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Effects of long-term (chronic) alcoholism

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Long-term use of alcohol affects virtually every organ system of the body:

Nervous system. An estimated 30-40% of all men in their teens and twenties have experienced alcoholic blackout from drinking a large quantity of alcohol. This results in the loss of memory of the time surrounding the episode of drinking. Alcohol also causes sleep disturbances, so sleep quality is diminished. Numbness and tingling (parethesia) may occur in the arms and legs. Wernicke’s syndrome and Korsakoff’s syndrome, which can occur together or separately, are due to the low thiamine (a B vitamin) levels found in many alcohol-dependent people. Wernicke’s syndrome results in disordered eye movements, very poor balance, and difficulty walking. Korsakoff’s syndrome affects memory and prevents new learning from taking place.

Gastrointestinal system. Alcohol causes loosening of the muscular ring that prevents the stomach’s contents from re-entering the esophagus. Acid from the stomach flows backward into the esophagus(acid reflux), burning those tissues, and causing pain and bleeding. Inflammation of the stomach also can result in ulcers, bleeding, pain, and a decreased desire to eat. A major cause of severe, uncontrollable bleeding (hemorrhage) in an people with alcoholism is the development of enlarged (dilated) blood vessels within the esophagus, which are called esophageal varices. These varices develop in response to liver disease, and are extremely prone to bursting and hemorrhaging. Hemorrhaging varices are often fatal. Diarrhea is a common symptom, due to alcohol’s effect on the pancreas. In addition, inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) is a serious and painful problem in many people who abuse alcohol. Throughout the intestinal tract, alcohol interferes with the absorption of nutrients, which can result in a malnourished state. Alcohol is broken down (metabolized) in the liver and interferes with a number of important chemical reactions that occur in that organ. The liver begins to enlarge and fill with fat (fatty liver). Fibrous scar tissue interferes with the liver’s normal structure and function (cirrhosis), and the liver may become inflamed (hepatitis).

Blood. Alcohol may cause changes to all the types of blood cells. Red blood cells become abnormally large. White blood cells (important for fighting infections) decrease in number, resulting in a weakened immune system. This places alcohol-dependent individuals at increased risk for infections and may account in part for the increased risk of cancer faced by people with alcoholism. Platelets and blood clotting factors are affected, causing an increased risk of bleeding.

Heart. Small amounts of alcohol cause a drop in blood pressure, but with increased consumption, alcohol raises blood pressure into a dangerous range (hypertension). High levels of fats circulating in the bloodstream increase the risk of heart disease. Heavy drinking results in an increase in heart size, weakening of the heart muscle, abnormal heart rhythms, a risk of blood clots forming within the chambers of the heart, and a greatly increased risk of stroke due to a blood clot entering the circulatory system and blocking a brain blood vessel.

Reproductive system. Heavy drinking has a negative effect on fertility in both men and women. It decreases testicle and ovary size and interferes with both sperm and egg production.

We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.
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