5 Major Health Problems Due to Alcohol
There are few substances in existence that wreak havoc on the human body and brain quite like alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption can affect, directly or indirectly, the functioning and condition of every organ and system. The heart, the respiratory system, the digestive system – all may suffer ill effects from frequent drinking. These are just a few major health problems due to alcohol that can be manifested in those who are chronic, heavy drinkers.
Cardiovascular disease is a blanket term for a range of heart/blood vessel conditions. Heavy alcohol consumption can affect heart structure and function. It can raise blood pressure and put the person at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Among other cardiovascular conditions which alcohol may affect include dilated cardiomyopathy, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and congestive or chronic heart failure.
Cardiomyopathy is disease of the heart muscle. Dilated cardiomyopathy is best described as an enlarged heart with weakening contractions. Heart failure occurs when the muscle becomes too weak to pump blood throughout the body efficiently.
It’s no secret that drinking alcohol can contribute to liver disease. It is one of the more common health problems due to alcohol that heavy drinkers face, sometimes even at a young age.
One of the liver’s main functions is to filter out toxins. Small amounts of toxins, including alcohol, usually aren’t a problem for a healthy liver.
However, large amounts overwhelm the liver and cannot be processed efficiently. Acetaldehyde is a enzyme by-product created by the liver, and is the actual the “toxic” part of drinking alcohol. If it were not for this enzyme, alcohol would probably not have the effect on the liver that it does.
In any case, this enzyme damages liver cells and membranes, and causes inflammation and cell hardening (fibrosis). The liver can no longer detoxify, resulting in permanent scarring and necrosis (tissue death). This is liver cirrhosis and is a late stage and potentially fatal liver disease.
Korsakoff syndrome is a memory/dementia brain disorder characterized by chronic memory loss. It is often caused by alcohol abuse. The precursor to Korsakoff is thiamine (B1) deficiency.
This syndrome commonly follows a condition known as Wernicjke encephalopathy, which is also characterized by thiamine deficiency, but it is an acute reaction that is a life-threatening emergency.
Due to the link between these conditions, the pair is sometimes called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancers are most commonly caused by tobacco and alcohol use. Heavy, chronic alcohol consumption can increase the risk of mouth, larynx, pharynx, and esophagus cancers. Using tobacco and alcohol in combination further increases the risk.
Persons with a history of heavy, frequent alcohol consumption are at risk for a condition called peripheral neuropathy (damage of peripheral nerves). Symptoms of this disease often affect the lower extremities, but in severe cases may also include the upper extremities.
Effects include numbness and paresthesias (abnormal sensations such as “pins and needles”). Often these symptoms result in the weakening of motor skills. This type of neuropathy usually develops over a long period of time, and can be very subtle and sneaky. Among the major health problems due to alcohol, this is one of the most insidious.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.