Physical Effects of Habitual Alcohol Consumption

A few drinks here and there are often the hallmarks of a good night. But drinking several times a week or every day can mean something completely different.

If you’re a woman who has more than seven drinks a week or a man who has more than 14, you may be drinking too much. Habitual alcohol consumption can be tough on the wallet and heavy on calories, but it also has horrific consequences for your physical wellbeing.

Today, we’ll explore these effects and explain why quitting drinking is such an important goal.

Short-Term Effects
The short-term effects of habitual drinking are often the easiest to see. These are the hallmarks of being drunk, and (a fantastic resource for anyone looking to reduce or eliminate drinking) explains that they include:

  • Lowered inhibitions, leading to poor social judgment.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Loss of critical judgment.
  • Dulled perception, especially vision.
  • Mood swings.
  • Reduced core body temperature.
  • Raised blood pressure.
  • Passing out.

These are behaviours that most of us are familiar with from personal experience. Some of these effects – like lowered inhibitions or dulled perception – maybe what we’re chasing when we open another beer or sip another cocktail. But while these side-effects disappear when we sober up, the long-term effects of alcohol use remain long after.

Long-Term Effects: Long term alcohol use can have intense and debilitating consequences for our physical wellbeing. The National Institute for Health (NIH) explains the effects of chronic drinking on our bodies:

Brain Damage: “People who have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time run the risk of developing serious and persistent changes in the brain. Damage may be a result of the direct effects of alcohol on the brain or may result indirectly, from a poor general health status or from severe liver disease.”

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome: These diseases develop due to low Thiamine levels (it’s estimated that approximately 80% of alcoholics are deficient in this vitamin). Wernicke’s involves mental confusion, paralysis of eye muscles, and poor muscle coordination.  The more severe Korsakoff syndrome – developed by up to 90% of people with Wernicke’s – is even more devastating, described as “a chronic and debilitating syndrome characterized by persistent learning and memory problems. Patients with Korsakoff’s psychosis are forgetful and quickly frustrated and have difficulty with walking and coordination”.

Liver Damage: While alcohol’s effects on the liver are widely known, the NIH reminds us how the liver affects our other organs, “People may not be aware that prolonged liver dysfunction, such as liver cirrhosis resulting from excessive alcohol consumption, can harm the brain, leading to a serious and potentially fatal brain disorder known as hepatic encephalopathy”.

This condition causes changes in mood and personality and can cause anxiety, depression, problems with coordination and even coma.

The Government of Canada warns that long-term alcohol consumption can also cause:

  • depression
  • increased risk of suicide
  • increased risk of high blood pressure
  • increased risk of stroke
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • stomach ulcers
  • blood vessel disorders
  • impotency in men
  • menstrual irregularities in women
  • some types of cancer
  • addiction
  • death

[Adapted from Health Canada]

The long-term effects of habitual alcohol consumption are far-ranging and potentially fatal. It’s a terrible price to pay for continuing your drinking habit. Your body deserves better, your mind deserves better, and most importantly, you deserve better. Committing to the habit of quitting drinking means you can begin to heal the damage done to your body by alcohol and rebuild trust in yourself.

We know you can do this. Good luck!

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