What are the Health Risks of Alcohol?
Alcohol consumption poses many risks for an individual’s health. In particular, regular or long-term drinking can do much damage to one’s psyche and physiology. However, rapid consumption of a large amount of alcohol is equally dangerous as well. Alcohol is the cause of 88,000 deaths yearly in the United States, and it is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the world. Alcohol-related deaths can be the result of drunk driving, miscarriage, and chronic health conditions.
Alcohol is responsible for short and long-term health risks that range from high blood pressure, stroke, drunk driving, to miscarriages, cirrhosis, and seizures. Alcohol withdrawal also has the potential to be fatal. Understanding the damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause may help reduce drinking and minimize its disastrous consequences.
Short-Term Health Risks of Alcohol
Aside from motor skills impairment and slurred speech, individuals who excessively drink alcohol may experience a variety of emotions and reactions. Short-term health risks are those that can subside over time. These may not be life threatening but can cause disruptions in everyday life and relationships. Short-term health risks can include:
- Bruising as a result of the blood thinning effects of alcohol
- Cuts and bruises from vandalism of property or car accidents (drunk driving)
- Exposure to STIs through unprotected sex caused by impaired judgment
- Scratches, bruises, and cuts caused by impaired coordination
- Stomach aches/nausea
- Feeling hungover
- Increased alcohol cravings
- Lack of appetite
- Blacking out
These risks can vary greatly from person to person depending on the amount of alcohol a person has consumed over time, differences in metabolism, and whether or not other other drugs are involved. Factors like drunk driving, vandalism, and exposure to STIs would depend on someone’s behavior and environment. Nonetheless, these risky behaviors can cause complex symptoms.
Long-Term Health Risks of Alcohol
Excessive drinking or continued exposure to alcohol affect the body differently; many of the symptoms are highly damaging to the body and mind. Some of the long-term effects can be managed and go away over time; however, some cannot. An example of an irreversible effect of alcohol abuse is brain damage and some birth defects.
Continued drinking can create long-term health problems and encourage a tolerance for alcohol. A tolerance is when someone increases requires more alcohol to experience the same desired effects. Common long-term health risks include but are not limited to:
- Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome (WKS)
- Esophageal varices
- Hepatitis C
- Brain damage
- High blood pressure
- Fatty liver disease
- Kidney damage
- Ulcers/inflamed stomach lining
- Mouth/throat cancer
- Birth defects
For mothers who drink alcohol while expecting, the baby is at risk of developing physical and learning abnormalities. Such conditions are called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis of the Liver
When someone drinks alcohol heavily for a long period of time, they can develop liver cirrhosis and Hepatitis C. These conditions can occur together or separately, and both conditions are diseases of the liver. Hepatitis C can also lead to liver cirrhosis.
According to researchers, “chronic alcohol consumption is responsible for more than 50% of liver deaths.” Individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorders have a higher chance of liver diseases including Hepatitis C. There is evidence that abstaining from alcohol can reverse some of the effects of alcohol on the liver early on; however, the damage alcohol can have on the liver can become irreversible if in the advanced stages.
The Effects of Alcohol Poisoning
One of the most hazardous consequences of drinking too much is alcohol poisoning. This is caused by drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time. Essentially, alcohol poisoning is an alcohol overdose. In some cases, alcohol poisoning can cause death, especially if medical help is not provided.
Typically, those experiencing alcohol poisoning can expect to experience the following side effects:
- Breathing problems
- Hypothermia (a dip in body temperature)
- Blacking out
- Pale or bluish skin
Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and drinking on an empty stomach care are all risk factors for alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning can result in brain damage, atypical heartbeats, choking, dehydration, and death. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning cannot and should not be treated alone. Contact a medical professional immediately to reverse and assist the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. If your loved one has fallen victim to alcohol poisoning, contact 911 immediately.
Get Help Today
Although alcohol can cause a number of health problems, the good news is that they are all preventable if the individual stops drinking before they develop. If you or a loved one needs or wants help stopping alcohol use, the best method is to get a substance abuse evaluation by an addiction professional. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today for more information.
Author: Krystina Murray | Last Edited: March 31, 2021
Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade