It’s common knowledge that alcohol abuse causes liver damage and the way that alcohol impacts the brain (memory loss, impaired judgement) and digestive system (increased risk of colon and oral cancer, GERD) are also well known.
But there are many side effects and long-term effects that aren’t well known. Alcohol abuse and alcohol relapse are serious issues and kill more people in the United States than any other addictive drug, but in addition to those many deaths, alcohol can also cause:
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) is a type of minor brain damage that results from thiamine (also known as vitamin B1) deficiency. It’s rare and it typically presents in patients with AIDS or malnourishment, but it can also occur in alcoholism due to the way that alcohol can affect thiamine absorption.
Alcoholics are also more likely to neglect their diet, potentially increasing their risk further, and this is a serious concern as WKS can cause a wealth of problems for the sufferer. The symptoms can range from visual disturbances, such as double vision and blurred vision, to limited muscle coordination and constant confusion.
WKS can also cause memory loss, hallucinations, and a condition known as confabulation. Someone suffering from confabulation struggles to piece together complete memories and begins to subconsciously “fill-in the gaps”. It may be initially dismissed as nothing more than lying, but ultimately the sufferer is not aware of what they are doing and believe that they have lived the lie they are telling.
It’s important not to confuse confabulation with exaggerated stories told by alcoholics, but if you know a long-time alcoholic who has a tendency to tell tall-tales and seems fully committed to those tales, they could be suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
Depression, Anxiety and Insomnia
Alcohol is a depressant. It dull the senses and has a sedative effect on the mind, making you sluggish, impacting your coordination, and eventually sending you to sleep. However, an alcoholic sleep is not a good one because alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythms, leading to interrupted sleep and less time spent in deep sleep.
If you drink on a regular basis, your body will struggle to maintain a restful rhythm, leading to fatigue, sluggishness and all the issues that go along with insomnia, such as short-term memory loss and irritability. Insomnia can also exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, issues that are especially prevalent in alcoholics.
Alcoholics are known to have more panic attacks, which is both a result of the issue mentioned above and the drop in blood sugar that occurs when the alcohol leaves the body. This is why you may feel more temperamental the day after a drinking binge, with those feelings remaining even when the fatigue, headaches and other hangover symptoms have passed.
To make matters worse, alcoholics are typically not healthy and happy human beings to begin with. The vast majority of addictions have an underlying cause, with many rooted in anxiety, depression, and confidence issues. Once you add the effects of insomnia, blood sugar drops and drastic mood swings to the mix then you have a recipe for disaster.
The Body and Face Becomes Swollen
Alcoholics can develop swollen faces, feet and hands, and contrary to what many seem to believe, this is not simply the result of short-term abuse or a poor diet. Alcohol causes sodium levels to go through the roof, and this causes the body to retain more water.
Alcohol also disrupts the body’s urination cycle, with most of the liquids consumed passing straight through and not being absorbed by the body.
This effectively dehydrates the body, and becomes a major issue with long-term abuse, even though the high-sodium means that alcoholics are typically retaining more water than their tee-total counterparts. This dehydration causes blood vessels to dilate, leading to the “alcoholic nose”, which has the medical name “rhinophyma”.
Increased Paranoia and Decreased Social Competency
Many alcoholics start drinking because alcohol gives them confidence. Some argue that without alcohol they would turn into hermits or wouldn’t have met their partners. However, while moderate consumption can increase confidence temporarily, long-term use has the opposite effect.
Alcoholics are more prone to paranoia, assuming bad intentions because their judgement has been impaired and because their memory of events (what people said, how they acted, how they looked, etc) isn’t clear. Alcoholics may also struggle with social conventions, and not just when they are drunk.
Again, this is the result of impaired memory and judgment, as well as the fact that they are in a perpetual state of being drunk/hungover, which means they go from having no inhibitions to feeling anxious and awkward.
Alcoholics are more prone to angry and emotional outbursts, which can also impact on relationships.
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