, referred to as cardiomyopathy. This can lead to fluid buildup and heart failure.
- Pancreas: A lesser-known result of alcohol abuse is pancreatitis, a very painful condition caused by toxins released when the pancreas is exposed to alcohol.
- Gastrointestinal system: Frequent alcohol abuse can lead to gastritis, ulcers, internal bleeding, colon cancer, and stomach cancer.
Constant, ongoing alcohol abuse also takes it toll on the brain and can have a serious effect on one’s emotional state. After enough time, the emotional effects of alcohol often begin to change. Where it once made a person happy and friendly, that individual can start becoming moody, angry, depressed, or anxious while drinking.
This happens because, over time, constant exposure to alcohol causes significant physical changes in the brain. At the same time, alcohol causes other problems like liver dysfunction and a thiamine deficiency caused by overall poor nutrition common in people with AUDs. This deficiency can cause a serious brain disorder called Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). Symptoms of this disorder include short-term memory problems, mental confusion, muscle coordination issues, learning disabilities, irritability, and paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes. Some functioning in victims of this disorder can be restored with doses of thiamine, but they may never be the same.
Though many experts say that moderate amounts of alcohol are fine and may even be a healthy choice, alcohol addiction is a serious and potentially devastating condition. Anyone who suspects they may have an AUD should seek out professional advice as soon as possible to avoid worsening addiction and the many health problems that can follow.