Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol is the most popular drug in the world. There’s no corner of the planet where some type of alcohol is not made and drunk. For thousands of years, alcoholic beverages have been brewed up—and as long as there has been alcohol, there has been abuse of this drug.
It’s unfortunate that alcohol has long been associated with celebrations, coming of age and letting down one’s hair. Aside from the problem of alcoholism, the physical damage caused by alcohol can and does cause misery, illness and death. There is no system or organ in the body that does not take a tremendous beating as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. The World Health Organization estimates that more than two million people each year die from the effects of drinking, either through illness, overdoses or accidents.
So that each person who drinks or is thinking about drinking can make informed choices, here is the story of the health risks of alcohol.
It is appropriate to list the liver first because most people are aware that drinking excessively is very hard on the liver. The result of many years of heavy drinking is cirrhosis of the liver—a condition where the liver tissue changes from a dense but effective filter that blood flows through easily to a fibrous mass of scar tissue that can no longer do its job.
The liver is vital to one’s very survival. When the liver fails, a person dies. This organ eliminates toxins so it is the go-to organ to break down alcohol or drugs that are consumed. In all, it silently performs 500 different functions, including enabling us to digest food, control infections and absorb vital nutrients.
Before a liver reaches the point of being cirrhotic, it may be fatty or inflamed. The first stage of damage is a fatty liver, a build-up of extra fat in the cells. This can cause fatigue, weakness and weight loss. If a person stops drinking now, the condition can be reversed.
Inflammation resulting from drinking is called alcoholic hepatitis. The liver is enlarged and this can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice. A little more than a third of heavy drinkers develop this problem. If severe, this condition can result in liver failure and death.
Mixing alcohol and the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen causes toxic stress to the liver and the kidneys. For a heavy drinker, just a little more than the recommended amount of acetaminophen for a few days can (and has, many times) resulted in liver failure and death.
While liver damage is the most well-known effect of excessive alcohol consumption, there is much to understand about the way alcohol damages every organ in the body. Continue reading to learn more.