For most people, an occasional drink is fine and it may even have some health benefits. But too much drinking can have both short-term and long-term effects that harm your body and can even shorten your lifespan. People who drink heavily (2 or more drinks a day for men) or binge Â drink (4 or 5 drinks in 2 hours) are at increased risk for short-term and long-term harm.
Drinking heavily or binge drinking doesnâ€™t automatically make you an alcoholic or dependent, but it can put in you dangerous situations. About 80,000 deaths each year are directly linked to excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Start keeping track of how much you drink to get an idea of how much is too much. Some of the short- and long-term consequences of drinking too much may surprise you.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
The short-term health risks of excessive drinking are immediate and usually obvious. From the moment you drink and the liver metabolizes it, alcohol affects your body. Alcohol in the bloodstream goes to your brain and impairs your ability to make good decisions. You may stumble or slur your speech. Impaired judgment means risky behavior like driving drunk, unprotected sex or other loss of inhibitions. When you canâ€™t think right, you neglect your own safety and the safety of others.
Excessive drinking can also cause seizures, especially among binge drinkers. Certain short-term health problems can turn into long-term ones: Drinking increases your risk for depression and high blood pressure, both serious problems if they become chronic.Â Memory loss is another short-term drinking problem that can become a bigger problem over the years.
Alcohol can also increase your risk of infectious diseases. Drinking too much can suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, pneumonia or even tuberculosis. Lowered inhibitions can mean more risky behavior, which increases your risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
But short-term effects to your daily life are not the only thing to consider. There are also long-term risks and health problems that are major and life-threatening when alcohol is abused.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol abuse affects your body over time. The longer your alcohol abuse continues, the more organs like your liver and pancreas are damaged. Â Alcohol increases your risk for cancer, too. Cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and the breast are all real threats when you drink too much.
The liver takes the brunt of long-term alcohol abuse. Alcohol is a toxic substance that damages liver cells. The liver cells that metabolize food into energy become scarred â€“ absorption and filtering suffer. This scarring over time makes the liver diseased and hardening called cirrhosis occurs.Â Cirrhosis prevents the liver from doing its job of filtering and metabolizing. Liver function is vitalâ€”you cannot live without your liver and there is no medical substitute for its function.Â The only treatment for a failed liver is a transplant.Â Women take noteâ€”cirrhosis affects women who drink more quickly than it affects men.
Alcohol abuse is also a threat to your pancreas. Â Heavy drinkers can develop chronic pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas where blood vessels are blocked and the digestive process is disrupted. Nearly half the patients with chronic pancreatitis developed it after prolonged alcohol use.Â The disruptions of pancreatitis can mean chronic diarrhea, severe pain and may lead to diabetes if insulin production is affected. Â The scary part is that most people who develop pancreatitis never experienced symptoms until the disease was well advanced.
Chronic high blood pressure from drinking can increase your risk of stroke. Drinking can also increase the likelihood of other cardiovascular problems, like arrhythmias and heart muscle problems (cardiomyopathy).
How to Cut Back on Drinking
If you are thinking about cutting back on alcohol, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has some suggestions:
- Keep track â€“ Keep track of how much you drink. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down.
- Set limits â€“ Decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you’ll have on those days. It’s a good idea to have some days when you don’t drink.
- Pace and space â€“ When you drink, pace yourself. Sip slowly. Have “drink spacers”â€”make every other drink a nonalcoholic one, such as water, soda or juice.
- Avoid triggers â€“ If think you have to drink in certain places or with certain people, avoid them. Change the situations so you only see certain friends in places without alcohol.
If you are unable to use tips and other recommendations to curb or stop your alcohol abuse in less than two months, you may need professional help at an alcohol rehab treatment facility. The risks to your health drop dramatically if you can cut back or stop drinking.
Jason Adams is an inbound marketing strategist for Lakeview Health Systems, a Florida alcohol addiction treatment facility. His primary objective is to share helpful tips and information for individuals or loved ones who are struggling with alcohol and drug addiction related issues.