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There are numerous alcohol side effects ranging from mild to severe. Since alcohol so easily permeates every cell and organ of the body, the physical effects of chronic alcohol abuse are wide-ranging and complex. Large doses of alcohol invade the body's fluids and interfere with metabolism in every cell. Alcohol damages the liver, the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the heart. Alcoholics who do not quit drinking decrease life expectancy by 10 to 15 years.
Alcohol side effects also impair vision, impair sexual function, slow circulation, cause malnutrition, cause water retention (resulting in weight gain and bloating), lead to pancreatitis and skin disorders (such as middle-age acne), dilate blood vessels near the skin causing "brandy nose," weaken the bones and muscles, and decrease immunity.
Persons suffering with alcohol abuse finally grow obsessed with alcohol to the exclusion of almost everything else. They drink despite the pleading of family and the stern advice of doctors. They may begin round-the-clock drinking despite an inability to keep down the first drinks in the morning. Although relationships with family and work may become completely severed, nothing, not even severe health problems, is enough to deter drinking.
The late-stage alcoholic suffers a host of alcohol side effects, including fear of crowds and public places. Constant remorse and guilt is alleviated with more drinking. On top of mental disturbances, debts, legal problems, and homelessness may complicate his or her life. Late stage addiction is characterized by cirrhosis and severe withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is withheld (shakes, delirium tremens, and convulsions). Without hospitalization or residency in a therapeutic community, late-stage alcoholics usually succumb to insanity and death.
People suffering alcoholism do not have to "hit bottom" and reach the extreme late stages of alcoholism to decide to get help. Many men and women have recognized their alcohol problems before they lost their jobs or families, or began drinking in the morning, suffered DTs, or had to be hospitalized. For them, the labels "early stage," late stage," "problem drinker," or "alcoholic" were less important than the fact that their growing powerlessness over alcohol was causing them pain.
The liver breaks down alcohol in the body and is therefore the chief site of alcohol side effects. Liver damage may occur in three irreversible stages.
A diseased liver:
Alcohol in the liver also alters the production of digestive enzymes, preventing the absorption of fats and proteins and decreasing the absorption of the vitamins A, D, E, and K. The decreased production of enzymes also causes diarrhea.
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