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Article Summary

How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Your Health?

Alcohol is a part of culture in most societies today. People take it to relax, socialize, celebrate or even just for its taste. The challenge for most people is to balance between alcohol's place in culture and the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol has a direct effect on a person's central nervous system leading to a series of short-term and long-term physical and mental effects that could ruin his or her life.

Mental health

Short-term

One of the major short-term effects of alcohol abuse is memory loss, also known as black out. Alcohol is also known to alter the way your brain functions by suppressing your inhibitions. As a result, drinkers begin to do things they would not otherwise do including illicit sexual activity and irresponsible behavior.

Long-term

Severe mental health problems are often associated with excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol affects many parts of the brain, which does not regenerate much if at all. As a result, recalling old memories increasingly becomes difficult with time. In addition, those that start drinking at a young age are more at risk of mental impairment because the brain develops up to 18 or 19 years of age.

Although it does not necessarily cause mental illness, alcohol use by people who drink to deal with stress could make existing health problems become worse. In addition, people that consume high amounts of alcohol are vulnerable to ill mental health. In fact, using alcohol to deal with anxiety or depression could leave you feeling worse after the effects wear out. This is because alcohol uses up and reduces the amount of neurotransmitters that are needed to ward off negative feelings. This ultimately leads to more drinking to blanket negative feelings, and a dangerous cycle develops. There is also a significant link between heavy drinking and suicide.

Physical health

Short-term

For most people, excessive alcohol intake causes a loss of physical balance and slurred speech. This is a result of muscle control loss; alcohol retards the coordination between the brain and the muscles. Nausea and vomiting are also among the immediate consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Headaches are common a few hours after consuming alcohol, usually when you wake up the next morning if you were drinking at night. This is as a result of the dehydration that alcohol intake causes in your body.

Long-term

Alcohol abuse can damage your liver, which may lead to cirrhosis - a serious liver disease. Prolonged intake could even lead to liver failure, liver cancer and ultimately death. Chronic inflammation of the stomach, also known as gastritis, is another possible disease that could result from alcohol abuse. In addition, your digestive system may be hindered from properly digesting the food you eat. With continued alcohol use, your body's ability to absorb essential vitamins might be compromised, which could easily lead to vitamin deficiency. Alcohol abuse is also linked to a higher risk of cancer of the colon, esophagus and larynx.

Excessive alcohol intake also increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. When your cardiovascular system is damaged, this escalates the risk of heart failure and could result in death. Men who take a lot of alcohol over an extended period may also suffer from erectile dysfunction as a result.

Pregnancy

There is evidence suggesting that alcohol consumption during pregnancy could harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby. In fact, women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant as well as those breastfeeding should not take alcohol.

Tolerance and dependence

Regular drinkers often develop tolerance to alcohol, which simply means they need a greater amount of alcohol to get the same effects they got before. In addition, a person could become dependent, which usually means that you are unable to function normally without taking alcohol. At this point, it becomes difficult to stop drinking or control the amount you take. This ultimately leads to alcohol addiction (alcoholism).

Withdrawal

When you are physically dependent on alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking or substantially reduce your intake. These symptoms usually start about 6 to 24 hours after your last drink and could last up to five days and include tremor, anxiety and agitation, depression, sweating, headache, nausea and vomiting and difficulty sleeping. If you are worried about alcohol affecting your health or that of a loved one, it is important to seek professional help immediately.

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