What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse? What Families Need to Know

effects of alcohol

Although the effects of heavy drinking have been known for a long time, more recent medical evidence suggests that even consuming low amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain illnesses.

It’s important for everyone to realize the immense risk that comes along with the other more pleasant effects of alcohol. This is particularly true for the friends and family members of people who are suffering from alcohol addiction. The more someone abuses alcohol, the more likely they are to develop certain cancers and diseases and suffer from the negative effects of alcohol.

To ensure your loved one stays healthy, make sure you are on the lookout for early signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse. Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction and the process the body goes through as it adjusts to long term alcohol abuse so that you know when it’s time to intervene.

Moderate Drinker or Alcohol Abuser?

If you read popular magazines and go on social media often, then you’ll likely see at least one article touting new “scientific studies”. They show how having one glass of wine a night or two beers a week can actually be healthy for you. But the key to those studies is always moderation.

There are studies out there that show the connection between light drinking and good health. But the second you take your drinking habit too far, you start to see immense health problems develop.

When you are considering the amount you or a loved one drink and wondering whether it’s abuse, don’t just think about how often you drink. But also how many drinks you have per serving.

You should never have more than four drinks in one sitting if you want to avoid becoming a binge drinker. And if you want to be a “moderate” drinker, that means two drinks for men and one drink for women. Knowing whether you are abusing alcohol can help you stop before you develop serious health problems.

Effects of Alcohol on Physical Health

Drinking heavily can have a lot of terrible effects on your physical health starting with liver damage and increased risk of developing heart conditions. It can also put you at a higher risk of developing many different kinds of cancer and liver disease.

Cognitive Effects of Alcohol Long Term

Drinking alcohol for a long period of time can cause you to become depressed since alcohol is a depressant. It can also lower your inhibitions leading some people to become violent and make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t. It also alters your memory and thinking, meaning that you may not remember the way you acted or treated someone while you were drinking.

Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to legal trouble for the drinker. They may get involved in traffic accidents or be charged with petty crimes like public intoxication. If they don’t remember these things happening, they still have to deal with the fallout from them which can be very stressful.

Social Effects of Long Term Alcohol Abuse

If you continue to drink heavily no matter what goes wrong in your life, then you are bound to lose some of the people closest to you. There are many social losses that come along with being an addict.

Not only will your family members who don’t use move away from you, but the people who take their place will care less about them as a person. They are more likely to be other people that share an alcohol addiction and want to use together, rather than a real supportive friend.

One of the benefits of becoming sober is being able to form real and lasting relationships. You can fill your life with the people that share your interests and that are healthy.

Alcohol and Hypertension

Alcohol use can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. The more alcohol someone drinks regularly, the more likely they are to develop high blood pressure.

But good news, if you stop using alcohol heavily, your blood pressure can drop back down to normal levels within weeks. That means even if you have been drinking all your life, you can drop your increased risk of hypertension today by putting the bottle down.

Alcohol and Risk of Stroke

There are many different medical conditions that can lead to stroke, and many of them are caused by alcohol. This can include high blood pressure as we already mentioned, which leads to a fifty percent increase in the chance of you having a stroke.

Another alcohol-related condition that heightens the risk of a stroke is diabetes. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can alter the way your body responds to the hormone insulin. This can over time lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

In addition, alcohol makes you more likely to be overweight which is also a risk factor for strokes. Alcoholic beverages often have high-calorie counts that can lead to weight gain and make it impossible for you to lose weight.

Liver damage is another health condition that can increase your chance of a stroke. This is because liver damage can lead to bleeding in your brain where the blood cells are unable to clot. This is a health problem that can quickly become deadly if changes aren’t made.

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse on Society

Alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect the drinker, it also has an overall effect on society. The people who are the families, friends, and coworkers of heavy drinkers all have to alter their behavioral patterns to work with their alcoholic friends.

The economic loss that comes from heavy drinking costs the United States economy billions of dollars a year in loss of productivity, criminal costs, and health costs.

Factors That Affect Alcohol Abuse Patterns

An alcohol abuse disorder can develop very quickly or over a long period of time. It’s all about how long it takes for the brain to start relying on alcohol in order to produce a happy response of chemicals.

Once this chemical change takes place in the brain, it becomes nearly impossible for a heavy drinker to quit on their own. If they do, they face severe withdrawal symptoms that make the process miserable and even dangerous.

But there are ways to notice an alcohol abuse pattern in development. One of the most important factors is biological.

Biological Factors

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that alcoholism and biology are related. Some people can easily limit the amount of alcohol they drink, while others find it nearly impossible.

Some people just seem to have larger reward centers for alcohol than others. This biological difference can lead you to be vulnerable to developing alcoholism.

That means that even if you don’t grow up with a family member that suffers from alcoholism in the home, you can still have an increased likelihood of also developing the illness.

Environmental Factors

Researchers study many different environmental factors that could potentially lead to addiction such as a person’s proximity to alcohol, what their social circle is like, and how many advertisements for alcohol they see.

There is a lot of competing evidence on these kinds of factors. But if you have a loved one that is surrounded by people that are drinking all of the time and thinks their behavior is normal, then they may need residential treatment to get away from the situation in order to heal.

Social Factors That Contribute to Views on Drinking

If someone has an unrealistic sense of how much other people are drinking, then they may be more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. Everything from your culture and religion, to your family and the people you work around influence the way you look at alcohol.

Family plays the largest factor. If a child is exposed to someone who abuses alcohol at an early age, they are much more likely to develop risky drinking problems for themselves.

In addition, major life changes can lead to the development of addiction like starting a new job or heading off to college for the first time. The desire to fit in with your peers is strong and if you end up surrounded by people with heavy drinking problems, you’re much more likely to develop one.

Psychological Factors

Everyone handles life situations differently, but one common pattern seen over time is running for the bottle when times get rough. How you cope with stress can have a huge effect on your overall health long term.

Alcohol can be used as a way to suppress your feelings and stave off the symptoms of depression, but only for a short while. Over time, your body becomes more tolerant of the positive effects of alcohol and you can have very serious mood crashes while you are drinking.

Development of Tolerance

One way to know if you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol is if they seem to have developed a tolerance for alcohol. Over time, if you consume a lot of alcoholic beverages, your body will begin to adjust to the chemical content of them and it will take more and more alcohol for you to achieve the same effect.

If your problem is really bad, your tolerance may even become so high that you have to go into an alcohol detox center in order to safely cut back. Swearing off alcohol can be deadly so make sure that you take the steps to get the care you or your friend needs before quitting cold turkey.

The Ideal Drinking Pattern

If you think you need to reshape your drinking habits or want the information to teach someone you love about healthy drinking habits, then you need to encourage them to keep a drinking diary.

For a couple of weeks, note how much you drank and over what period of time. By keeping a record of your habits, you can hold yourself accountable for what you drank.

If you find that you regularly consume more than the recommended amount, then you know that it’s time to make a change that you can stick to. Set yourself a daily and a weekly limit for how much alcohol you can consume and stick to it.

You can also use your diary to look at when you tend to turn to drinking and under what circumstances. Are you going out drinking with friends and using their alcohol consumption habits as a comparison for yours? Or are you making the decision to drink alone when you’ve had a rough day?

By identifying the patterns that go along with your drinking, you can begin to single out what the problems are in your drinking habits and fix them without having to swear off alcohol completely.

How to Know Your Loved One Has a Problem

When your loved one starts to pull away from friends and family and solve all of their problems with alcohol, it may be time for an intervention.

By taking the steps early on in the addiction process, you can help your family member get their problem under control before it destroys their life and their long term health.

Where to Get Help

If after reading the information in this article, you have a loved one who you know needs help, contact us today.

We would love to help you put together a plan to help your loved one regain their life and their confidence. We have the staff and knowledge to give them the best opportunity for a successful and lasting recovery.

 

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Article Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.