Surprising Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health

The world has never been more aware, more connected, more informed than we are right now.  The dangers of cigarettes that our grandparents and parents stumbled into unwittingly are a routine part of the evening news, on television or in the newspaper. Health news is a continually hot topic in all forms of media; warnings, advisories and flat out threats about the consequences of a high-fat diet, consuming too much salt, sugar, or even tap water are always ringing in our ears.  Yet we are not hearing about the very real alcohol health risks that drinking too much can cause.   

Some of the alcohol health risks are familiar to anyone over 21.  Cirrhosis of the liver, (which leaves your liver badly scarred) may be the most common.  Erectile dysfunction, (yeah, I said it!  I went there!) and depression are also widely known, although with depression, the chicken or the egg rule applies:  Which came first? The mounting pile of medical studies seems to suggest that the alcohol abuse caused the depression.

The type of depression I am referring to is not the temporary, circumstantial variety, brought on by realizing you have signs of a drinking problem.  No, this depression is a chemical problem in the brain; this problem was brought on by the shrinking of certain parts of the brain.  Although we all experience brain shrinkage to the tune of 1.9% every 10 years, excessive use of alcohol causes a more rapid diminishing of the areas of the brain that are so important to leading daily life.  The atrophy, or dying off, of these higher functions causes poor judgment, memory loss, and difficulty solving problems.  In severe cases, malnutrition is a result of this extremely poor judgment.  Yes, these three alcohol health risks are widely known:  But alcohol consumption is related to over 60 diseases!  These next five may surprise you!

How Alcohol Affects Your Health

  • Dementia:  As mentioned above, the effect of alcoholism on the brain can be quite serious; dementia is the permanent form of these problems, and quitting will not resolve the issue completely.  That which has been lost is gone forever.  Not everyone with alcoholic depression will develop dementia.  But why risk it?
  • Cardiomyopathy:  The cardiovascular system is also weakened by prolonged drinking.  Blood vessels undergo changes that make them more likely to develop clots, and build plaque.  The familiar ‘beer belly’ we all seem amused by is a real strain on the heart..obesity, belly fat, higher blood pressure are leading to congestive heart failure, stroke, heart attack and the biggest alcohol health risk of all: EARLY DEATH!
  • Nerve Damage:  Also called alcoholic neuropathy, the damage can result in numbness or pins and needles tingling in the extremities; weakness and extreme fatigue as well as incontinence of bowel and bladder occur.  Knowing if you have signs of a drinking problem now can save you from watching for signs of nerve damage later.
  • Seizures:  This alcohol health risk is possibly the most surprising:  People who do not have epilepsy can get it from alcoholism…and your first indication is the seizures that will now be part of your life.  Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of epileptic medications.  If you continue to drink to excess and develop seizures, then epilepsy, you will have to quit for your meds to work.  Why not stop before the first seizure?
  • Infectious Disease:  One scary sign of a drinking problem is a weakened and ineffective immune system.  We all know the old joke about alcohol being a preventive method; “no germ could survive my blood!”  The opposite is actually true.  Compromised immunities can make a simple cold turn into pneumonia:  Cuts, bruises and sprains and breaks, (all far more likely if you drink too much) take longer to heal.  Anemia, which is sometimes present in alcoholism, reduces the flow of oxygen carrying red blood cells, so muscles are cramped and fatigued.  Stomach flu will last longer, and antibiotics are of less value.  Recovery times are longer, and your productivity is dropping like a stone.  At this level, more frequent hospitalizations are required to defeat what your own immunities would have whipped earlier.

There are so many others, but these 5 surprising alcohol health risks paint a fairly bleak picture.  Also at risk is your employment; job loss can dramatically affect your health. Maybe it is time to review the signs of a drinking problem.  Are you drinking alone?  Do you drink one or two, to be social, or do you have to get hammered?  Have you missed work?  Have your family and friends been trying to tell you something?  Before the intervention is called, take a long look in the mirror, and consider quitting today…your health and your very life are at stake.

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