Long-Term Physical Effects of Alcohol

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The long-term effects of alcohol on the human body are numerous. The brain, heart, lungs, liver, digestive system and skeletal system all are affected adversely by long-term alcohol consumption. Even the reproductive system can suffer from long-term alcohol use, which has the ability to lead to various conditions and diseases, many of which have the potential to be fatal.

Effects on the liver

  • Heavy drinking can bring about a condition known as alcoholic hepatitis, which causes the liver to become inflamed. Appetite can be compromised, and someone with this disease will have pain in the abdominal area as the alcohol's effects destroy healthy liver cells. Vomiting and nausea are common symptoms as is jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes that is precipitated by the liver's inability to work correctly. This hepatitis can eventually cause cirrhosis of the liver, a disease in which the organ becomes scarred beyond repair and eventually ceases to function. Liver failure results in death over time.

Effects on the brain

  • Brain function is extremely impaired by long-term alcohol consumption. Continuous use of alcohol will have negative effects on the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling behavior. Memory, coordination and the ability to concentrate will deteriorate as alcohol first depresses and then gradually kills brain cells. Mood swings that can bring about outbursts of emotion are frequently seen. Senses such as taste, sight, hearing and even smell will all be impaired eventually. Reaction time will also suffer and there will be a noticeable loss of pain perception.

Effects on the digestive system

  • Because alcohol can contribute significantly to the inflammation of the stomach lining--a condition known as gastritis--it can be a direct cause of gastrointestinal troubles. The intestinal tract and colon are also vulnerable to alcohol's effects on their linings, with the result being a difficulty to absorb and break down much needed nutrients. The pancreas is susceptible to alcohol damage, with inflammation of this vital organ possible. Hormone production in the pancreas can be impaired, and disease of the pancreas, such as pancreatitis, can develop.

Effects on the heart

  • Heavy drinking is bad for a person's heart, as high blood pressure can result. The heart muscle becomes thickened over time from the effects of alcohol and puts the organ's blood-pumping ability at risk. Alcohol increases the chances of heart failure and stroke, brings about conditions such as irregular heart rhythms and abnormal heart beats, and contributes to such things as a lowered white blood cell count. This makes a person's chances of fighting off infection much less than if alcohol were not present in the system. Anemia and abnormal clotting of the blood can also be traced to the long-term effects of alcohol in some people.

Other long-term effects

  • The lungs are not immune to the long-term effects of alcohol. A lowered resistance to lung infections can occur in heavy drinkers, who are also at risk of vomiting and aspirating on it because their gag reflex will be severely compromised. This can result in pneumonia and even death from choking. A number of types of cancers have been associated with the long-term effects of alcohol, including cancers of the mouth, lip, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum. Alcohol short-circuits a person's ability to be able to absorb enough calcium, with thinner and weaker bones a result. This can lead to muscle pain and weakness, along with arthritis and joint deformity. In men, alcohol interferes with sperm and testosterone production, which can cause impotence. In women, the menstrual cycles can be affected, as the liver has a hard time metabolizing estrogen because of alcohol's effects.

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