The dangerous effects of alcoholism are numerous and potentially fatal, not to mention destructive to the alcoholic’s work, family, goals, and relationships in general. The physical side effects of alcoholism are:
Effect of Alcohol on The Brain
Alcohol acts as a depressant on the brain, most strongly affecting the area that governs inhibitions and judgment. In many cases the alcoholic is seeking just that: liberation from anxiety, shyness, rigidity of thinking, and also the euphoric feeling that accompanies the release of such emotional restrictions.
The temporary loss of judgment and inhibitions explain why some people are “happy drunks,” while others become angry and hostile. The happy drunk seems to get along with everyone because he loses his ability to accurately judge others. Everyone becomes his friend, and he is the life of the party. He also loses his inhibitions – which in normal life restrict him and cause him social anxiety.
The angry drunk also loses his inhibitions, which when sober restrict him from expressing his emotions, especially, anger. His loss of inhibition translates into loss of anger management and personal self-control.
So while much study has been undertaken to try and develop a working model of the alcoholic personality, it has not been possible to do so because various personality types become alcoholics for a variety of reasons. It is certain though that alcoholism does the same physiological damage to the individual’s brain, nervous system, and liver, regardless of his personality and behavior.
In spite of the initial euphoria experienced by the drinker, consumption of more alcohol leads to a more depressed state. The circulation and respiratory systems also become depressed, so that a severe consumption of alcohol can lead to stupor, coma and even death.
As the brain suffers from bouts of alcoholism, so does the nervous system.
Effect of Alcoholism on the Nervous System
One of the visible effects of alcoholism is the loss of balance and muscular coordination. As drinkers consume more and more alcohol, their speech is slurred, their movements become clumsy and awkward, and they lose their balance. This is not due to direct effect of alcohol on the muscles, but the direct effect on the brain and its impulses to the peripheral nervous system.
Effect of Alcoholism on the Liver
The liver is responsible for many vital functions in the body and suffers greatly from the effects of alcoholism. One important role of the liver is to destroy and eliminate toxic substances from the bloodstream and send them to other organs for elimination. Under stress, the liver will fail to accomplish this function properly, resulting in toxemia, poor immune function, infection, skin diseases, kidney disease, impaired circulation, tumors, and a while host of disorders.
Over 90% of the alcohol consumed by the body must be eliminated by the process of oxidation, which takes place in the liver. Oxidation is the breakdown of alcohol into carbon dioxide and water (CO2 and H2O). The rate at which the liver can perform this function is the same regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed by the person. So, the more alcohol consumed, the more the liver’s work backs up because it cannot oxidize any faster to meet the higher demand.
For example, if your sanitation men can pick up only 2 bags of garbage a week, but you continuously set out 2 bags of garbage every day, then you get a huge accumulation of garbage in front of your house! And the sanit men can still pick up only two bags. It’s the same way with the liver… it can only process at the same rate, regardless of the demand to process more and more alcohol.
Extended drinking binges put the liver under constant and severe strain, and that is why many alcoholics develop a disease known as cirrhosis of the liver, in which many liver cells are actually dead or non-functioning. As the alcoholic’s disease progresses, the liver is less and less equipped to deal with the strain. The liver’s inability to detoxify other substances in the body becomes compromised as well. It’s a vicious cycle of consuming more and more toxic substances which cannot be processed or excreted. When the liver can no longer efficiently process these toxic substances, they get secreted into the fatty tissue and lymph nodes of the body, leading to cysts, growths, and tumors as they build up over time.
In addition, prolonged alcoholism may cause weight gain because the body cannot deal with the excessive sugars consumed with alcohol, nor can it excrete toxic waste matter.
The liver of the average non-alcoholic person can oxidize one half to one ounce of whiskey, or six to twelve ounces of beer every hour. If you drink three 8-oz. glasses of beer and three shots of whiskey in one hour, you have already given your liver three hours of oxidation to perform for it to process and eliminate the alcohol byproducts.
From this formula you can figure that for every drink you take your body should have one hour to process it before you drive. If you go to a party or bar and have three drinks, wait three hours until you can safely drive home again. Better still, always have a responsible designated driver to take you home.
Effects of Alcoholism on the Skin
The skin is actually an organ of elimination weighing about 13 pounds in the average sized person. Only a small portion of alcohol is sweated out through the skin – the liver bears the major brunt of detoxifying the alcohol.
However, the skin will suffer from the effects of alcoholism in many ways:
- Drinking alcohol causes a sudden flush effect in the face and skin, making it appear red. The presence of “gin blisters” on the noses and face of alcoholics is merely damage from the repeated sudden dilation of the small capillaries in the skin, which over time, get broken. The initial rush produces a feeling of warmth, which is why many people in cold climates take to drinking. However the repeated rush of blood to the small capillaries in the skin takes its toll over time.
- Drinking alcohol robs the skin and body of much-needed moisture. Premature aging can be linked to lack of such moisture in the body tissues. Translation: a chronic drinker will age more quickly, develop grey hair more quickly, and develop skin wrinkles and creases more quickly. For this reason many alcoholics look much older than their chronological age. Lack of proper moisture to the skin may also cause skin discoloration, paleness of complexion, or a grayish cast to the skin.
Can anything reverse the dangerous effects of alcoholism? It depends on the length and severity of the disease. Substance abuse centers offer recovery programs for alcoholics involving emotional and spiritual counseling as well as alcohol detox. On a physical level, one may undertake a variety of detoxification programs, many of which can be done in the privacy of one’s home. Alcohol detox may be done by nutritional supplementation, detox diet plans, detox baths and soaks, and by use of other detoxification products. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of choices for how one may try to offset the deadly effects of alcoholism. But self-care is often not enough once the addiction has taken hold. The best course of therapy is to seek a rehab center offering medical assistance for crisis intervention. Then, self-help detox cleansing can become a regular part of the recovering alcoholic’s health regimen.