Drinking alcohol is a common occurrence in many social situations. However, prolonged and excessive use of alcohol may lead to various health problems that can severely impair quality of life and, in some cases, may even become fatal. Because of this, it is important to be able to recognise the signs of these long-term effects so that proper treatment can be sought, if necessary.
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People who have been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for an extended period of time can develop various forms of brain damage, some of which may be a result of a deficiency in thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, due to poor nutrition. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 80 per cent of alcoholics do not have enough thiamine. This deficiency can lead to symptoms such as memory problems, difficulty walking and impaired muscle control.
An important function of the liver is to break down alcohol so that it can then be eliminated from the body. However, long-term drinking can eventually have a damaging effect on the liver. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 2 million Americans suffer from liver disease as a result of alcohol. Alcohol-related liver problems include inflammation of the liver, which is characterised by jaundice, fever and abdominal pain, as well as scarring of the liver, which produces symptoms such as spider veins, a red tint on the fingernails and an increased susceptibility to colds and infections. If alcohol-related liver disease goes untreated, it can also cause brain damage resulting in anxiety, reduced cognitive function and difficulty with coordination.
While small amounts of alcohol can help reduce cholesterol, drinking in excess for a long period of time can negatively impact heart function by increasing levels of triglycerides in the blood. Long-term alcohol abuse can also cause high blood pressure and even heart failure. Those with high blood pressure do not typically exhibit symptoms, so it is important to know your blood pressure numbers. Be particularly careful of any signs of chest pain as this may be an indicator of conditions such as coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart failure.
The primary functions of the pancreas include producing insulin to regulate blood sugar in the body and producing enzymes that aid digestion. Long-term alcohol abuse can increase triglycerides, which may cause inflammation in the pancreas, a condition known as pancreatitis. This condition is commonly characterised by weight loss, nausea, vomiting and intense, chronic abdominal pain.
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- Alcohol Alert: Alcohol's Damaging Effects on the Brain; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; October 2004
- DrugFree.org: The Partnership
- Helpguide: Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Alcohol
- Alcohol: What You Don't Know Can Harm You; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; November 2001
- American Heart Association: Alcohol, Wine and Cardiovascular Disease