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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.

How Does the Chronic Consumption of Alcohol Impact One's Body?

ear Dr. Steve:

What can you tell me about how alcohol affects an individual’s body? I’m concerned about my mother. Her health is slowly deteriorating. She’s been a heavy drinker for the last thirty-five years and she won’t quit. I just can’t seem to convince her to stop drinking before she kills herself. She tells me that I worry too much and that her doctor has never said anything to her about needing to quit drinking. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Alcoholism is a chronic disease marked by the uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages that interferes with physical health, mental health, and/or social, family, or occupational responsibilities. It is characterized by a typical progression of drinking behavior that requires an average of twelve and one-half years of drinking to reach fully developed, overt symptoms and an average of eighteen years to reach the stage of deterioration. The disease is further characterized by physical damage in all systems of the body, the most serious of which is encountered in the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the liver. In these three areas the damage may eventually prove fatal.

Effects of Alcoholism on the Cardiovascular System

Alcohol exacts its toll on the alcoholic’s body. The heart is part of the body in which alcoholic drinking can be very destructive. Alcoholic drinking increases the risk of heart disease as well as direct damage to the heart for the alcoholic. Alcoholic drinking can result in increased lipid levels (blood fats). Increased lipid levels may result in hardening of the arteries otherwise known as arteriosclerosis. Alcoholic drinking also increases the risk of stroke and possible early death. A third possible condition from chronic excessive consumption of alcohol is alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy results from injury to the energy-producing portion of the heart muscle (the mitochondria). This condition can be fatal.

Effects of Alcoholism on the Nervous System

Chronic excessive consumption of alcohol can cause damage to the nervous system. One possible neurological effect of alcoholism is development of diseases caused by vitamin B deficiencies (alcoholic polyneuropathy and Wernicke's hemorrhagic encephalopathy).  The alcoholic is also vulnerable to impairment of overall mental functioning.

Effects of Alcoholism on the Gastrointestinal System

The gastrointestinal system is a prominent part of the body that alcohol damages. Fatal ulcer problems (e.g., bleeding or perforated ulcers), fatal pancreas problems (e.g., acute pancreatitis), or an increased incidence of carcinoma of the esophagus are examples of disorders caused by alcoholism.

The liver is a prominent organ damaged by alcoholism. Alcoholism can lead to the development of cirrhosis of the liver. In the first step of cirrhosis, the liver cells become injured and accumulate tiny droplets of fat ("fatty infiltration" or "fatty degeneration"). As more and more cells suffer fatty infiltration, the liver becomes enlarged. If the alcohol addiction cycle continues, scar formation occurs with constriction of the scar producing more scar formation, until the process becomes irreversible. As cirrhosis of the liver progresses, the alcoholic faces more and more severe health problems including: build-up of "poisons" in the bloodstream (ammonia and bilirubin), accumulation of estrogen in the bloodstream, and possible impotence. Development of low levels of prothrombin can result in bleeding and bruising tendencies. Finally, development of esophageal varices,   swelling of ankles and legs, and ascites (a "pot belly" full of fluid) can all be attributed to alcoholic drinking.



Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

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