What Alcoholism Does To You

Alcoholism is a serious, and all-too-common substance use disorder that affects millions of Americans. Unfortunately, as with so many other substance use disorders, alcoholism doesn’t just impact the person in one way. It impacts their health, their lives, their jobs, their relationships, their children, and ultimately society as well.

Alcoholism is considered a long-term or chronic disease, and it tends to progress in stages. For example, first, a person will start out as a casual social drinker, or maybe an occasional binge drinker. They will then usually start drinking more, even in the face of negative outcomes or consequences. Finally, individuals progress to later stages of alcoholism, where they often find they’ve lost their job, have financial problems, have broken relationships, and have serious health problems.

The following is an overview of what alcoholism does to you from a physical standpoint, including what alcoholism does to your body, how alcoholism affects the liver, and how alcoholism affects the brain.

What Alcoholism Does To You
What alcoholism does to your body is devastating. While someone may start out simply enjoying the feelings of relaxation or happiness they get from drinking, over time as alcoholism progresses, the ways how alcoholism affects the body become more and more apparent, and more severe. In the short-term, some of the ways how alcoholism affects the body include slow reflexes and problems with coordination, impaired memory and motor function, and problems with thinking and cognition. These effects of what alcoholism does to you occur quickly, and they only grow from there. Over the medium and long-term, what alcoholism does to your body includes interfering your brain’s communication pathways, heart damage, liver inflammation, and problems, and it increases the likelihood of developing many cancers including cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast. In general, when you drink too much alcohol it can also weaken your immune system so that you are more susceptible to illness. For example, one of the ways alcoholism affects the body in the general sense is that it can make you more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia. So what about specific ways how alcoholism affects the body? What alcohol does to you over the long-term can be deadly.
One question a lot of people have is how alcoholism affects the brain. While there are short-term effects of just a few drinks on the brain such as impairment and blackouts, over the long-term what alcoholism does to the brain can lead to a slowdown in the activity of neurotransmitters like GABA. It can contribute to different forms of amnesia, visual disturbances, problems concentrating and seizures. Alcohol over the long-term also impacts how you produce dopamine which is part of our brain’s reward system that helps us feel pleasure. Over time when you have increased dopamine from alcohol, your brain becomes unable to experience pleasure without the substance. You may also have effects of high alcohol-induced dopamine including depression, hallucinations, and aggression. Another way how alcoholism affects your health and your brain is the potential to develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This disorder creates seizures, memory problems, and vision problems. You can’t form new memories, and your eyes will constantly twitch, while you’ll mumble without meaning to.
Also key to understanding what alcoholism does to you and what alcoholism does to your body is looking at how alcoholism affects the liver. Your liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, and when you drink your liver turns the alcohol into acetaldehyde. This is toxic and can ultimately lead to the development of cancer. When you drink too much or suffer from alcoholism, you accumulate fat in the liver, which can clog the organ and destroy how it functions. This can lead to health problems including fatty liver disease. Ways how alcoholism affects the liver can also include cirrhosis, which is damaged liver cells, liver failure, and liver cancer.

How Alcoholism Affects the Heart

Heart health is a big focus among doctors and researchers, and conditions like heart disease are leading causes of death in the U.S. Many people don’t realize how alcoholism affects the cardiovascular system, because they may more often think about things like its impact on the liver.

There are several ways how alcoholism affects the heart, including something called cardiomyopathy, which refers to stretching of the heart muscle.

Also, when you drink a lot of alcohol, it raises your blood pressure and lipids, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack, among other heart-related conditions.

Of course, what alcoholism does to your body and how alcoholism affects your health aren’t limited to the brain, liver, and heart. Alcoholism affects every area of your body including your pancreas, central nervous system, bones and your colon.

What Alcoholism Does To You
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