We’ve all seen the stereotype in real life or in the movies. A drunken man or woman stumbles across the bar, mumbles slurred words that are hard to follow and, just in general, makes a host of bad decisions – from buying everyone in the place a free drink to flirting with the wrong person’s significant other or picking the wrong fight. We all know that alcohol can also impair your ability to drive and even cause you to blackout.
However, there are a host of other, lesser known effects of drinking too much alcohol. You don’t have to get falling-down drunk to get these, either…It’s the culmination of alcohol abuse over time that does the damage.
Drinking impacts neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers in the brain) and increases dopamine, one of the pleasure chemicals, which is why it makes you feel good.
As with any activity that makes you feel a rush of pleasure, you are prone to repeat that behavior. If you start needing alcohol in order to get through the day, however, or if drinking is causing issues at home or at work, it’s a problem.
- Cramps & Dying Muscles
If you drink frequently you may start to feel your muscles cramping. You may also experience muscle weakness. Eventually, drinking can lead to the death of a muscle.
Drinking in excess can also lead to numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles” sensations in our limbs. These sensations point to nerve damage or a neurological condition called neuropathy.
- Stomach Upset & Diarrhea
Consuming too much alcohol can cause annoying-but-embarrassing gastric symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and pain. It can also cause more serious issues such as ulcers and intestinal damage.
- Vitamin & Mineral Depletion
Alcohol blocks the absorption of nutrients from food. It can even thin your bones and cause osteoporosis.
- Sexual Dysfunction & Infertility
In men, excessive alcohol consumption can cause erectile dysfunction. In women, it can cause infertility. Pregnant women should not drink at all in order to ensure proper mental development of their babies as well as to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome and other unwanted issues.
- Chronic Disease
Pancreatitis, liver cirrhosis, diabetes complications, anemia, osteoporosis and cancer are also on the menu with too much alcohol consumption. That’s because alcohol causes damage to your internal organs.
In the pancreas, too much alcohol over time can reduce the production of insulin and cause a harmful buildup of digestive enzymes. It can stop the breakdown and removal of harmful substances, a vital function of the liver. Your pancreas can become inflamed and your liver can develop scar tissue.
Heavy drinking over a prolonged period can also make mouth, esophagus, throat and breast cancer more likely. You can also develop cardiovascular and lung infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
- Shrinking Brain
No, this isn’t science fiction. Drinking too much alcohol long-term shrinks your brain. Studies have shown that the brains of alcoholics weigh less and are smaller than those who are not alcoholics.
In particular, the frontal lobe area is affected – this area controls decision-making, judgement, controlling impulses and solving problems. Among other effects, it can cause you to more highly value immediate gratification, like taking a drink, over the goal of long-term sobriety. The good news is that the majority of these harmful effects can be reversed if you stop drinking and maintain sobriety.
What Should You Do if You Have a Problem with Alcohol?
For most people it would be wise to seek out help to deal with an alcohol use disorder. Your body has grown accustomed to having alcohol in its system, and it will be disruptive to suddenly take it away.
What can happen if you suddenly stop drinking? It can cause you to sweat and your hands to shake. You can feel sick to your stomach and even vomit. You may have a headache and/or be unable to sleep. You may feel anxious and “keyed up” or disoriented as well as experience hallucinations and hand tremors, a condition known as delirium tremens. You may have seizures, and/or experience a racing heart, fever and high blood pressure that go along with delirium tremens.
Depending on your situation, you may need medical supervision in order to detox from alcohol. In extreme cases, suddenly stopping drinking without medical supervision can even be fatal.
After this, however, you’ll need to address the underlying issues that made alcohol a problem in your life. Otherwise, you could go right back to drinking and be in the same situation again.
This is where a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient alcohol treatment center such as Foundations Wellness Center can help. Look for one that includes individual and group therapy along with a strong alumni program.
Ideally, your chosen center can treat other issues that may be uncovered, such as past trauma, co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression, and even real-life help such as employment assistance. Incorporating family members into the treatment is also very important – you’ll need support, both in your environment and emotionally.
Your Future Can be Bright
It may not be easy or quick to overcome an alcohol addiction. However, it will help you look forward to greater health and a better life.
Your relationships will improve, you’ll be able to give others your best, and your career prospects will strengthen. You’ll have more financial resources, as the money you once spent on alcohol (which can be significant) can go elsewhere. You’ll feel a sense of clarity and you’re likely to feel better physically, too.
All you have to do is take the first step…which is to reach out for help. There are plenty of people, treatment centers, and organizations like AA waiting to do just that.