Today I have the pleasure of introducing to you Sharon T. Mclaughlin-Weber MD FACS ATN’s Guest Blogger this week.
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Most of us drink alcohol as a way to relax, unfortunately for many reasons alcohol affects us differently and some of us over indulge. Today, I would like to talk about what happens to our body when we drink too much alcohol.
What are the immediate effects of alcohol consumption?
As alcohol enters our bodies, the blood alcohol concentration will rise.
At first, we feel less stressed, which is one reason why so many of us like to drink.
As the alcohol levels rise slurred speech and concentration problems are common.
The increased alcohol levels will lead to less inhibition which can lead to risky behavior. In addition, less coordination contributes to an increased risk of accidents.
It is important to note that each State has set legal limits of alcohol. For drivers aged 21 years or older, the legal limit is 0.08% (80 mg/dL). Drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system.
What happens if we continue drinking even though we are already drunk?
Drinking past the period of being drunk can overwhelm the body’s ability to break down and clear alcohol from the bloodstream which can lead to alcohol poisoning.
Too much alcohol will impair the brains function to control the rate of breathing and loss of the gag reflex. This is how binge drinking can lead to death. Loss of the gag relax can lead to asphyxiation if vomiting occurs. A lowered respiratory rate will allow for increased carbon dioxide and lower oxygen levels which can lead to death.
What are the long-term effects of alcohol consumption?
According to the CDC and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism long-term excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:
Irregular heart beats referred to as arrhythmias can occur from electrolyte abnormalities.
Chronic alcohol use can also lead to decreased heart function referred to as cardiomyopathy.
Alcohol decreases the ability of your digestive tract to absorb important nutrients and vitamins.
Alcoholics often suffer from malnutrition.
Heavy drinking can also cause ulcers in the esophagus and stomach which can lead to bleeding.
Alcohol increases the risk of pancreatitis.
The pancreas is needed to help digest food and control blood sugar levels.
The liver helps rid the body of waste.
Heavy drinking can affect the liver causing inflammation.
Inflammation of the liver can occur which is referred to as hepatitis.
Chronic irritation of the liver can lead to scarring and cirrhosis of the liver.
The liver is not able to function correctly when there is scarring, toxic substances can build up.
Chronic alcohol consumption can shrink the frontal lobes of your brain, these changes can be seen on brain imaging.
Memory problems can occur along with an increased risk of dementia with long-term alcohol use.
Damage to your nervous system can also occur, resulting in pain and numbness
Too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:
Deficiencies in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, thiamine and folic acid can cause decreased blood counts.
Anemia can lead to fatigue.
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system.
Chronic drinkers are more likely to develop pneumonia and tuberculosis compared to people who do not drink.
Long-term alcohol use increases the risks of thin bones.
Alcohol consumption affects bone production which will lead to increased risk of fractures.
Chronic alcohol use in men can decrease hormone production leading to larger breasts, erectile dysfunction and infertility.
Chronic alcohol use in women can lead to a cessation of menstruation as well as infertility.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and stillbirths.
The fetus is at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) which include births defects, learning difficulties and emotional problems.
Poor hygiene, as well as vitamin deficiency, can lead to tooth decay and tooth loss.
Depression and anxiety are both common in people who excessively drink. This may be more of an association rather than a cause and effect.
Drinking too much will result in alcohol dependence or alcoholism.
As you can see the effects of alcohol consumption can affect just about every organ system.
What do you think about alcohol affect on the body?
Sharon T. McLaughlin, MD FACS
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National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism