How Does the Chronic Consumption of Alcohol Impact One's Body?
Dear Dr. Steve:
What can you tell me about how
alcohol affects an individuals body? Im concerned about my mother. Her health
is slowly deteriorating. Shes been a heavy drinker for the last thirty-five years
and she wont quit. I just cant 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
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.
of Alcoholism on the Cardiovascular System
exacts its toll on the alcoholics 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.
of Alcoholism on the Nervous System
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.
of Alcoholism on the Gastrointestinal System
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.
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
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. Frischs, Psy.D.
Recovery book seriesFrom Insanity to Serenity.