The idea of alcoholism is familiar enough to most people that they know the two biggest health risks: cirrhosis of the liver and auto accidents. But alcohol abuse affects the entire body, and most of the associated health risks are not widely known. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that researchers have linked alcohol consumption to over 60 diseases. Take a look below at some of the most common hidden dangers of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol decreases the body’s production of anti-diuretic hormones, causing you to lose water faster than you can replace it. But dehydration means more than being thirsty. If not treated, dehydration can cause abnormal blood pressure, rapid heart rate, fever, constipation, dizziness, and headaches. Add sun exposure and high temperatures at an outdoor barbecue or a day at the beach, and the risk of heat stroke rises as well.
Anemia is a condition in which the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells is abnormally low. Heavy drinking can cause anemia, which triggers symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, increasing the risk of fainting and subsequent injury.
3. Nerve Damage
Alcohol is toxic to nerve cells, and nerve damage among alcoholics is prevalent enough to warrant an exclusive disease called alcoholic neuropathy, which can cause numbness or painful “pins and needles” in the extremities, muscle weakness, constipation, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and several other problems.
4. High Blood Pressure
The sympathetic nervous system controls the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to triggers such as stress, temperature, and exercise. Alcohol abuse disrupts this function, causing blood pressure to rise. Over time this can become a chronic condition that leads to other, more severe health problems including kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.
5. Infectious Disease
Strong immune systems are what keep minor colds from turning into full-blown pneumonia, but heavy drinking suppresses the system, allowing greater access for dangerous infections. Sexually transmitted diseases are particularly common among alcoholics, who are more likely to engage in unprotected sex while under the influence.
People who have epilepsy or similar conditions put themselves at severe risk when drinking, as alcohol can interfere with medications used to treat convulsions. But alcohol abuse can also trigger seizures in people who don’t have pre-existing conditions, and even cause epilepsy in some cases.
Aside from alcohol’s known effects on judgement, problem-solving, and other mental functions, heavy drinking speeds up the brain’s natural aging process, in which it shrinks about 1.9% per decade. Rapid shrinkage in certain key regions of the brain results in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.
Alcohol abuse inflames the pancreas, and chronic inflaming—called pancreatitis—can interfere with digestion, leading to severe abdominal pain and persistent diarrhea. Additionally, as the pancreas is responsible for calcium absorption, damage to the organ can result in weaker bones and risk of osteoporosis.
9. Cardiovascular Disease
Alcoholism causes platelets—cell fragments without a nucleus that are abundant in blood—to clump together into blood clots, an essential function at the site of a wound but deadly when it occurs in the arteries or heart chambers, leading to heart attack or stroke. Alcohol abuse can also cause heart rhythm abnormalities and cardiomyopathy, which is an often-deadly condition in which the heart muscle weakens and eventually fails.
Ethanol—the primary ingredient in alcohol—is quickly converted into acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen that damages both DNA and proteins and leads to cancer. Alcohol also prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients that are crucial to fighting cancer, such as vitamins A, B, C and D. Cancers linked to alcohol abuse include cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.
Protect your health. Seek help for alcohol issues
If you believe you drink more alcohol than you should, but you’re having a difficult time giving it up, it’s important that you seek help. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse pose serious risks to your health, and as difficult as it may be to imagine now, it is possible to live a healthy and positive alcohol-free life. There are a number of resources available. Please reach out for help. Contact us today at (858) 784-7867.