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10 head-to-toe effects of alcohol

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Alcohol affects every organ in the body and drinking too much of it, either on a single occasion or over a period of time, can cause head-to-toe health problems. To avoid these 10 effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the body and promote long-term health and wellness, drink in moderation, if at all, and stick to the guidelines set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Up to two drinks a day for men of legal drinking age and up to one drink a day for non-pregnant women of legal drinking age.

Brain: Alcohol is known as a depressant, meaning it slows down the brain’s communication pathways. This disruption can change mood and behavior, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Alcohol abuse can also lead to learning and memory problems, as well as depression and anxiety.

Heart: Some research shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may prevent coronary heart disease in healthy adults. However, heavy drinking, especially binge drinking, is a known cause of cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscles), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke and high blood pressure.

Liver: The liver metabolizes, or breaks down, alcohol and other harmful substances. Those who drink heavily for a long time can develop diseases, such as liver inflammation or severe liver scarring. In fact, more than 2 million Americans suffer from alcohol-related liver disease.

Pancreas: Pancreatitis, caused when the blood vessels in the pancreas become inflamed, can be a side effect of drinking regularly. Pancreatitis may also trigger the onset of Type 2 diabetes in those that consume high levels of alcohol.

Cancer: Habitual alcohol consumption is linked to increased risk for developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast. Though the exact reason is unknown, for each of these cancers the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.

Immune system: Chronic alcohol use reduces the ability of white blood cells to effectively fight off harmful bacteria, disrupts production of cytokines and suppresses the development of T-Cells – all of which make the body more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Bones: Alcohol acts as a diuretic, flushing calcium from healthy bones. Heavy drinking can accelerate the rate of bone deterioration and increase the risk for bone fracture and osteoporosis.

Central nervous system: Slurred speech, blurred vision, decreased reaction time and impaired memory are all short-term effects of alcohol on the central nervous system. When alcohol is consumed heavily over time, it can cause permanent cell damage in the form of neuropathy. Neuropathy alternates feelings of weakness, burning, pain and numbness of the hands and feet.

Weight: Not only does alcohol contain empty calories with no nutritional value, it can impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and vitamins from food. By slowing down metabolic function, heavy alcohol consumption can contribute to weight gain.

Stomach: The short-term effects of alcohol on your stomach include sickness, nausea and diarrhea. In the long-term, however, alcohol irritates and inflames the stomach lining, which can lead to stomach ulcers and bleeding. Severe tearing in the stomach may also lead to anemia.

From increased risk for chronic disease to altered mood and behavior, drinking alcohol affects total body health and wellness. If you have concerns about you or a loved one’s drinking behaviors, contact UnityPoint Health–Trinity Muscatine New Horizons at 563-264-9409.

Paula Levasseur is director of UnityPoint Health–Trinity Muscatine New Horizons. New Horizons is a substance abuse counseling service located on the hospital campus.


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