Nearly everyone you know has a drink from time to time – to celebrate a birthday, take the sting off a breakup, or relax after a hard day. Drinking alcohol is usually portrayed in movies or TV shows like a magic potion. It makes you cooler, gives you the freedom to be the life of the party. When someone gets too drunk in these fictional worlds, it’s shrugged off as a funny story for another day. Alcohol consumption is everywhere around us. The side effects of alcohol, on the other hand, are rarely mentioned.
The truth is, alcohol destroys the human body in a variety of ways. It can also ruin other aspects of your life, like your job and your relationships with family and friends. Because it’s legal, alcohol consumption is widespread. There are more instances of people making poor decisions while drunk than on any other substance. Alcohol is not just parties and good times; it can have lasting, disastrous effects on your health.
Alcoholism and irresponsible drinking can be tough to overcome without help. Please, reach out if you find yourself struggling. Our professionals are standing by at 504-384-7870.
What is Alcohol and Why Do I Get Drunk?
Alcohol is a recreational drug created by the fermentation process. It’s what makes wine, beer, and liquor get you drunk. Once you drink it, alcohol absorbs into the lining of your stomach and small intestine, then passes into your bloodstream. At this point, your whole body is open to it. It travels to your brain and every other system.
Alcohol contradicts itself. In small amounts, it acts as a stimulant. Your first few drinks make you feel elated, so you keep drinking. With enough in your system, alcohol starts to act as a depressant. It makes you lethargic and disoriented. Drink enough, and the side effects of alcohol can include unconsciousness, coma and even death.
The reason you get drunk is that your liver can’t keep up with the demand for breaking alcohol down. Once you reach this point, alcohol builds in your bloodstream. Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, which slows your brain down.
What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Alcohol?
Because of the way it’s absorbed, alcohol hits every system in your body. It slows your brain functions – it literally makes you dumber. Your reaction time to outside stimuli drops and you get confused more easily. Drinking alcohol slows other parts of your body as well, notably your breathing. If you have too much in your system, alcohol interrupts your brain’s communication with the rest of your body. This is why it’s so dangerous to drink until you pass out. Some alcohol-related deaths come from suffocation because the brain forgets to tell your body to breathe or turns off your gag reflex.
All the hallmarks of being intoxicated come from how your body reacts to alcohol in your system. Things like slurred speech, impaired decision making, and passing out are from alcohol slowing your brain down. Nausea and the common hangover the morning after are from your body fighting off what is essentially a poison.
Frequent drinking damages every system of your body. From your heart to your bones, the side effects of alcohol are far-reaching.
While many people indulge in a few drinks recreationally, when does it become dangerous?
Binge drinking is classified as consuming alcohol quickly enough that your blood alcohol concentration is at or above .o8%. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a method of calculating the level of alcohol in your blood. A BAC of 0.01 means there is 0.01g of alcohol in 100ml of your blood. Therefore, a BAC of 0.08 would mean that there is 0.08g in every 100ml of your blood. When you’ve reached .08%, it will be evident that you’re drunk. There are a lot of factors that go into reaching this number but, generally speaking, men reach 0.08 after five drinks in a few hours and women after four.
Binge drinking leads to a host of severe health issues in the future. During consumption, drinking to excess statistically puts you at a higher risk of accidents, violence as either the attacker or the victim, and alcohol poisoning. Frequent binge drinking can lead to problems at home, with friends, and at work or school.
The side effects of alcohol can be anything from a minor inconvenience to life-ending. As you get drunk, your ability to make rational decisions plummets. While drunk, you’re at risk of both small and significant injuries. The most prominent is the devastation caused by driving while intoxicated. Every day of the year, 30 people die from being involved in a car accident with a drunk driver. You can also injure yourself from poor coordination; trips, falls, and burns are common injuries.
Alcohol abuse also raises the likelihood you’ll be involved in some sort of violence. A simple spat between friends can turn into a brawl, or an argument with your partner can take a tragic turn. Intoxication is a common factor in people acting on suicidal thoughts, and women are at a higher risk of sexual attacks when they’re drunk.
The more you drink, the higher your chance of getting alcohol poisoning becomes. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency that can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or weight. When you’ve had too much to drink, your brain shuts down essential functions. Alcohol poisoning is dangerous enough to warrant hospitalization. The symptoms are:
- Irregular breathing
- Low temperature
- Passing out without being able to reawaken
Binge drinking can also lead to risky sexual behavior. It’s a common joke in movies for someone to wake up in a bed they don’t recognize after drinking and then meet the person they slept with. While it makes for a (sometimes) funny gag, participating in risky sex can ruin your life. You put yourself at risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection and, especially for women, of being a victim of sexual violence.
The side effects of alcohol and heavy drinking are ubiquitous in the body – alcohol affects every system. Some of these problems can take years to show up in your body. This includes:
- Heart problems. Drinking can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmias.
- Pancreatitis. Alcohol causes the blood vessels in the pancreas to swell, which ruins your digestion.
- Immune System Deterioration. Heavy drinkers are more likely to get sick than nondrinkers.
- Mental Health Issues. Excessive drinking can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
- Brain Damage. This includes strokes and a higher chance of developing dementia.
- Fertility Issues. Alcohol can reduce sperm count and increase erectile dysfunction in men.
- Aging Skin. Alcohol consumption ages your skin through dehydrating your body and inflaming your blood vessels.
- Social Problems. Drinking problems can lead to isolation from loved ones, unemployment, and decreased personal productivity.
- Alcohol Dependence. Just like any other drug, alcohol use comes with the risk of addiction. Getting clean is a complicated process and sometimes involves medical care.
Additionally, women who drink while they are pregnant or breastfeeding can harm their baby. The side effects of alcohol use while pregnant include fetal alcohol syndrome and miscarriage.
Serious Medical Issues
Along with the long-term issues comes the possibility of several serious medical complications. While long-term problems chip away at your quality of life, these issues can be fatal.
Cirrhosis. Your liver can’t actually process alcohol. Instead, it goes through a lengthy process to turn it into things that you can digest. During this process, your liver becomes scarred. Too much scarring can lead to liver failure. Scarring of your liver can’t be undone, but quitting alcohol can save you from further damage.
Cancer. Studies have shown over and over that alcohol increases your chance of getting cancer. The top cancers caused by alcohol are:
- Head and neck
- Mouth and throat
Heart Attacks. Continued damage to your heart and circulatory system can lead to heart attacks.
Consequences of America’s Drinking
Drinking is considered a part of many cultural institutions in America. You have a beer and a hotdog at a ball game or drink away your dance-floor shyness at a wedding. Alcohol consumption is so prevalent in America that it’s seen as weird to abstain from it. Behind all the “good times”, however, alcohol comes with a serious cost.
Americans spend over $249 billion each year due to excessive drinking. One in 10 deaths for adults is the direct result of drinking. Because heavy drinking shortens your lifespan, it’s estimated that more than 2 million years of life have been lost. Alcohol consumption leads to a host of social problems, including drunk driving, domestic abuse, and expensive medical care. America might see drinking as good-natured fun, but educating people on the dangers of excessive alcohol use could save lives.
Am I an Alcoholic?
If you are struggling with whether or not you’re an alcoholic, the best place to start is to talk to a professional. Regardless if you need help or you’re sure of the answer, remember that struggling with addiction does not make you a bad person. Like any other substance, alcohol is really good at making you addicted. What seems like harmless fun in the beginning can alter how your brain works until you have to keep drinking to feel anything.
Some signs of addiction to alcohol are:
- Frequent blackouts or loss of memory
- Mood swings
- Making excuses to drink
- Avoiding responsibilities to drink
- Feeling hungover when you haven’t been drinking
- Withdrawal symptoms
Benefits of Quitting
When you have an alcohol problem, quitting can be a daunting thought. It might even seem impossible. However, quitting is possible. There is a wealth of resources available to aid in your journey towards addiction recovery, from therapists and formal care to support groups.
Like most other bad habits, quitting alcohol consumption will prevent further damage to your body and even reverse some of it. Some of the benefits you’ll experience after you quit are:
- You’ll save money. Alcohol costs a lot, especially when you are a heavy drinker.
- You’ll feel healthier. Without alcohol interfering with your brain functions, your body will begin performing normally again.
- You’ll look younger. Once you no longer have alcohol drying you out, the natural collagen in your skin will start to return.
- Your relationships will improve. Without suffering impaired judgment, you’ll have less to apologize for when you wake up the next morning. People will respond better to you when you’re living a healthy life, and friends and family will enjoy seeing you improve.
- Your heart health will increase. Alcohol damages your heart. As your blood returns to normal, your heart will begin to heal.
- Your liver will heal. The liver has an amazing ability to heal itself. While it can’t undo all the damage, quitting will begin the healing process.
- Your cancer risk will decrease. Alcohol is a major carcinogen, but removing it from your system lowers the chances of developing cancer.
- Your mind will feel sharper. Alcohol decreases your cognitive functions and damages your brain. Stopping will help your brain return to normal, which will allow you to focus on things better and develop new skills.
Alcohol Damages Your Body, But Getting Help Allows You to Heal
Nobody wants to admit they’re an addict, but getting help is crucial to prevent the damage alcohol does. Alcohol is especially dangerous because drinking culture encourages continued use. Alcohol can be extremely difficult to quit because you’ll face so many chances to relapse. Nonetheless, getting help can successfully change your life.
Alcohol will wreak havoc on your body, doing damage that may take years to manifest. If you are worried about your drinking habits and want help, contact us today!
By Malory McDermott