Jack often comes home tipsy after an evening at the bar. His speech is slurred. He totters on his legs. But he vehemently denies having had too much to drink. Then he slumps on the couch.
Jack is a high-functioning alcoholic. He has a job. He misses work rarely and is known to carry out his professional duties efficiently. Though he has occasional mood swings and becomes either snappy or morose after his drinking bouts, he still performs his personal duties responsibly, mostly.
On the face of it, it seems Jack’s frequent binge drinking episodes are harmless. But alcohol will soon catch up with him. And there’s no “if” here; it is just a question of “when.” There is no part of the body that alcohol doesn’t damage. In this article, we will explore the long- and short-term effects of alcohol abuse and addiction.
The Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
The short-term effects of alcohol manifest after having a few drinks. However, people who have low tolerance levels—first-time drinkers or those with a specific genetic make-up—can be affected after having only one drink. Some of these effects might seem harmless, but they are actually signals that alcohol is taking its effects on the body.
The short-term effects of alcohol include:
- Feelings of Relaxation: A feeling of “loosening up” and a sense of euphoria accompany the first few drinks. This is the “high” that people crave for and the reason why many people reach out for a drink when they feel stressed and/or depressed. The symptoms might be increased talkativeness and exaggerated and animated hand gestures while speaking.
- Vomiting, Nausea, and Diarrhea: Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and triggers these symptoms.
- Shallow Breathing: Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It inhibits the functions controlled by this region, like breathing and heart rate.
- Slower Reflexes and Impaired Hearing and Vision: The initial “stimulatory” effect of alcohol soon wears off. Because the CNS controls the senses and motor functions, drinking alcohol slows down the brain. The effects include slower reaction times, slurred speech, dulled hearing, and clouded eyesight. Drinking before driving is so dangerous because alcohol can produce these effects even after one drink.
- Fatigue and Sleepiness: Because alcohol is a depressant, it has a calming effect. After the initial “high” wears off, weariness and drowsiness set in.
- Blackouts and Memory Lapses: These effects are also the result of the lessened activity in the CNS region. Often binge drinkers have no memories of the drinking episode.
- Clouded Thinking and Loss of Inhibitions: The CNS is also involved in our thinking and reasoning processes. By impairing CNS functionality, alcohol inhibits the ability to think straight. Alcohol also makes one less reserved and more prone to engaging in behavior that he or she regrets later. People have been known to get into trouble with the law and engage in risky sexual activities under the influence of alcohol.
- Mood Swings: The feelings of high that come on after the first few drinks soon give way to depression. That’s because alcohol triggers a surge of dopamine and endorphins, the happy chemicals, in the brain. So when the effects of alcohol wear off and the levels of dopamine and endorphins come down, the person starts to feel the blues. Depression in alcoholics can turn severe enough to even trigger suicidal thoughts.
The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is very dangerous and life threatening if left untreated. Call for medical help if the following symptoms appear:
• Inability to wake up
• Blacking out
• Slow breathing
• Irregular breathing
• Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
Binge drinking is drinking an excessive amount of alcohol within a short period of time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binging is drinking 4 or more drinks in a single sitting, for women, and 5 or more, for men. If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream reaches toxic levels, alcohol poisoning can occur.
Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and can be fatal if the symptoms are left untreated. If there is someone who drinks in your family, watch out for these critical signs:
- Mental confusion or stupor
- Inability to wake up from sleep
- Loss of consciousness
- Low body temperature that is marked by cold and clammy skin, paleness, and bluish tinge
- Slow breathing (less than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (a gap of 10 seconds or more between successive breaths)
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
However, DON’T WAIT for all the symptoms to show up. CALL 911 immediately.
The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body
The long-term effects of alcoholism in the body are:
• High alcohol tolerance
• Increased risk of developing diabetes
• Increased risk of developing alcohol-induced liver diseases
• Elevated blood pressures leading to heart attack and kidney failure
• Increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases
• Risk of developing cancer in mouth, throat, breast, liver, and colon
Alcohol is a toxin. It damages almost every major organ in the body of alcoholics and chronic heavy drinkers. The short-term effects of alcohol usually wear off when the person stops drinking, but the long-term effects of chronic drinking are potentially debilitating and can even be fatal.
The following are the long-term effects of alcohol on the body:
- Increased Alcohol Tolerance: The more a person drinks, the more alcohol his or her body needs to produce the earlier degree of “high.” That’s because, as the body becomes used to having large amounts of alcohol, the tolerance to the substance increases. Increased alcohol tolerance can make a person drink too much at one go. This, in turn, increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. Excessive drinking also triggers intense withdrawal symptoms, the most severe of these being Delirium Tremens (DTs). DTs is a medical emergency and can be fatal if the symptoms are not treated promptly.
- Increased Risk of Developing Diabetes: Jack suffers from type II diabetes, and it is likely that his drinking habits had a role to play. Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing diabetes by causing obesity (Alcohol contains loads of calories, especially carbs.), decreasing insulin sensitivity (Insulin regulates blood sugar levels.) and damaging the pancreas, the insulin-secreting organ of the body.
- Liver Damage: Alcohol damages the liver and can cause cirrhosis and even, liver cancer. Alcohol-induced liver disease necessitates 1 in 3 liver transplantations in the U.S. Here’s another piece of compelling statistic: close to 50 percent of all people who die of cirrhosis in the U.S. had abused alcohol.
- Chronic High Blood Pressure: Chronic alcohol users have consistently elevated blood pressure levels. Chronic high blood pressure damages the kidney and increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
- Damage to the Heart: Alcohol damages the heart by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and the levels of certain fats in the blood. Chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of a person developing cardiovascular diseases and suffering a heart attack.
- Increased Risk of Some Forms of Cancer: According to the CDC, alcoholism increases the risk of a person developing cancer of the mouth, throat, breast, liver, and colon.
The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Chronic alcohol consumption damages brain cells, sometimes permanently. Alcohol is, by nature, neurotoxic. It can cause the following severe disorders:
- Mild to Severe Cognitive Impairment: Long-term alcohol abuse can trigger memory problems and learning difficulties.
- Mental Disorders: Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of a person developing mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
- Wet Brain Syndrome: Wet Brain syndrome is a neural disorder common in alcoholics. It occurs in up to 80 percent of all alcoholics, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and is caused by a deficiency of thiamine or vitamin B1. Alcoholics tend to ignore their diets which can lead to thiamine deficiency. On the other hand, chronic alcohol abuse also impairs the body’s ability to absorb thiamine from the usual food sources. If not treated, Wet Brain syndrome can cause permanent damage to the brain. The damage manifests as severe learning difficulties and memory problems that may even render the person incapable of living independently.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy: Alcohol also damages the liver, the organ responsible for breaking it down and excreting the metabolites from the body. Alcohol-induced liver dysfunction causes a buildup of toxins like ammonia and manganese that then travel to the brain and damage neural cells severely enough to cause cognitive dysfunction. In severe cases, hepatic encephalopathy can cause a person to slip into a coma.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): FAS is a lifelong developmental disorder that occurs in children who had been exposed to alcohol in utero. It manifests as stunted growth, abnormal facial features, and mental, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impairment caused by damage to the CNS. Maternal abuse of alcohol is the ONLY cause of FAS. FAS scars a child in all the currencies of life— in the spheres of academics, vocation, profession, and inter-personal relationships. What makes this fate more terrible is the fact that the child suffers for no fault of its.
- Increased Risk of Getting Addicted to Other Drugs: Alcoholism tweaks the reward circuitry of the brain. An alcoholic is used to having increased levels of dopamine and endorphins in the system; he or she craves the “high.” So the person automatically “takes to” any other drug that provides this “high” and more so, if he or she suffers from mood disorders like depression. The loss of inhibitions and the inability to rationalize also make a person more prone to experiment with illicit drugs than someone who can think straight and would thus think twice before indulging in risky behavior.
Alcoholism is a serious threat to the physical, emotional, and psychological health of a person. Whatever the reason that may have prompted a person to take refuge in alcohol, alcoholism only aggravates the issues in one’s life. What is ironical is that the effects of alcohol abuse have wide-ranging repercussions.
What is Wet Brain Syndrome?
Wet Brain Syndrome is among the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. The contributing factor in the development of this syndrome is the deficiency of vitamin B1. This can cause serious damage to brain functions such as memory problems and learning difficulties if not treated early.The loss in productivity that stems from physical and cognitive impairment is worth billions of dollars every year.
If you think binge drinking once in a while is okay (like Jack does), it is time to wake up and seek help. If your loved one has a drinking problem but denies it flatly, maybe you should consider intervention.