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Alcohol Damage – The Effects of Alcohol On Body and Mind

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Alcohol is an interesting substance. On the one hand, there is scientific evidence that suggests moderate alcohol intake on a regular basis can actually improve one's health. Yet on the other hand, we know that excessive alcohol consumption causes measurable damage to both the body and mind. Therefore, it is best to either not drink at all or to find out what constitutes a safe amount of drinking so as to mitigate any potential damage.

Unfortunately, few of us give any thought to the reality of alcohol damage. How many people do you know who have actually taken the time to study safe levels of drinking? We just assume that as long as we do not get drunk on a regular basis we are fine. But that may not be true. It is possible to be a problem drinker who only gets drunk once every couple of months, yet still end up with damage to the mind and body. Alcohol is just that dangerous.

In this guide, we will explain the common forms of alcohol damage most people experience. As you read, keep in mind that your body may have already experienced some of the damaging effects of drinking if you are a problem drinker, alcohol abuser, or alcoholic. Any drinking problem, no matter how minor, is sufficient cause to get help right away. You need to either cut down or stop drinking altogether if you are to mitigate any further damage.

Alcohol Damage: The Body

Alcohol is a foreign substance to the body. As soon as alcohol enters the system, the liver kicks into high gear to filter out as much of it as possible. The problem is that the liver cannot work fast enough. Despite its best efforts, some of the alcohol continues travelling to the bloodstream after passing through the liver. The more excessively you drink, the more alcohol makes it to other parts of your body.

The first thing you should know is that alcohol does inhibit how the liver works. Over time, it breaks down liver tissue until the organ no longer functions properly. This is why chronic alcoholics are often diagnosed with cirrhosis. Alcohol has so damaged the liver that it can no longer process anything. By the way, cirrhosis is a fatal disease with no cure. The only hope for someone diagnosed with cirrhosis is a liver transplant.

Above and beyond the liver, alcohol damages the body in other ways:

  • Heart Disease – Alcohol consumption results in an increase in both heart rate and body temperature. Under normal conditions, this is no big deal. But persistent, excessive drinking can overwork the heart to the extent that permanent damage is done. Chronic alcoholism can lead to heart disease – including fatal cardiac arrest.
  • Hypertension – Increased heart rate and body temperature impact blood vessels as well. Things are made worse by the constant constricting and relaxing of the blood vessels experienced by regular drinkers. All of this can lead to hypertension (aka blood pressure)
  • Weight Gain and Loss – Excessive alcohol consumption offers a double-edged sword to those who are trying to watch their weight. In its earliest stages, problem drinking can lead to weight gain due to the amount of calories in most alcoholic drinks. As problem drinking escalates to alcoholism, the opposite becomes true. Alcoholics tend to drop weight because of unhealthy eating habits.
  • Cancers – The processing of alcohol by the liver leads to the production of a chemical known as acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen. Long-term alcoholics frequently develop cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, liver, breast, and colorectal region.
  • Epilepsy – In some people, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to epilepsy or other seizure-related conditions. This is due to the physical damage alcohol does to the brain.

As you can see, alcohol damage relating to the body is not confined only to liver disease. Cirrhosis is bad enough, but there are plenty of other things to be concerned about even if you never do develop problems with your liver.

Alcohol Damage: The Mind

Alcohol use is as dangerous for the mind as it is the body. Why? Because alcohol alters brain chemistry every time you take a drink. Remember that alcohol-laden blood travels to the brain just as it does every other organ in the body. And when alcohol penetrates brain tissue, strange things happen.

For example, take those feelings of pleasure you feel after having drunk a little too much. Those feelings are the direct result of your brain forcing the production of certain neurotransmitters known as endorphins. But that's just the start. Other chemicals are produced in the brain in an attempt to overcome the sedating effects of alcohol. This dangerous mix of chemicals changes the way you think.

You are already aware that someone under the influence of alcohol does not think clearly. His or her judgement is impaired, risky behaviour is less of a concern, and some drinkers even end up hallucinating. This is all due to the chemical imbalances caused by alcohol affecting the brain.

Over long periods, excessive drinking can damage the brain and results in the development of:

  • Depression – Science has proven that clinical depression and alcoholism go hand-in-hand. Alcohol has such a sedating effect that the brain eventually succumbs to it. Unfortunately, the development of depression leads to a vicious cycle in which the drinker self-medicates with alcohol and, in doing so, makes the depression worse.
  • Anxiety – People who do not suffer depression as a result of excessive drinking may go the other way. They may develop clinical anxiety. This is a result of the brain working harder to overcome alcohol and producing the chemicals that cause feelings of anxiety, restlessness, nervousness.
  • Psychological Dependence – Lastly, the brain of an excessive drinker becomes so accustomed to alcohol that it creates psychological dependence. In other words, the chronic alcoholic reaches a point where he or she no longer believes it is possible to exist without drinking. This unrealistic mindset affects everything else by making alcohol the filter through which all of life is run.

It is clear that alcohol damages both the body and the mind. We hope you will believe us when we say that alcohol is a drug not to be taken lightly. Far too many people do not understand the seriousness of drinking; far too many end up as chronic alcoholics because they did not take the dangers of alcohol seriously.

If you are someone who routinely drinks excessively, we urge you to contact us right away. If your friends or family have expressed concern about your drinking habits, call and talk to one of our counsellors. Any drinking problem you might have will only get worse if you let it go. You need help, and you need it right away.

We are an independent organisation offering free evaluations, advice, and treatment referrals. We work with private clinics and other service providers throughout the UK. With just one phone call, you can gain access to the treatment you need to overcome your drinking problem.

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