Alcohol’s destructive influence affects millions across North America and around the world. It is as serious as any other drug addiction, but sometimes is overlooked because of the fact that it is legal to most people. It can destroy families, cause serious health problems and can have a huge impact on the finances and other aspects of well-being that some once held most dear. It’s effects are different on everyone. Many college and university students “binge drink” which means consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, while others have a large number of drinks per day, well over the recommended limits that health agencies across the world have made standard for men and women. Not to mention the enormous numbers of drunk driving incidents that can have the license of the drunk driver be taken away, as well as the potential that a drunk driver may hurt or kill themselves as well as pedestrians and other drivers they hurt while being under the influence. Alcoholics are also at higher risk of hurting themselves physically by falling down, bumping into furniture around the house and can often expect frequent visits to emergency rooms due to serious physical harm while intoxicated. Luckily there exist programs like 12-Steps, AA and rehabilitation facilities put in place to help alcoholics get healthy and sober, but then another problem with alcohol arises: The fact that many alcoholics don’t believe their drinking is that serious, or that it has any effect on those around them. The truth is is that alcohol effects just about everyone around the alcoholic, as well as the addict themselves. It has the power to utterly break a family as well as relationships with spouses and children. For the purposes of this article, however, we should look at a list of health related symptoms an alcoholic can expect as well as a few other points that many alcoholics will face in their lifetime due to their addiction:
- An increased risk of serious cancers, including mouth, throat, breast, rectum or colon cancer.
- An increased risk of liver disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.
- An increased risk of heart disease, which can include hypertension and stroke.
- Malnutrition as a result of being satiated by “empty calories” rather than vitamin and mineral-nutrient foods – especially given that alcohol and mixed drinks in particular can contain a surprisingly high number of calories.
- Insomnia, which paradoxically some people try to address by consuming alcohol, but only serve to make the problem worse. Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health conditions, including obesity.
- Increased risk pancreatitis – particularly for individuals who drink heavily for five years or longer.
- Uncontrollable tremors (a.k.a. “the shakes”) that can make even the simplest, daily task extremely difficult, dangerous or even impossible (e.g. driving).
- Increased risk of brain damage, as alcohol kills vitally important white and grey brain cells.
- Various dental problems that can be dangerous as well as painful, including gum disease, tooth decay and abscesses.
- Severe anxiety, as alcohol inhibits the central nervous system and over time weakens the brain’s ability to cope with stress.
- Depression, as contrary to what many people believe, alcohol lowers the brain’s serotonin and norepinephrine levels rather than increases them (i.e. alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant).
- Erectile dysfunction, which can be painful and dangerous, plus can lead to diminished self-esteem and relationship problems.
- Unemployment and inability to sustain employment.
- Unmanageable debt, as alcohol bills coupled with employment problems start to add up.
- Marital and relationship difficulties, as most alcoholics – including so-called “high functioning alcoholics” – are prone to lies and deceit to continue their addiction.
- Homelessness – according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 40% of homeless people are alcohol dependent.
This list of problems does not affect every alcoholic. It does, however, point to a number of things that an alcoholic could expect to encounter if their drinking continues. It is vital that if a loved one is addicted to alcohol you do your best to get them the professional help they need to save their life. If you, as an alcoholic realize you may be in over your head with your alcoholism, seek the treatment you need and take the steps towards sobriety and healthy living.