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Alcohol Health Risks: The Physical Effects of Chronic Drinking

It is said that a glass of wine or two a day is good for your heart, and this may be true, although a recent study also indicates that a glass of wine or two a day can also cause a marked increase in colon cancer prevalence, so I'm not sure how beneficial this light drinking truly is; but heavy and chronic drinking is another thing altogether, and is incredibly physically and mentally destructive.

The Physical Damage of Alcoholism

Of all the drugs commonly abused, there aren’t many that destroy the body as thoroughly as alcohol can, and years of heavy drinking prematurely age the body and its organs; leading to a host of serious health complications and greater probability of early death.

Alcohol works its influence throughout the body, and most of the organs, the blood, and most noticeably the brain are all negatively impacted through the effects of too much alcohol. The body is very resilient, and much of the destruction of alcohol can be reversed through a long period of sobriety; other effects, particularly effects to the central nervous system, are to some degree irreversible.

As follows is a small list of some of the organs affected by heavy drinking, although the true extent of the damage possible is far greater than outlined below.

The Glands

Chronic alcohol use can reduce the secretions of the glands throughout the body, and this can result in a number of side effects, most noticeably on the sexual systems. In men, there is often an increase in estrogen, an increase in female sex characteristics such as breast development and a reduction in body hair, and decreased sexual ability. Erections are achieved less easily, erection size is diminished and erections will not occur as frequently. Women are less able to achieve orgasm, and as well less able to feel the pleasurable sensations of sexual contact. Infertility is common in chronic long term alcoholics.

In addition to the discrete effects on all of the body's systems and organs, chronic and heavy alcohol use also greatly increases the risk factors for a number of cancers and other diseases. Alcohol is incredibly destructive, and although some of the changes are irreversible, many are not, and the sooner an alcoholic achieves sobriety, the better their long term health prognosis.

In addition to the social costs of alcoholism, the toll on the body and mind is incredible and tragic. An addiction to alcohol needs to be addressed as early as possible, and the best time to start fighting any alcoholism is now.

Today's treatments are better than ever, and the combination of available pharmaceutical medicines with psycho social therapies, cognitive behavioral training and after care treatment is very effective.


When excess alcohol is consumed, the blood gets thick and sluggish with red blood cells clumping up together. This causes the cell death as experienced in the brain, but can also cause capillaries to break open near the skin (drinkers nose) and blood vessels can burst within the stomach leading to internal bleeding. Long term chronic consumption can cause anemia and bone marrow changes, affecting the immune system and lessening our resistance to opportunistic infections.

The Heart

Alcohol decreases blood flow to the heart, and can result in heart muscle atrophy, and an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Stomach and GI Tract

Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and can cause painful stomach ulcers. Alcohol consumption creates an immediate spike in blood sugar, and this blood sugar spike is followed by a large pancreatic insulin release, which in turn leads to reduced levels of sugar in the blood. This hypoglycemia can cause fatigue, dizziness, headaches, anxiety and a host of other symptoms, and most chronic drinkers suffer from almost permanent low blood sugar. Additionally, because of the overworked pancreatic response, diabetes development is very likely with chronic alcohol use; and the risk of pancreatic cancer and other painful and serious pancreatic conditions is elevated substantially.

The Brain

Alcohol abuse can cause massive cell death in the brain, and lead to irreversible cognitive deficits. Alcohol starves the brain of oxygen, and each session of intoxication results in the deaths of tens of thousands of brain cells. Experienced blackouts occur as a result of this diminished oxygen to certain areas of the brain. Additionally, alcohol abuse can create continual confusion, generally decreased cognitive and reasoning capacity, memory loss and emotional changes such as mood swings, anxiety and depression.

The lack of vitamin consumption that often occurs concurrently with alcoholism can lead to additional brain damage, and the cognitive and language disease Korsikoffs syndrome occurs as a result of a vitamin deficiency. New research also indicates that chronic alcohol abuse can provoke senile dementia in patients as young as 40 years of age.

Alcohol destroys brain cells, eliminates memories, and reduces cognitive capacity. Alcohol abuse makes us emotionally unstable and decreases our intelligence.

The Liver

The liver processes the toxins we consume and renders them harmless in the body. The liver can only handle so much abuse, and in response to enough acute or chronic consumption, can go into varying degrees of failure. The liver is very able to cleanse the body of small intermittent quantities of alcohol, but with increasing consumption, the liver loses its ability to cleanse the blood and also becomes damaged. Alcohol abuse can cause liver imbalances that may lead to hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar, hyperuricemia which causes arthritis, fatty liver deposits which can lead to cirrhosis, and hyperlipemia, which causes fats to be released into the blood stream causing heart problems. The liver is a regenerative organ, but in response to continued abuse may ultimately shut down, and once the liver is rendered ineffective, death soon follows.

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