Alcohol abuse can cause problems in every aspect of your life. Misusing alcohol can cause you to lie to close friends and family members and damage your relationships. Chronic excessive drinking can cause reckless behavior, leading to problems at work or school. Losing control over how much and how often you drink can cause you to spend a considerable amount of your income on alcohol, miss work, and overspend, putting a strain on your finances. But that’s not all, consistently misusing alcohol can actually increase your risk of developing certain diseases and health conditions.
How Chronic Drinking Harms the Body
When you drink, nearly every part of your body experiences both short and long-term effects. Alcohol widens and relaxes the muscular walls of blood vessels, dropping your blood pressure, and increasing your heart rate. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol inflames the stomach lining, which may cause vomiting, and damages the lining of your esophagus, which can make it difficult to breathe. Alcohol also weakens your immune system. Over time, these short-term effects can turn into long-term effects which, in turn, may develop into the diseases and disorders commonly linked to alcohol abuse.
5 Common Alcohol-Related Diseases & Disorders
Every time you engage in heavy drinking, small amounts of damage occur inside your body. The more you struggle with alcohol abuse challenges, the more likely you are to experience certain health complications. In fact, research shows that heavy alcohol consumption can increase your chances of developing more than 60 diseases.
Note: We’re not doctors, and this is not medical advice. We strongly encourage you to seek help from a medical professional if you experience any of the following symptoms.
Here are 5 of the most common alcohol-related diseases you should watch out for if you’re a chronic, heavy drinker:
#1. Liver Disease
Most people grappling with alcohol challenges develop liver problems because it’s the organ that metabolizes the alcohol in your body. An estimated 8 to 10 percent of Americans drink heavily. Of those, 10 to 15 percent develop alcohol-related liver disease. Ironically, though, you don’t have to get drunk for the disease to occur. Simply drinking every day can increase your risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease, or ARLD.
Most people develop symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease in their 40s or 50s, but the disease can develop earlier or later in life. You may not show any symptoms at first, but early symptoms of ARLD can include:
- Loss of energy
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Belly pain
- Small, red spider-like blood vessels on your skin
ARLD progresses in 3 distinct stages:
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is the first stage. At this point, fat starts to accumulate around the liver. This stage rarely causes any symptoms but you may feel tired or have some discomfort or pain in the upper right side of your abdomen. You can reverse alcoholic fatty liver if you stop drinking alcohol.
- Acute Alcoholic Hepatitis is an inflammation or swelling of the liver. The most common sign of this stage of liver disease is jaundice or the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Other symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, weakness, abdominal tenderness, and a low-grade fever. Sometimes, treatment and a long period of abstinence from alcohol can help reverse this stage, but in severe cases, acute alcoholic hepatitis leads to liver failure.
- Alcoholic Cirrhosis is the most severe form of ARLD. At this stage, the liver has scars from years of alcohol abuse, and the damage cannot be undone. Like acute alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure.
#2. Heart Disease
Chronic heavy drinking can weaken your heart and shrink your arteries, making your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Alcohol also damages cells in your heart as it moves through the organ. These damaged cells interfere with the way your heart functions and make it difficult for the heart to regulate blood flow. Eventually, your overworked and fatigued heart swells up and thins out. Doctors call this alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or alcoholic heart disease, a condition which significantly increases your risk of heart failure. Most times, you won’t notice any symptoms until your heart starts to fail, but symptoms of heart failure caused by alcoholic heart disease can include:
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
#3. Pancreatitis & Diabetes
Large amounts of alcohol inflame the lining around your stomach. Your pancreas, which is right behind the stomach, is also inflamed and scarred by heavy drinking, too. Scientists believe that molecules in alcohol irritate and destroy cells in the pancreas, which causes a temporary condition called acute pancreatitis. Symptoms include stomach pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Heavy drinking can trigger an episode of acute pancreatitis. Multiple episodes of acute pancreatitis can increase your risk of other conditions like diabetes.
Unfortunately, chronic pancreatitis doesn’t come and go like acute pancreatitis does. Instead, chronic pancreatitis causes inflammation of your pancreas that lasts for years. This chronic condition mostly happens after continued acute pancreatitis episodes but can develop when you drink high quantities of alcohol for a long period of time. If you have chronic pancreatitis, you may have some of the same symptoms displayed in acute pancreatitis. But you may also have:
- Constant pain in your upper belly that moves to your back
- Diarrhea and weight loss
- Upset stomach followed by vomiting
A damaged and weakened pancreas doesn’t make insulin as well as it should. Since your body needs insulin to regulate blood sugar, this means that pancreatitis can greatly increase your risk of developing diabetes. Luckily, abstaining from alcohol can reduce the likelihood of future episodes of acute pancreatitis, and may make symptoms of chronic pancreatitis more manageable.
Gout is a common, painful form of arthritis that causes red, hot, swollen, and stiff joints in your feet and toes. High levels of uric acid in your bloodstream trigger the condition. Usually, your kidneys excrete uric acid, but alcohol disrupts this process. When you drink, your kidneys secrete alcohol instead of uric acid. This change allows uric acid to build up in your bloodstream, which triggers gout. An attack of gout can occur suddenly and is often so painful that it causes you to wake up in the middle of the night. Most people say gout feels like your big toe is on fire. The affected joint is so hot and swollen that even the weight of a bedsheet on it can irritate your foot. Symptoms of gout come and go, but can include:
- Intense joint pain
- Inflammation and redness
- Inability to move and limited range of motion
- Lingering discomfort that can last a few days or a few weeks
Chronic alcohol use greatly increases the risk of cancer. Experts believe alcohol abuse increases cancer risk because alcohol:
- Contains molecules and chemicals that can harm DNA, protein, and fats
- Disrupts the way the body absorbs nutrients that prevent cancer
- Increases estrogen levels. Doctors believe high levels of estrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer
The most common types of cancer linked to alcohol abuse include:
- Head and neck cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
Helping You Overcome Alcohol Addiction
Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we have 3 different outpatient programs for treating alcohol abuse, based on the severity of your addiction challenges: partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment. We also offer clinical support to all our clients. Our mission is to help you obtain long-term recovery and live a thriving life. We can help you get there.
Don’t let alcohol continue to control your life and affect your health. Call us today at (978) 776-3206 if you or a loved one misuse alcohol or have alcohol addiction challenges.