One of the biggest problems with alcohol which aids in the rise of alcohol abuse is the fact that it is so socially accepted, and legal in most countries around the world. This leads people to be potentially blinded to the dangers, or at least until it is too late.
Throughout the world alcohol has one of the highest addiction rates of any substance with approximately 10% of the population addicted to alcohol. Statistically, it is the most addictive substance in the world and is without question the most damaging, in many different ways.
Make no mistake, alcohol is a very powerful drug!
Short-term effects of alcohol abuse
Alcohol starts to go to work on your body and brain from the first sip that you take. It will slow down some of the activity within your brain as it is a central nervous system depressant.
This effect increases as more that is consumed, so anyone new or inexperienced at drinking, tend to suffer these effects to a greater extent. Luckily for inexperienced drinkers, these are usually just short term effects, we will discuss later some of the more serious effects for heavier drinkers, dependant drinkers and even alcoholics.
The short-term effects can include:
- Decreased brain activity
- Impaired judgment and lowered inhibitions
- Loss of motor control leading to poor coordination.
- Stomach problems/Vomiting
- Blackouts during which you do not remember what happened.
- Passing out – (losing consciousness)
Understanding tolerance is fairly simple. The more you drink, the more you can have before you get drunk. This is the case for everyone, alcoholic or not and a high tolerance does not necessarily mean a problem with alcohol. For example, an 18-year-old man who hasn’t done much drinking may get drunk after one or two medium strength beers. By contrast, a 48-year-old man who drinks heavily, or regularly, may need 10 or more of the same beer before getting drunk.
Unfortunately, this tolerance can be a bad thing and not just because it takes a lot more money to get drunk! For alcoholics or people who use alcohol as a coping mechanism for things like stress, shyness, or to calm emotional or physical pain, they need more and more of the substance to get the same effect.
The main issue with this is that putting ever-increasing amounts of alcohol through the human body causes it more and more stress. Not to mention that they become increasingly more dependant on it, both mentally and physically.
Alcohol creates changes within your brain as soon as you swallow the first mouthful. Initially, the cravings may be little more than looking forward to a few drinks to relieve the stress of a hard day. Possibly the next step may be the inability to go out for one, two or three drinks without the cravings forcing you to have more than you planned or even wanted (the same can be said of drinking at home).
Unfortunately though, as you become more dependent on alcohol, the cravings can become so powerful that it can be almost impossible to think about anything else. It becomes almost an obsession and usually unwanted.
The psychological desire for alcohol can be torturous just on its own However if you become dependent then physical cravings can develop. The level of dependency often affects not only the types of symptoms but also their level of intensity. These symptoms can include, sweating, nausea, gastrointestinal distress (severe tummy problems), dry etching, “the shakes”, panic attacks and in the most severe case hallucinations and seizures. These symptoms, especially as they become more severe, can lead to “delirium tremens”, or DTs.
Alcoholics will often do anything to alleviate these cravings, including stealing from loved ones or skipping out on work duties just to be able to get drunk again or to have something to remove the edge.
In clinical terms, dependence is the clearest sign of addiction. The desire to drink mentioned earlier can go further into what become genuine cravings. Not only does the body physically yearn for alcohol but it is actually dependent on it to function to a greater or lesser extent.
When you become dependent on alcohol, it fundamentally “rewires” the brain affecting what is known as the “plasticity” of the brain (Neuroplasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to adapt and change throughout a person’s life). As this happens the brain physically requires alcohol to be able to function in the same way, causing you to believe you need alcohol to feel normal. This is also the reason why withdrawing without medical supervision can be so dangerous (and even fatal).
As the brain has rewired itself and adapted to function in this way, removing alcohol causes it to go into a “scramble” as it can no longer function properly without alcohol. More on withdrawal later. Essentially if you don’t drink, then your body reacts as if you have withheld something fundamentally important for its normal function, such as water. This can produce intense withdrawal symptoms.
Many say that tolerance, or high tolerance to alcohol, is of the seen as the first step on the road to alcoholism. For those with serious issues, it is recommended that Alcohol Addiction Treatment is sought through a suitable rehab center.
How Addiction Changes Your Life
Alcohol addiction has the potential to turn your life into a barely recognizable state. If you descend low enough to reach a state addiction, then despite what you or others may feel, you will have little to no control over your own life anymore. Instead, everything is ruled by alcohol. Be it an intense desire to get more alcohol, planning how and where to get the money, right through to the constant battle of trying desperately to avoid alcohol.
Many alcoholics find themselves doing things they never dreamed they’d do. Things like :
- Lying to family, friends or employers
- Stealing from loved ones
- Losing jobs
- Appearance in courtrooms
- Regular arguments possibly leading to aggressive and hostile behavior
A lot of these behaviors can be very out of character for the alcoholic when they are sober for a sustained period. However, once a drink is put inside, all bets are off…
Just a few of the changes you may encounter due to your addiction include:
- Loss of trust from friends, partners, and even children
- Damaged or destroyed relationships
- Financial problems (possibly debt problems)
- Work problems (possibly loss of jobs)
- Legal problems (affray, drink driving are common issues)
- Health problems, both mental and physical
- Doing things you find (or used to find) unacceptable
- Having to constantly battle finding a drink or trying not too
- Alcohol withdrawal should you try to stop
- Sadly the worst and final challenge is one family may have to face on your behalf, death
Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health
Sadly people with a history of mental health problems are far more likely to develop issues with alcohol. Equally, excessive alcohol consumption can leave you far more vulnerable to mental health problems. Suffering from mental illness is challenging in life. Depression, anxiety, chronic overthinking are just a few of the unpleasant issues to contend with, as well as mental health stigma (be that a self-imposed stigma or not). Many turn to alcohol (or drugs) to take the edge off these issues and some just to be able to cope. A few take them just to be completely removed from these feelings, even if only for a while.
Unfortunately, these mental health problems often become a reason, if not the main reason, to continue using alcohol, even if the abuse stage has been reached.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
To stress a point here, the keyword is abuse. For millions of people around the world, they can drink relatively safely and perhaps the worst effects they suffer are occasionally the issues listed above. It is debatable whether it contributes positively to their lives and can still lead to poor life choices that damage or hinder greatly, such as cheating on a partner, or deciding they are suitable to drive while still intoxicated.
Here, however, we are referring to people who regularly consume more alcohol than is recommended and for a sustained period.
Long-term abuse of alcohol can have some strong adverse effects. It has the ability to create havoc and even destroy careers, finances, relationships, and mental health – particularly if you become dependent and/or addicted (i.e. an alcoholic).
Sadly it also has the ability to cause severe ill health too. In fact, if taken too far it can destroy your body and mind too, quite profoundly.
Some effects of repeated heavy abuse include:
More so than just “blackouts”. It has the ability to disrupt the way memory is stored.
Disruption of your digestive system and metabolism. As well as a host of unpleasant problems, heavy abuse will lead to fat deposits being stored on the in the liver, and the start of liver problems that can end in liver failure
Most importantly vitamin B1 deficiency, which is why we always recommend heavy drinkers of people newly sober take vitamin B supplements. These deficiencies can give rise to problems such as loss of energy/exhaustion, confusion, and difficulty interacting with others. In its most severe form, it can lead to “wet brain”.
Peripheral vascular dilation
In layman’s terms, narrowing of blood vessels. This leads to the flow of blood is increasing as a result of the decrease in vascular resistance. This is what leads to redness in the face of heavy drinkers, particularly red noses. This is specifically known as telangiectasia or “spider veins” as it creates a weblike network of veins that is clear.
Loss of sexual function and infertility
Sadly this needs little explanation, leads to “alcoholic impotence” or inability to engage in healthy sex.
High blood pressure being the first sign, then more serious issues such as strokes and heart attacks. On average people who drink three or more drinks per day have strokes almost a decade and a half before those who don’t drink quite as much. Another example from the US reports that ending alcohol abuse would reduce the number of people needing ongoing treatment for congestive heart failure by 91,000 and prevent 73,000 atrial fibrillations, leading to 34,000 fewer heart attacks.
Alcohol dependence can lead to a host of maternal health issues and also greatly increases the chances of miscarriages and stillbirths. In some of the more severe cases, it can lead to your child being born with “fetal alcohol syndrome”.
All alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening, however, in the most severe cases of withdrawal, the symptoms that occur among some long-term drinkers are called DTs. These can include marked by, severe shakes, seizures, hallucinations and in some cases complete loss of memory function, i.e. the ability to remember who they are.
Heavy alcohol abuse can greatly increase the chances of cancer, especially in forms surrounding the areas it physically affects. Cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, liver, rectum and even colon can be very common for heavy drinkers and alcoholics.
In alcoholism, this is known as “wet brain” or in medical terms, “Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome”. It stems specifically from a thiamine deficiency (why vitamin B1 can be so vital). The damage, in this case, can be permanent.
Especially in the liver or kidneys. This needs little explanation. Overstress from the abuse of alcohol stops the organs from being able to do their job properly and to slowly fail.
Alcohol abuse and improper alcohol withdrawal take millions of lives worldwide every year. According to “The World Health Organisation” harmful use of alcohol causes 3 million deaths every year. It is also cited as one of the largest killers of young adults, for people aged 20–39 years 13.5% of all deaths are alcohol-attributable.
When you become physically dependent on alcohol, you will enter withdrawal whenever you go too long without a drink. For many people dependant on alcohol (or alcoholics), it can be the withdrawal phase itself that often drives them back to drink.
Tolerance, amongst some alcoholics, has developed so strongly that they struggle to get drunk. Instead, they use alcohol as a way to feel normal. Some alcoholics experience such intense withdrawal that it can, in fact, be life-threatening. They can suffer from things like seizures or hallucinations as well as other dangerous (and frankly scary) symptoms.
For a dependent person withdrawal gets worse, the longer you without a drink. It typically reaches its peak around 3-7 days after quitting alcohol. After 7 days without drinking, there is actually little to no alcohol left in the body and the symptoms will improve drastically, possibly even disappear altogether. After this point, you are just faced with the mental battle of the addiction, which can be still extremely demanding.
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