Alcoholism is one of the leading lifestyle-related causes of disease and death in the United States. According to statistics from the University of California at San Francisco, alcohol abuse is responsible for 1,400 disease-related deaths, 17,000 motor vehicle fatalities and 500,000 injuries in the US each year. The longer you drink heavily, and the more alcohol you consume, the greater the damage you do to your body and brain. Chronic alcohol abuse affects every major organ in the body. It increases your risk of developing debilitating long-term conditions like diabetes, obesity, liver disease, heart disease, dementia and some forms of cancer.
At one time, alcoholism was viewed as a vice that could be overcome with willpower alone. But the medical community now recognizes that alcoholism is a chronic health condition with relapse rates that are comparable to diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis. Abstinence can’t cure alcoholism, but it can help you avoid some of the serious health risks of this devastating disease. As with any other long-term health problem, recovery from alcoholism requires professional support and a personal commitment to staying sober.
Physical Health Risks of Alcoholism
When consumed in moderation, alcohol is unlikely to cause long-term health problems. In fact, there is evidence that light to moderate drinking may benefit cardiovascular health. But according to Alcohol Research & Health, defining safe limits for alcohol consumption isn’t as easy as it sounds. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. However, differences in body weight, age, tolerance and health condition make it hard to establish general guidelines.
For someone who has a problem with alcohol, moderate drinking isn’t a safe or sensible option. Alcohol abuse is characterized by heavy, compulsive consumption. If you’re abusing alcohol, you may believe that you’re in control whenever you take a drink, but you probably end up going over your limit more often than not.
An alcoholic will continue drinking in spite of these severe physical health risks:
- Liver disease (alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer)
- Heart problems (chronic heart disease, hypertension, heart attack)
- Digestive disorders (pancreatitis or gastritis)
- Neurological disorders (stroke, dementia, memory loss)
- Cancer (especially of the digestive tract, stomach, liver and breast)
Alcohol dependence is one of the most dangerous risks of alcohol abuse. Frequent, heavy drinking can make the body physically reliant on alcohol to function. Once you’re chemically dependent on alcohol, you are at risk of the life-threatening side effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (seizures, delirium, high blood pressure, sudden fever, dehydration, etc.), if you try to quit without professional support.
Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health
Long-term alcohol abuse can have a devastating effect on your mental health. The link between alcoholism and depression has long been acknowledged by addiction specialists, and the Institute of Alcohol Studies in Great Britain cautions that alcoholism is one of the leading risk factors for suicide. It’s unclear whether alcohol abuse is a consequence of depression, or whether depression is caused by heavy alcohol consumption. In many individuals, alcoholism develops as a way to cope with serious psychiatric disorders, such as:
If alcoholism and an underlying psychiatric condition, or a Dual Diagnosis, are treated by professionals who are trained in integrated addiction care, your chances of recovery are strong. The treatment centers that make up the Foundations Recovery Network specialize in helping individuals with co-occurring disorders build healthy, stable lives. To protect your health now and in the future, contact our intake specialists for information about our personalized treatment programs.
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.