Substance Use

Physical Effects of Alcohol Addiction: Brain and System

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glass of liquor spilling out with hand

Physical Effects of Alcohol Addiction: Brain and Body

Alcohol is an addictive substance that many people use for several reasons. While some think it’s just a social drink, others use alcohol to cope with their problems. This can lead to addiction and adverse effects on the body and brain. In this post, we talk about what happens when someone has an alcohol addiction and the negative impact it can have on the brain and body.

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a chemical found in certain beverages that people drink. Alcohol helps relax the user and decrease inhibitions, increasing their chances of having fun or socializing with others. In small doses, it’s perfectly safe for adults to use alcohol, but when used too much over time it can lead to addiction and other very adverse effects on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. The key ingredient in alcoholic drinks is ethanol, which affects a person’s central nervous system once consumed. This causes decreased inhibition levels, loss of control over movement (at higher concentrations), slowed breathing rates, and affects many cognitive functions such as memory, depending on how much is consumed at any point in time.

Alcohol addiction is a disease.

Alcohol addiction affects millions of people worldwide, causing them to lose control over their drinking habits. Alcohol addiction is characterized by continued use of alcohol despite the harmful effects on a person’s life. This often leads to physical dependence, which means that once someone stops consuming alcohol altogether after years of regular use, their body goes into shock initially. Because of these reasons, most treatment clinics usually advise users not to quit cold turkey but instead undergo medical detoxification procedures.

Why is alcohol addictive?

Alcohol is addictive because it activates the reward system in the user’s brain. This means that once consumed, alcohol triggers chemical reactions inside a person’s body, which produce pleasurable feelings and sensations. People who drink regularly often develop tolerance levels to alcohol over time, meaning they need more of it to reach the same level of satisfaction or ‘high.’ 

At this point, users are physically addicted to alcoholic beverages due to their dependence on ethanol for daily activities; stopping use suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors/shakes, etc. during detoxification procedures.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse

There are many physical symptoms of alcohol addiction and abuse, some of which include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Dry eyes
  • Excessive perspiration (especially during the withdrawal stage)
  • Low body temperature
  • Shaking/tremors in different parts of the body, e.g., hands, etc.
  • Loss of appetite

Physical effects of alcohol addiction on the brain

Alcohol addiction and abuse over time affect the brain as well. The longer a person consumes alcohol, especially in high amounts or daily, the more damage it does to their body and mind. Some of these effects include:

Memory impairment

Memory impairment is one of the most common and severe effects of alcohol addiction on a person’s brain. Alcohol disrupts the neurotransmitters in the brain, which are responsible for memory formation and recall. Over time, people who drink excessively or abuse alcohol will find it difficult to remember things that happened only moments ago. These memories have not been properly transferred from one part of the brain due to ethanol impeding communication between neurons.

Altered senses

The sense organs also get affected by long-term use/abuse of alcoholic beverages. The nerve endings around our eyes, ears, etc., become so used to being exposed to large amounts of Alcohol that they get damaged as well. This results in eye problems such as blurred vision or even blindness and issues with the inner ear such as hearing loss.

Altered emotions

When a person has been drinking alcohol for years on end, their brain chemistry changes, affecting how they feel about certain things or people around them. Alcohol abuse can cause several emotional issues, including mood swings that are out of regular character for an individual, e.g., sudden silence during conversations, which usually indicates deeper rooted psychological issues stemming from alcoholism. Most times, however, these effects do not go away once someone stops consuming large amounts of alcohol but continue even after several months/years have passed.

Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety

Depression and anxiety are other effects of alcoholism that manifest themselves. When a person has been drinking alcohol for many years, especially daily or in high amounts, it can cause them to feel extremely depressed and anxious about things that were never an issue before. In such cases, psychological therapy is usually needed to help someone regain self-confidence and overcome the root causes of their depression/anxiety, etc.

Lack of motivation

Alcohol abuse also affects people’s minds by causing loss of drive and ambition, making it difficult for them to function normally in society, such as getting up early in the morning, going out into public places, and exercising. This lack of ability often leads to emotional issues since individuals who could not hold on to a job or maintain relationships with friends and family for years on end become depressed.

Lack of concentration

Another effect of alcohol addiction may cause people who drink chronically to experience problems with their ability to concentrate on tasks because they cannot think clearly anymore because of excessive alcohol use.

Slower reaction time

Slower reaction time is another common effect of long-term alcohol addiction. People who have been abusing alcoholic beverages for several years will find it difficult to react quickly in certain situations because of the damage by ethanol over time which affects their nervous system and slows down nerve conduction speeds.

Reduced problem-solving abilities

Problem-solving is another mental function that gets affected when a person has been drinking alcohol for extended periods. They find it difficult to resolve issues and develop new ideas or solutions that may not have been present before they started consuming large amounts of ethanol.

Increased tolerance levels

Increased tolerance levels in the brain make it more challenging to get intoxicated with lower amounts of alcohol over some time, leading to addiction and dependence on this substance for how a person feels or acts when they drink.

Cognitive problems

Cognitive problems like decision-making become impaired because of changes in thought processes because of chemical imbalances induced by ethanol consumption. Other cognitive issues related to prolonged alcohol abuse include problems with memory and reasoning.

Hormonal imbalance

Hormonal imbalances are another result of long-term alcohol abuse. People who have been drinking for years on end often find that their mood swings and emotional responses become less like the norm because chronic ethanol exposure has changed how they think about certain things or feel.

Changes in sleep patterns

Alcohol abuse also alters sleep patterns over time. People who drink large amounts of ethanol daily often find that they need more sleep than usual which can be attributed to the depressive effects caused by chronic exposure to this substance. Alcohol addiction can also lead to insomnia if not enough rest is achieved during sleeping hours.

Slurred speech

Slurred speech is another effect of alcohol addiction which often results in people being less effective communicators due to not being able to enunciate certain words.

Breathing

Breathing becomes difficult for people who have been drinking heavily over extended periods because ethanol reduces lung function and the ability to take in air efficiently.

Lack of energy

People with chronic alcohol addiction will also suffer from a lack of energy and motivation, attributed to their constantly fatigued state (due to less sleep, poor diet, etc.).

Heart rate

Chronic ethanol abuse also affects heart rate and cardiac activity. People who drink large amounts of alcohol over a long period will find that their heart palpitations and other related issues become more frequent than usual.

Brain’s reward system

Alcohol affects the brain’s reward system by activating dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and creates cravings to repeat this action. This can lead to alcohol addiction when people cannot control their urges because it affects them emotionally and physically.

Physical effects of alcohol addiction on the body

The physical effects of alcohol are many. These effects depend on how much a person drinks and their age, weight, genetic history, etc.

Physical effects of alcohol abuse may include:

Liver

Cirrhosis of the liver is one such effect that can be brought about by excessive ethanol consumption over time. The liver will stop functioning correctly if it has been constantly exposed to large amounts of alcohol, leading to permanent damage that results in scar tissue being formed.

Heart

Heart failure is another effect of ethanol abuse over time which causes the heart to stop working effectively because it has been exposed to so much alcohol that its ability to pump blood around the body becomes compromised.

Kidneys

The kidneys are also affected by chronic ethanol consumption because they will not remove waste products from the bloodstream properly if large amounts of this substance have been ingested regularly.

Cancer risk

Alcohol also increases cancer risk, especially for mouth, esophageal, and breast cancer. This is because of ethanol’s effect on the body’s ability to fight off disease. 

Nausea/vomiting

Ethanol can also cause nausea and vomiting, which is why people often become sick if they drink too much of this substance at one time. This causes dehydration, liver damage, etc., making it very dangerous for those who are trying to overcome an addiction because their bodies will not be able to cope with large amounts of alcohol all at once without serious side effects taking place.

Dizziness

Chronic alcohol abuse over long periods can lead to dizziness or vertigo due to how it affects brain function by altering neurotransmitter levels (depressed serotonin production). Because serotonin helps regulate our moods and has many other functions in the brain and body, it is important to maintain its levels by not ingesting too much of this substance.

Muscle weakness/loss

Chronic alcoholism may lead to muscle tissue breakdown and lack of protein synthesis necessary for healthy cell regeneration. This causes physical weakness and loss of muscle mass over time because alcohol can damage the nerve tissue which signals muscles telling them what to do, causing them to become atrophied.

Intestines

Excessive ethanol consumption can also lead to colitis, gastritis, and other gastrointestinal issues because of the damage that it causes to the lining of one’s digestive tract.

Bone density

Alcoholics will also experience bone density problems because ethanol impairs vitamin D absorption, necessary for healthy bones. Alcohol abuse can lead to osteoporosis if it continues over an extended period.

Diabetes

Diabetes is another effect of alcohol addiction that results from chronic consumption over extended periods. Chronic drinkers will often develop type one or two diabetes because ethanol reduces the body’s ability to produce the insulin necessary for controlling blood sugar levels.

Pancreas

Chronic ethanol abuse can also cause pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas, often resulting in severe damage to this vital organ. If pancreatitis is left untreated, it can lead to death.

Stomach

Alcohol abuse can also lead to gastritis and ulcers, which are inflammations of the stomach lining. Chronic alcohol consumption will cause damage to this vital organ over time, resulting in severe health issues if not addressed immediately.

Blood pressure level problems

High blood pressure is another effect of alcohol addiction that can occur because of chronic abuse. Excessive ethanol consumption will lead to health issues with the cardiovascular system because it increases one’s heart rate and places more stress on their body, leading to hypertension.

Anemia

Anemia is an effect of alcohol addiction on the body, which occurs when a person’s bone marrow ceases to produce red blood cells effectively because of chronic ethanol abuse.

Skin

Skin problems such as jaundice, spider veins, and a yellowish complexion are common in alcohol addicts because of the damage that ethanol causes to their liver. This will cause skin issues because toxins from this substance enter the bloodstream and travel around one’s body, causing damage to various organs.

Weight

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, which is another effect of alcoholism that results from chronic abuse. Alcoholic beverages contain calories stored in fat, leading to obesity if ethanol intake continues at unhealthy levels.

Ability to heal

Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to heal because ethanol reduces white blood cell production, which is necessary for fighting infections. As a result, alcoholics tend to suffer more from common illnesses and diseases than the average person.

Tremors and seizures

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to tremors and seizures, as both result from a disruption in one’s central nervous system. If left untreated, these conditions could potentially be fatal.

Difficulty walking or standing up straight

A loss of balance is another effect of chronic ethanol consumption, which occurs because the body becomes accustomed to consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Alcoholics will often appear uncoordinated when they walk due mainly to damage to their cerebellum caused by long-term exposure. This condition may also lead to falls if not addressed immediately.

How does alcohol addiction affect those around you?

Those who live with or are close to an alcoholic can also suffer from the effects of alcohol addiction because it places a significant strain on their lives and relationships. It often leads to financial problems, broken homes, and other issues because of the addict’s inability to function effectively in society.

How to prevent or stop drinking if you’re addicted 

There are various methods to prevent or stop drinking if you are addicted. Some people choose to attend an addiction recovery center and take part in treatment therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Others will go through a rehabilitation program involving detoxification and providing medical support for those suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

If you feel you’re on the brink of addiction, some tips to help you stop drinking alcohol include:

  • Get rid of all alcohol in your house and avoid places you typically drink, such as bars or parties.
  • Seek support from family and friends to help you through tough times.
  • Avoid alcohol at all costs when feeling under pressure, depressed, or anxious because it will only worsen these symptoms.
  • Try to replace drinking with healthier alternatives such as regular exercise to give your mood a positive boost.
  • Take part in activities like meeting up with friends for coffee instead of drinks during the weekdays.  

Treatment for alcoholism

Alcohol addiction can be treated through various rehabilitation programs that provide effective withdrawal management and detoxification. Alcoholism treatment is very effective if appropriately undergone because it helps to reduce or eliminate the risk of relapse. As a result, one should not feel discouraged about their chances of success during recovery. They are dedicated to achieving sobriety before attempting to drink again without suffering from any consequences.

The detox process includes:

  • Medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms
  • A medical detox program that is designed for individuals suffering from alcohol addiction. This can be completed in an outpatient or residential setting, depending on the severity of one’s condition.
  • Psychological support is provided by trained professionals who will help clients cope with cravings, triggers, and other barriers during their journey towards sobriety.

These treatment therapies are very effective because they provide psychiatric care that helps people learn how to avoid drugs and alcohol while also improving mental health conditions that can lead to relapses, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Conclusion

Alcohol addiction is a severe condition that can lead to various health issues when consumed excessively. As shown above, the physical effects of chronic alcohol abuse may vary depending on how much ethanol one ingests and which areas of their body are affected. However, the long-term effects it has on both body and brain can be devastating. Fortunately, various treatment therapies can help to reduce or eliminate the chance of developing more severe health conditions when choosing to attend an addiction recovery center and seek medical support. Call Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 for more information.