Alcohol can lead to health problems, and additionally, alcohol abuse can cause, or worsen, certain medical conditions. Learn more about how alcohol use disorder (AUD) impacts the body’s vital organ systems to live a healthier life.
The Factors Behind the Health Risks of AUD
The health risks of alcohol abuse depend on many factors, including:
The individual’s health status: Some people are more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects than are others. For example, people with immune deficiencies are more prone to certain health risks.
The person’s age: The health risks vary as one ages. People who begin abusing alcohol at a younger age risk developing alcohol-related health problems later in life. In contrast, older adults are at higher risk for alcohol-related accidents or health issues at this stage of their lives.
Drinking patterns: Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount increases your risk of long-term health problems. But binge drinking — consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short time — can cause similar harm, even if you’re not a regular drinker.
Gender: Women weigh less than men and have less water in their bodies, contributing to differences in processing alcohol. Research indicates that women are more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol because they have less body water with which to dilute it. Women also produce less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that helps break down alcohol in the stomach. Finally, because they have more fat and less body water, alcohol levels stay higher longer in women than in men.
Medical Conditions That Are Vulnerable to Alcohol Abuse
Here is a list of medical conditions caused or affected by the excessive consumption of alcohol:
Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes primarily develops because alcohol can raise blood sugar and insulin levels. An already high blood sugar level is especially vulnerable to regular alcohol consumption. Moreover, drinking too much can cause weight gain, which puts an even more tremendous strain on your pancreas and liver, both of which help regulate blood sugar.
Alcohol and the Immune System
Heavy alcohol use weakens your immune system, leaving the body susceptible to avoidable diseases. Excessive drinking hinders the immune system’s ability to combat infections. Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to create new white blood cells. White blood cells play a vital role in fighting infection and disease in the body. Alcohol weakens your body’s defenses by:
- Reducing the amount of vitamin B1 (thiamine) available to nerve cells.
- Damaging your stomach lining, so it doesn’t absorb nutrients properly.
- Damaging the liver so it can’t remove toxins from your blood effectively.
AUD Can Cause Osteoporosis and Other Bone Diseases
People with AUD often have low bone mineral density, leading to osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Alcohol consumption hampers the body’s ability to absorb indispensable nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is a critical mineral in bone health. It is usually taken with Vitamin D because Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and support bone growth. Without sufficient nutrients, bones can become weak and brittle. Heavy drinking also increases the risk of fractures from falls.
AUD and the Pancreas
Alcohol can also increase the risk of developing pancreatitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that is part of both the digestive and endocrine systems. The pancreas produces fluid (pancreatic juice) that helps digest food and hormones like insulin and glucagon.
Excessive Drinking Impact on the Blood Pressure and the Heart
Drinking too much alcohol over time can cause cardiomyopathy, a type of heart muscle damage that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. A weakened heart puts you at greater risk of developing arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), heart failure, and stroke. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption leads to high blood pressure.
Prolonged Alcohol Abuse May Affect the Liver
Prolonged excessive use of alcohol may cause several types of liver disease, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis. Fibrosis is a scarring process that can lead to cirrhosis.
Fatty liver: The initial stage of alcohol-related liver disease is a fat buildup in the liver, also called fatty liver. Alcohol interferes with the normal metabolism of fats in your liver, causing fat cells to accumulate. Excessive fat accumulation in the liver can result in inflammation and damage to the organ, which can cause pain and other symptoms.
Alcoholic hepatitis: Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when liver inflammation interferes with your body’s ability to fight infection. Symptoms include jaundice, abdominal pain and tenderness, fever, and an enlarged spleen.
Fibrosis: Constant inflammation in your liver can lead to the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) around your liver cells. The scar tissue supersedes healthy tissue and averts a person’s liver from working as it should. Ongoing fibrosis can eventually result in cirrhosis.
The Link Between AUD and Cancer
The National Cancer Institute lists the consumption of alcohol as a known carcinogen that can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and breast. Researchers estimate that when you drink alcohol, it damages cells in your body, leading to cancer. The research links approximately 3.5% of all cancer deaths to alcohol consumption in the USA. These cancers include:
- Liver: Constant liver inflammation puts you at a higher risk of developing liver cancer.
- Colon and rectum: Drinking alcohol increases the amount of acetaldehyde in your body. This chemical is known to cause DNA damage that can lead to cancer.
- Breast cancer: Drinking alcohol also increases estrogen levels in the blood. Estrogen is a hormone that may play a role in breast cancer development.
Alcohol can have adverse effects on every organ in your body and lead to health problems that are not organ-specific (like sleep disorders, depression, and high blood pressure). For instance, research shows a strong link between drinking alcohol and six types of cancer: mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, and breast. We offer a complete suite of services to ensure you receive a recovery program that is holistic and valuable. Essentially, SUD is often a progressive and chronic illness that requires long-term treatment and support. If you suspect that you or your loved one may be at risk for AUD, it’s essential to take steps to prevent further harm. At Restoration Recovery, we aim to help you recover. Call us at (888) 290-0925 and request a free, confidential phone consultation when you’re ready to get started. Our team of specialists is happy to answer all your questions about both outpatient and inpatient treatment.