What Is Heavy Drinking and Alcoholism?
It can be hard to distinguish the line between light and heavy drinking.
- Is it a beer on the weekend, a glass of wine with dinner every night, a few drinks after work?
- When does it become alcoholism?
The point when drinking becomes a problem depends on every person and situation, but the CDC has published some guidelines. They define heavy drinking as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder, commonly called alcoholism. Many people think alcoholism requires physical dependence after years of drinking. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Alcohol abuse is any unhealthy drinking behavior. This includes drinking while pregnant or underage.
How Heavy Drinking Affects the Body
Alcohol is basically poison for the body. Its primary effects are on the digestive system and organs such as the liver. Over time, however, it can damage the brain, heart and even the bones. Aside from hurting organs itself, alcohol can prevent the body from working right or absorbing important nutrients. In the end, it can lead to a lot of health conditions and diseases all over the body. Many can be reversed, but some can be permanent.
Health Conditions Caused by Heavy Drinking
Liver damage and diseases such as cirrhosis are some of the most common effects of alcoholism. The liver is like a filter that removes toxins from the body. Alcohol is one of those toxins. After years of drinking, it can get hard for your liver to keep up. This can cause a lot of damage.
Without its filter working correctly, the body is in trouble. One symptom of cirrhosis is yellow skin. This is because toxins start building up in the body. Another liver disease from alcoholism is fatty liver disease. Fat builds up to protect the liver from the alcohol. This makes it harder for the liver to work.
Alcohol affects the brain and nervous system in a lot of ways. Of course, this is what makes a person drunk. Alcohol interferes with the brain and its communication with the body. This means brain damage from alcoholism is very common.
A notable symptom of alcoholism is the “shakes.” Heavy drinkers may have tremors and poor coordination if they haven’t had any alcohol. Sadly, this is the least amount of damage done to the nervous system due to alcohol use. Along with mood disorders such as depression, alcohol can cause nerve damage that can result in chronic pain. Severe alcoholics may even suffer from seizures.
Alcoholism raises your chances for blood clots and high cholesterol. These are the conditions that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Also, due to its effects on the nervous system, alcohol makes it difficult for your heart to work right. All in all, those who suffer from alcoholism have a much higher chance of heart disease.
Alcohol and cancer go hand in hand. Usually, cancers caused by alcoholism affect the parts of the body that interact the most with alcohol. This includes the mouth, throat and liver. However, alcoholism can lead to other cancers, too. For example, a link has been found between alcohol and breast cancer.
Alcohol induced pancreatitis is one of the most common causes of pancreas problems. In fact, nearly 70% of pancreatitis cases involve heavy drinking. The pancreas is a factory for chemicals that help digestion and other processes. Alcoholism forces the pancreas to make a lot of chemicals day in and day out to fight alcohol’s toxic effects. After time, these strong chemicals hurt the pancreas itself.
Ulcers and Digestive Problems
Alcohol affects your digestive system from mouth to colon. This can mean ulcers all through the gastrointestinal tract. Throat ulcers from alcohol are especially common.
In general, alcohol irritates the stomach and intestines. The inner lining gets inflamed and raw. After a lot of drinking, these areas can start to bleed. These are ulcers. What’s worse, bacteria can infect the areas and inflame the ulcers.
Alcohol can do a number on your bones. Bones are made of calcium, but alcohol prevents the body from absorbing enough calcium. It also leads to a lack of vitamin D, which your body needs to use calcium. As a result, there’s a strong relationship between alcohol and osteoporosis.
Plus, alcohol’s effects on other parts of the body can harm the bones. For example, nerve damage can lead to bone fractures. Alcohol vitamin deficiencies can also cause hormonal problems. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol, for instance, causes bones to break down.
How to Treat Conditions Caused by Alcoholism
Luckily, many health issues caused by heavy drinking can be fixed. Of course, the first and most important step is to stop using alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol is a very addictive drug, so that can be hard to do alone. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse, getting help can make all the difference.
At Bedrock Recovery Center, our experts use scientifically proven methods to put alcoholism behind you for good. Call us today to learn about your options.