A helpful guide to the consequences of alcoholism
Drinking alcohol is a common practice. People often meet up at bars, have wine with dinner, drink a beer while watching a movie or a game, and so on. While alcohol can be dangerous if abused, we also know that it can be consumed responsibly. But this raises the question: how do you tell the difference between responsible alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse? The answer is not always simple, but there is a lot of information on alcohol abuse which can help bring clarity to the issue.
It’s not unusual to reach for an alcoholic drink after work, but for those suffering from alcoholism, that drink can bring the illusion of pleasure first, however then it brings devastation. So why do those who struggle with alcoholism experience this devastation? In order to get a better understanding of alcoholism, we’ll explore some of the short and long-term effects of alcohol use.
What is Considered to be an Excessive Consumption of Alcohol?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that a standard alcoholic beverage contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol, which is equivalent to:
- 12 fluid ounces of a beer with 5% alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine with 12% alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of liquor with 40% alcohol
Excessive drinking comes in multiple forms,from heavy daily drinking to binge drinking. Heavy drinking usually consists of 15 or more drinks per week for men, and 8 or more drinks for women. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a single session for men, and 4 or more drinks in a single session for women. Both binge drinking and heavy drinking are considered to be forms of excessive drinking.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use
Alcohol use can lead to many short-term side effects, including:
- Shifts in mood
- Lack of coordination
- Impaired vision
- Altered judgment
- Slurred speech
- Decreased body temperature
While moderate alcohol abuse can impact the central nervous system over time, the consequences of short-term alcohol abuse are immediate. Short-term alcohol abuse can lead to random acts of violence, property damage or unprotected sex. These short-term consequences can have drastic, long-term effects.
The immediate, short-term consequences of alcohol abuse can drastically alter or even end the life of the person using alcohol and/or the lives of the people around them. This tragic reality is demonstrated by the fact that every day, nearly 30 people die in motor vehicle accidents caused by people under the influence of alcohol.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use
Alcohol use not only has immediate, short-term effects which can have long-term consequences, but it is also accompanied by a host of long-term effects, including:
- Increased risk of alcoholism
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Cancer, especially for women, as there is an increased risk of breast cancer
- Damage to the peripheral nervous system
- Brain Damage
As you can see, alcohol abuse can lead to serious health complications over time, especially among heavy drinkers. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse also present problems for people who are affected, directly or indirectly, by a loved one struggling with addiction.
How Alcohol Affects Your Body
Alcohol use has major consequences on your body. Prolonged drinking can cause a reduction in the size of brain cells, which affects motor coordination and various cognitive processes. This reduction in brain cells can make performing even the most menial tasks difficult and uncomfortable.
Binge drinking or consuming a large amount of alcohol at a time can lead to alcohol poisoning, which poses a very serious, immediate threat. In addition to the reduction of brain cells and the possibility of alcohol poisoning, individuals identified as having an alcohol use disorder develop a physical dependency to the substance, causing discomfort in the form of dangerous withdrawals.
How Alcohol Affects Your Mind
Excessive drinking damages virtually every aspect of your cognitive functioning and processing. Excessive drinking makes problem-solving more difficult since it affects the frontal cortex, which is the logic/reasoning area of the brain. Alcohol use can also damage the limbic system, which is the area that controls memory, emotion, and urges such as hunger, anger, sex, and the ability to care for others.
Over time, excessive drinking can degrade the alcoholic’s ability to process feelings in the same way that non-alcoholics do. Due to this inability to process and control urges and emotions, those struggling with an alcohol use disorder may find themselves lashing out or making irrational decisions, which may lead to feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and deep depression. Many reach for alcohol in order to mitigate feelings of depression or anxiety, however if you’re already depressed or anxious, drinking just makes it worse.
It’s common for alcohol use to cause damage to the memory, since alcohol destroys neuron activity in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for new memory formation. Blacking out after binge drinking can also damage the brain with both short and long-term consequences. Likewise, persistent alcohol use can lead to Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is an actual brain disorder in which long-term consumption compromises the composition of the brain.
How Alcohol Affects Your Relationships
One of the most troubling effects of alcohol use is the toll that it takes on your relationships. When alcohol controls your life, maintaining social and family relationships becomes increasingly difficult, which in turn can fuel a desire to consume more. Some struggling with an alcohol use disorder can sense disapproval among friends and family, which gives alcohol a new role: a source of shame and intimate companion with which to avoid confronting that shame or guilt. Alcohol is therefore used as an escape from arguments surrounding how drinking is affecting other aspects of life such as staying out late, financial problems, or ignoring responsibilities. The vicious cycle of alcohol abuse then continues to spiral downward.
For couples, drinking can increase separation to the point where couples fight or resent each other over drinking. This fosters an environment where an alcoholic continues to consume alcohol to numb any pain felt from the deteriorating relationship. Due to this relational strain, isolation can begin to feel like the only option, which in some cases leads to hoarding.
Experiencing firsthand the short term and long term effects of alcohol use does not have to become your reality. Futures of Palm Beach can provide a supportive environment for those seeking treatment that is aimed at helping the mind, body, and spirit to recover from addiction. Contact Futures for help today by calling 1.866.351.7588.