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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Your Physical Health Can't Afford Another Drink

Just one drink should be fine, right?

At one point or another, we all may be guilty of typing “Is alcohol healthy?” into the search bar. With fingers crossed, we hope to find some justification for our use.

For those of us in recovery, we wonder something similar, “can’t I have a healthy relationship with drinking?” and “will one drink really be so bad?”

As Mary’s story reminds us, for those in recovery, there is no “off” switch. Once we start drinking, it really feels almost impossible to stop. It is one of the most cunning tactics of addiction to convince you otherwise.

The truth is, alcohol impacts your body from the moment you take the first sip. Although an occasional glass of wine or beer when balanced with an otherwise healthy lifestyle will not have a lasting impact, for many in recovery there truly is no “just one drink”. In fact, the cumulative effect of drinking can take a serious toll. Over time, there are some serious consequences on your brain and body

How Drinking Affects the Body

The body has to work hard to remove alcohol from the system. When you drink more than the body can process, you will feel intoxicated as the alcohol builds up in the bloodstream and distributes throughout the body. Over time, this build-up of alcohol affects not only the digestive system but can also cause permanent damage to the body's other vital systems. 

Digestive System

Damages in the digestive tract are often not apparent until it is too late. In addition to the well-known effects of alcohol on the liver, excessive drinking can also cause inflammation of the stomach and pancreas and may be a risk factor for several types of cancer, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.

Once ingested, alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde and damages the mouth, throat, and esophagus cell tissue as it metabolizes on its way through the system. As your body prioritizes eliminating the alcohol from your system, it increases the rate of the digestive process. This prevents your intestines from fully processing food and absorbing vitamins and nutrients, also leading to gassiness, bloating, diarrhea, or painful stools. The digestive system, in general, becomes more prone to ulcers, hemorrhoids, and even internal bleeding. 

Central Nervous System

A primary effect of alcohol is its ability to alter the communication between the brain and body. In the moment of intoxication, slurred speech, difficulty balancing, and lack of coordination are the first signs that you have had too much to drink.

Over time, the impact on the brain's frontal lobes affects your ability to form long-term and short-term memories. It also negatively affects your ability to think rationally and to make appropriate choices. This area is also associated with emotional control, judgment, and other vital roles of executive functioning.

Chronic and severe alcohol abuse can also cause permanent brain damage and a brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that can also be described as alcohol-induced dementia. 

Immune System

Your immune system serves a vital function in fighting off germs, viruses, and other illnesses in the body. The primary effect of alcohol on the immune system is in slowing down the white blood cells, rendering them less efficient and less effective at fighting off bacteria. This makes you more susceptible to illnesses, including pneumonia, among others. 

Circulatory System

Heavy drinkers are at greater risk of heart-related issues than people who do not drink.

Common symptoms include:
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • High blood pressure
    • Anemia
    • Fatigue
    • Difficulty moving blood through the body
    • Heart attack
    • Stroke
    • Heart Disease
    • Heart Failure

Reproductive and Sexual Health

Although our classic understanding of alcohol may lead us to believe that it will help lower inhibitions and make it easier to have fun in the bedroom, the reality is often very different. Men who have too much to drink often experience erectile dysfunction. Excessive alcohol use can also lower sex hormones, which in turn lowers the libido.

For women, drinking too much may cause them to stop menstruating, affecting fertility. Heavy drinking during pregnancy puts one at high risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and stillbirth. Also, children born who are exposed to alcohol in utero are at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD). 

Skeletal System

Long-term alcohol use can affect your bones by reducing their strength. Thinner bones can put you at risk of fractures if you fall. It can also lead to muscle weakness, cramping, and eventually atrophy.

Overcome Alcohol Addiction at The Haven

Reviewing the consequences of heavy drinking is not intended to cause you more shame, but to make you more aware of the damage alcohol can cause your body. Learning to take care of yourself and to nourish yourself is part of your healing journey.

Often the damage that alcohol causes to the body is not felt until it is too late. However, it is never too late though to get help. Remember, although alcohol can create damage, we are resilient and able to heal. We are also capable of making different choices now that will help protect our future selves from the physical consequences of our drinking.

If you or someone you love are looking to overcome an addiction to alcohol, reach out to us today to learn about our treatment programs, and our virtual IOP that you can take part in right from the comfort of your own home!