Alcohol's impact on your body starts from the moment you take your first sip. While an occasional glass of wine with dinner is not a cause for concern, the cumulative effects of drinking wine, beer, or spirits can take its toll on your body.
Alcohol is like a sheet of cloth that most people use to cover themselves from reality. It is the way most enjoy their lives and use to bond with other people. We really cannot say that we had a party when there was no booze. In all its beauty and fun, there is the other side of the coin, a beast behind the smiling face. This week we will discuss the adverse effects of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol is one of the few substances that can be easily and readily absorbed by the body. It can reach and damage any part of the body. Starting in the digestive system, drinking too much alcohol can cause abnormal activation of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. Build up of these enzymes can lead to inflammation known as pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can become a long-term condition and cause serious complications.
Most of the detoxification in the body occurs in the liver. Excessive alcohol consumption interferes with the normal detoxification process and increases the risk for chronic liver inflammation and liver disease. The scarring that results is called cirrhosis, hence liver cirrhosis. This decreases the ability of the liver to perform its various functions including making proteins essential for normal blood viscosity and condition, detoxification and glucose production.
The pancreas helps regulate the body`s use of insulin in response to glucose in the blood. When both the pancreas and the liver are not functioning well, there is a high risk of developing low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycaemia. Due to the damaged pancreas, there is no longer control of the blood glucose after meals and this results in increased sugar levels in the blood, hyperglycaemia. This is why most people who excessively take in alcohol later develop diabetes mellitus. People who are already diabetic should not take in alcohol.
Slurred speech is a classical sign that a person has had too much to drink. This is due to the alcohol`s effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS) that disrupts the communication between the brain and the body. This makes coordination more difficult and usually these individuals have a hard time with their balance. The damage to the CNS may also result in some numbness and tingling sensation in the hands and the feet. Drinking makes it difficult for the brain to create long-term memories. Over time the part that is responsible for emotional control, short-term memory and judgement, called the frontal lobe, becomes damaged. This can be the beginning of a permanent brain damage and leads to a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that affects memory. The brain of an alcoholic is usually shrunken compared to that of a non-alcoholic.
Some heavy drinkers may develop a physical and emotional dependency on alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult and sometimes life-threatening. Breaking alcohol addiction may require professional help. Some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, nausea, irregular heartbeats, heavy sweating. In severe cases seizures, hallucinations and delirium may occur.
Alcohol consumption can damage tissues in the digestive tract and prevents the intestines from digesting food and absorbing nutrients and vitamins. This may lead to malnutrition. Heavy drinking can also lead to bloating, gassiness or diarrhoea or painful stools. Ulcers and haemorrhoids, which may result from dehydration and constipation, may occur. In addition to this, alcohol consumers are at risk of developing cancer in the mouth, throat, oesophagus, colon or liver.
Alcohol can affect the heart and the lungs. Alcohol can interfere with the normal metabolism of fats, and may lead to cardiovascular complications which include hypertension, irregular heartbeats, stroke, heart failure, heart attack and heart disease. Decreased vitamins and mineral absorption from food can cause severe anaemia since these are vital in the formation of blood cells.
On the sexual and reproductive system, alcohol has some adverse effects. Men who drink too much are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. Heavy drinking can also prevent sex hormone production and lower your libido. Women who drink too much may stop menstruating. That puts them at a greater risk for infertility. Women who drink heavily during pregnancy have a higher risk of premature delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Pregnant women are strongly discouraged to consume alcohol as they will be putting the unborn child at risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD). This condition comes tagged with learning difficulties, long term health issues like heart disorders, physical developmental abnormalities and increased emotional problems.
Drinking heavily reduces the body`s natural immune system making it difficult for the body to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. People who drink heavily over a long period of time are also more likely to develop pneumonia or tuberculosis than the general population. About 10 percent of all tuberculosis cases worldwide can be tied to alcohol consumption.
Though there are some therapeutic advantages of alcohol, when taken in the correct amounts, which is about one normal glass per day, when taken in excess, it will unveil its beast face and things may get absolutely ugly. So, make a wise choice, decrease the amount of alcohol you take in, or completely stop. Until we meet again next time, stay healthy-live healthy.
Taona is a third year medical student from the Midlands State University (MSU). He is a member of the Zimbabwe Medical Students` Association (ZiMSA).education