Health Effects of Alcohol Consumption
|Arthritis||Increases risk of gouty arthritis|
|Cancer||Increases the risk of cancer in the liver, pancreas, rectum, breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus|
|Fetal Alcohol Syndrome||Causes physical and behavioral abnormalities in the fetus|
|Heart Disease||Raises blood pressure, blood lipids and the risk of stroke and heart disease in heavy drinkers. Heart disease is generally lower in light to moderate drinkers.|
|Hyperglycermia||Raises blood glucose|
|Hypoglycemia||Lowers blood glucose, especially for people with diabetes|
|Kidney Disease||Enlarges the kidneys, alters hormone functions, and increases the risk of kidney failure|
|Liver Disease||Causes fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis|
|Malnutrition||Increases the risk of protein-energy malnutrition,; low intakes of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B6 and riboflavin, and impaired absorption of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and zinc.|
|Nervous Disorders||Causes neuropathy and dementia; impairs balance and memory|
|Obesity||Increases energy intake, but not a primary cause of obesity|
|Psychological disturbances||Causes depression, anxiety and insomnia|
From the moment the first drop of alcohol hits your lips, your body is being affected. When the alcohol comes in contact with the lining of your mouth, a small percentage is absorbed. It irritates the mouth lining as well as the esophagus, acting as an anesthetic. Then, the remaining alcohol travels to your stomach, where some is absorbed into the bloodstream. (5) Only a small portion, approximately 20% is absorbed through the stomach. Most of the remaining alcohol will continue into the small intestine. It is from the small intestine that the majority of the consumed alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. From here, the alcohol can reach every cell of the body. (4)
Because alcohol shares many properties with water, alcohol is highly soluble in water, and thus it travels throughout the body as water does. Alcohol can pass through cell walls and is distributed throughout the water content of tissues and cells. In its circulation through the body, the alcohol reaches the brain. (5) This is when the consumer begins to feel the effects of intoxication. The severity and longevity of these effects are dependent on the concentration of alcohol in the blood. A factor that affects the concentration of alcohol in the blood is the rate at which the alcohol reaches the small intestine. This rate is dependent on the strength of the alcohol, as well as whether or not there was food in the stomach. If the stomach is empty, the alcohol can reach the small intestine in less than five minutes. (1)
The body can expel approximately 10% of the alcohol by means of perspiration, and by elimination from the lungs and kidneys. This leaves 90% to be metabolized by the liver. Once metabolized by the liver, the alcohol combines with oxygen, forming energy, therefore oxidizing. (5) Upon entrance into the liver, a portion of the alcohol is changed into acetaldehyde. This is accomplished by the enzyme, dehydrogenase. Then, the acetaldehyde is broken down into acetic acid, which circulates throughout the body, combing with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water. The catch is, however, that the liver can only oxidize a given amount of alcohol at a time. (1) Generally, the liver has the ability to metabolize only .25 ounce of pure alcohol per hour, leaving the remaining alcohol to continue its circulation throughout the body. (5)
As the alcohol that is not being metabolized continues to be dispersed, the brain experiences various impairments. Alcohol’s effect on the brain is abnormal, as the brain is usually protected from chemicals and drugs by the “blood/brain barrier,” which acts as a filter system. Normally, it allows only water to pass through. However, the simple molecular structure of alcohol allows it to penetrate the barrier. (5) Occurring in the Frontal Lobe, there is a loss of reason, caution, and inhibitions. From this originates the cocky, careless, behavior of drunk people. The Parietal Lobe is where the loss of fine motor skills occurs, in addition to slower reaction time and shaking. This inability to react and loss of balance in combination with the prior mentioned loss of caution and reason can be very dangerous. In the Temporal Lobe originates the slurred speech that is a defining characteristic of an intoxicated person, as well as impaired hearing. An affected Occipital Lobe is responsible for blurred vision and poor distance judgment, and when the Brain Stem is affect, there is the loss of vital functions. (1) Thus it is shown that alcohol can have severe neurological effects.
Extended alcohol abuse can cause blood conditions including several forms of anemia and blood clotting abnormalities. These conditions could result in susceptibility to bleeding and bruising. Prolonged alcohol use can also impair white blood cell function and thus makes the abuser more likely to become infected.
Half the cancers in the esophagus, larynx and mouth are linked to alcohol. Additionally, intense vomiting from excessive drinking can tear the esophogus.
Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can cause contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure. Social drinkers who binge can get irregular heartbeats from their alcoholic habits.
Osteoporosis and and some forms of arthritis can be advanced by alcohol abuse. Further, alcohol can lead to muscle atrophy, which can cause sharp muscle pain and weakness.
Prolonged heavy drinking can cause kidney failure. The primary functions of kidneys are to regulate the composition and volume of the fluids and electrolytes circulating through the body. The kidneys regulate water, acid/base balance, certain hormones and minerals (calcium, potassium, sodium, etc.) in the body. Alcohol can influence or compromise the balancing functions of the kidneys, and thus can cause severe consequences on kidney function and thus the body.
Cirrhosis is a buildup of scar tissue that changes the structure of the liver and blocks blood flow. Cirrhosis can be causeed by alcoholic hepatitis, which is, of course, caused by overdrinking. Cirrhosis can cause varicose veins, which can rupture and potentially triggering internal bleeding.
Heavy drinkers are more susceptible to pneumonia and lung collapse, and also have more pulmonary infections.
Alcohol can reduce the amount of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas, thereby inflaming and leaking digestive enzymes, which subsequently attack the pancreas itself.
Because of alcohol’s affects on the brain and alcohol’s effects on the kidneys, hormonal production is affected. In men, this could mean that the production of sperm and testosterone are affected, and that can lead to impotence and/or infertility. In women, estrogen metabolism in the liver can be decreased, which boost estrogen levels in the body. These changes can contribute to menstrual irregularities and potentially infertility.
Alcohol can damage the cells lining the stomach and intestines, which can block the absorption and breakdown of nutrients in those organs.
Alcohol can irritate the stomach to the point of inducing gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers and acid reflux. Prolonged exposure to alcohol can erode the stomach lining and cause chronic blood seepage into the stomach. If the individual is particularly unlucky, a vessel can rupture and cause major bleeding.