Alcohol Addiction Health Risk Factors
Alcohol is such an ingrained part of our culture that most people don’t even realize the health risk factors associated with drinking.
The truth is, alcoholism can hurt your short-term and long-term health. And depending on your health history, you may have additional factors making your risk higher.
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), happens when you drink alcohol repeatedly over a long period. Your body grows used to having alcohol in your system. You start to have difficulty controlling your drinking because of cravings. And when you don’t drink, you experience withdrawal.
The result is a never-ending cycle of drinking to avoid alcohol addiction withdrawal. All this long-term drinking can affect your health permanently.
You may be more likely to develop complications if you have certain health problems or risk factors.
The bottom line is, alcohol has health consequences. Knowing alcohol’s risk factors and your own can help you make healthy decisions.
What Are the Risk Factors for Alcoholism?
Some people are at greater risk for alcohol use disorder. These risk factors are the same as the risk factors for addiction in general. You may be more likely to develop AUD if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Are a young adult: The fastest-growing demographic for AUD is 18- to 25-year olds. Your brain is more susceptible to AUD when it's still developing.
- Have a family history of AUD: If you have close family members (like parents) with AUD, that increases your risk.
- Have mental health problems: Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders can increase the odds that you'll develop AUD.
- Have self-esteem problems: Alcohol can artificially raise your self-esteem. If you have naturally low self-esteem, alcohol can become a crutch and, eventually, an addiction.
- Have a high level of stress: Many people use alcohol to self-treat stress. When you use alcohol as a coping mechanism, it increases your risk of AUD.
- Live with people that use alcohol: When alcohol use is socially accepted in your family and home, it's easier to let your drinking go out of control.
Your risk can increase depending on your drinking behavior, too. For instance, your risk of AUD is increased if you drink:
- More than 15 drinks a week as a man
- More than 12 drinks a week as a woman
- More than 5 drinks in a single day once a week or more, which is considered binge drinking
There are some risk factors you can’t control, like your family history or your mental health history. But you do have control over some risk factors. For instance, you can:
- Cut back on your drinking
- Change your living situation
- Manage your stress better
- Work on your self-esteem
What Are the Short-Term Risks of Drinking Alcohol?
Drinking alcohol has short-term effects on your health even before it becomes AUD. That’s because alcohol is toxic to every system in your body. A single drinking session increases your short-term risk of:
- Arrhythmia, or an irregular heart rhythm that can cause damage if left unchecked
- Liver inflammation, which can cause hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and other permanent damage
- Pancreas inflammation, which causes digestive problems and pancreatitis
- Weakened immune system, which increases the risk of diseases like tuberculosis or pneumonia
Drinking alcohol also puts you at risk of:
- Blacking out, or unconsciousness paired with memory loss
- High blood pressure
- Low body temperature
Drinking heavily can increase the risk of severe health effects like coma or seizure.
These risks are cumulative. The more alcohol you drink in a single session, the more likely you are to develop health problems. You’re more likely to develop problems if your short-term drinking turns into long-term drinking, too.
What Are the Long-Term Risks of Drinking Alcohol?
The longer you drink alcohol, the more likely you are to develop complications. Long-term drinking increases the risk of these diseases and disorders:
- Alcoholic ketoacidosis: Ketoacidosis happens when your blood becomes too acidic. You're more likely to develop this metabolic problem if you are diabetic.
- Cancer: Long-term drinking increases the risk of head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a liver disease caused by long-term scarring and damage. This is a common complication of AUD.
- Digestive diseases: You're more likely to develop complications like ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, and nutritional deficiencies with long-term drinking.
- Heart disease: Drinking causes the heart muscle to take damage and work less effectively. This can cause cardiomyopathy, blood clots, and stroke.
- Peripheral neuropathy: A condition in which the nerves in the hands and feet are damaged leading to pain, diminished sensation and weakness.
- Depression: A common condition that is exacerbated by alcohol use. Symptoms include social withdrawal, lack of motivation, sadness, and in severe cases, suicidal ideation.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: Wernicke's dementia is a permanent brain disease that happens when you abuse alcohol long-term.
Treating long-term alcohol abuse can help control your risk of developing these disorders.
What Are the Risk Factors for Alcohol-Related Health Complications?
Wondering what are the predisposing factors for drinking-related health issues? You’re more likely to develop health complications from drinking alcohol if you:
- Are older
- Have alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- Have a history of health problems, especially liver, digestive, or pancreatic problems
- Have used alcohol daily for over 30 days
- Have a history of heavy or long-term alcohol use
Even if you don’t have AUD, you can develop alcohol-related health problems. Alcohol can be damaging to your body even in socially acceptable amounts.
What to Do When Alcohol Affects Your Health
If you’re worried about alcohol affecting your health, you can take action to:
- Reduce your drinking
- Improve your health
- Seek professional help for treating mental health issues
Reducing your drinking is important. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve reduced your other risk factors if you keep drinking too much. The #1 risk factor for substance abuse is your actual substance use.
Improving your health can help keep your body strong so you’re less prone to health problems in general. That includes lifestyle changes like:
- Reducing drug and alcohol use
- Setting routines and reducing stress
- Exercising and spending time outdoors
- Eating a nutritionally-complete diet
It can be hard to make all these changes, but the payoff is worth it. If you attend alcohol rehab to reduce your drinking, your care team will help you address all of these points.
Bedrock Recovery Center is here to help you overcome alcohol addiction. Reach out today to learn how we can support you through recovery!