How Does Alcoholism Affect Your Body

alcoholism and the body

Alcoholism is a destructive, and very often deadly, addiction. In fact, about 80,000 deaths and the loss of 2.5 million potential years of life are annually attributed to excessive drink. That translates to 1 in 10 deaths occurring for people age 20-64.

Such deaths can be avoided as people who are addicted to alcohol achieve recovery with the assistance of a quality treatment program. Over time, vigilant efforts to remain alcohol-free are rewarded. The first step, of course, is choosing to seek the needed help.1

Alcoholism Develops in Progressive Stages

Alcoholism rarely appears suddenly. Rather, the disease tends to progress in a series of steps that increase in intensity. Spotting the signs early could allow families to step in and provide meaningful help before severe damage takes place.

Unfortunately, the early stage of alcoholism is often hard to detect. Its only outward sign is an increased tolerance to alcohol.There are typically few side effects. An alcoholic in the early stage of addiction may be hard to tell from other drinkers who do not have the same desperate craving to drink. However, they can usually drink much more than their counterparts. They really enjoy drinking. For all who drink, brain cells are being damaged with each sip.

When drinking doesn’t stop, physical dependence can develop. This means that an individual needs to drink in order to combat the ill effects that come with not having alcohol. This dependence is often coupled with an intensified desire for alcohol and a loss of self-control regarding the amount of alcohol consumed. A person with a dependency may drink so much that memory loss or a blackout occur.

The late stage of alcoholism is hard to miss. Continual drinking, confusion, malnutrition, respiratory infections are hallmarks of this addiction. There is often financial trouble as well. People like this might be challenged daily due to the addiction process. Nonetheless, the person might still find it hard to quit.2

Physical Changes May Result from Alcoholism

Alcoholism is often defined as a form of mental illness. As such, the person simply cannot stop drinking due to a craving for alcohol. This disease, however, can also take its toll on a person’s body and how it works.

Those who continue to drink in an alcoholic pattern can develop serious physical issues, such as:

  • Irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure, which increase the chance for a heart attack or stroke.
  • Liver damage, including inflammation, cirrhosis, hemorrhage, cancer and even a complete shutdown.
  • Brain damage, manifesting as hallucinations, impaired senses, damaged motor skills, dementia, psychosis and personality changes.
  • Swollen tonsils, salivary glands, thyroid and lymph nodes3

Alcohol Affects Men and Women Differently

These symptoms can take place in both men and women. However, signs of damaged health may show up earlier in women. Women process alcohol through their bodies differently than men. This occurs for a variety of physiological reasons. It’s not a matter of size or weight. Dehydrogenase, an enzyme in the liver that helps to break down alcohol, is less abundant in the female body. Also, premenstrual hormonal changes and medications containing estrogen (as found in birth-control pills) slow down the elimination of alcohol.

Women may also experience more heartache due to alcoholism. Drinking while pregnant may directly affect the health of the developing baby. No amount of alcohol is safe for women to consume while pregnant. However, female alcoholics may simply be unable to curb their habit in order to protect the unborn.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a term used to describe the effects of a mother’s drinking on her baby in the womb. Defects such as severely low birth weight, impaired muscle development and irritability might be immediately evident in the infant at birth. As the child grows, FAS continues to cause problems with hyperactivity, learning and attention disorders, impaired concentration and possibly even seizures.

Address Alcohol’s Effect on Your Body at The Canyon

At The Canyon, alcohol rehabilitation is a primary focus. Highly experienced in treating alcoholism, we are also keenly aware of and able to treat any mental or emotional problems that may also exist. Those issues may be contributing to your ill health. They must be dealt with simultaneously in order to achieve a long-lasting recovery. Our expert staff is trained to help those who suffer from addiction with a mental health “dual diagnosis.”

From alcohol intervention assistance to relapse prevention strategies, we can provide the tools that you or your loved one needs in order to stay drug-free even after returning to the “real world.” Dealing with both psychological and drug addiction issues can make attempts to cope with the pressures of life – family, friends, work, money, etc. –seem overwhelming.  Look to us for the guidance and support you need as you seek to navigate the waters of responsibility without getting in over your head.


1 “Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm, (July 25, 2016).

2 “Stages of Alcoholism”, Healthline, http://www.healthline.com/health/stages-alcoholism , (November 8, 2016).

3 “10 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking”, Medical News Today, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297734.php , (December 8, 2015).

4 “Alcohol During Pregnancy”, March of Dimes, http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/alcohol-during-pregnancy.aspx , (April 2016).

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