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Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world, and the way most of society views alcohol is much different than how we regard other drugs.

In 2018, only 33.7% of Americans over the age of 18 had not consumed alcohol that year, with 5.1% of adults engaging in heavy drinking.

Despite the negative impacts alcohol can have on your mental and physical health, it remains a large part of many cultures. 

In America, heavy drinking is often encouraged, especially at a young age.

College students view drinking in excess as a right of passage for the “college experience”, but the further into adulthood that this behavior is continued, the more likely individuals are to develop these health conditions.

Even moderate alcohol consumption can have long-term effects on the body.

If you think you or your loved one are suffering from alcohol abuse, you should consult your doctor about seeking treatment at a rehabilitation center or with medication-assisted treatment

Often what is defined by the CDC as excessive drinking is not seen by many individuals as being out of the ordinary.

For women, this means consuming 4 or more drinks during an occasion, and for men, it is 5 or more drinks.

Not only can alcohol abuse negatively affect your relationships, job, and lifestyle, but over time drinking heavily can lead to serious health risks.

Weakening of the Immune System

The body’s immune system is generally divided into two response systems; innate and adaptive.

The innate immune response is the immediate response that the body has when it is exposed to a threat.

The adaptive immune system is a subsystem within your body that eliminates pathogens but also prevents their growth in the future. This is part of the system that builds your immunity over time.

Drinking alcohol has a negative impact on both of these parts of your immune system’s ability to protect your body, so you have more difficulty recovering from illnesses as well as staying healthy long-term. 

The first contact that alcohol makes with your body is in the gastrointestinal system.

Alcohol can damage the gut barrier’s ability to function, over time allowing intestinal microorganisms to leak through into your bloodstream.

Our GI tract has lots of healthy bacteria as well, which aid in normal function as well as mood stabilization.

Alcohol can kill these microorganisms which negatively affects the immune system and GI microbiome, leading to other issues like malnutrition and digestion problems. 

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is an extremely common side effect of alcohol consumption.

Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of pressure in blood vessels, normal blood pressure is around or less than 120/80 mm Hg, and anything higher than 130/80 mm Hg is considered high. Alcohol can raise blood pressure in several ways

The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, or RAAS, is controlled by the kidneys and regulates blood pressure through the three hormones in its name.

Alcohol increases levels of renin, causing blood vessels to become smaller in diameter.

The hormone renin also reduces the amount of fluid that your body releases as urine. This combination of more fluid and thinner blood vessels raises blood pressure. 

Much like renin’s ability to retain fluid, alcohol can decrease how much of the hormone vasopressin your body is making.

Vasopressin increases the body’s water retention, by suppressing the hormone’s function, while alcohol causes dehydration and constricts your blood vessels.

This can also lead to liver disease

Baroreceptors help your body regulate blood pressure, when the blood vessels stretch either activate high-pressure baroreceptors or low-pressure baroreceptors.

Depending on the body’s needs, the baroreceptors will help increase or decrease the size of blood vessels to stabilize blood pressure.

Alcohol reduces the baroreceptors’ sensitivity, preventing them from stretching the blood vessels to lower blood pressure.

High blood pressure can lead to serious health risks like heart disease and stroke. 

Brain Damage

Alcohol can have long-term impacts on the brain, causing various side effects such as insomnia, decreased attention span, depression, dementia, and nerve damage.

Even short-term alcohol use can decrease a person’s ability to formulate thoughts and think clearly. 

Excessive drinking during the adolescent years of a person’s life can severely impact the brain’s development. Heavy drinking alters the neurons in the brain, reducing their size and ability to function correctly.

In instances of alcohol overdose, the brain can become permanently damaged and it can even lead to death.

Photo by Volker Loschek from Pexels

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