Negative Effects of Alcohol: Mental and EmotionalExcessive alcohol use adversely impacts memory and learning functions—the correlation between alcoholism and mental health, in particular, appears to affect a person’s ability to retain new memories. While both female and male alcohol abusers tend to experience similar learning and memory problems, women appear to be more affected. Also, alcoholics often incur diffuse brain damage in multiple regions simultaneously. According to research, the prefrontal cortex is particularly vulnerable to the effects of substance abuse because it is connected to every lobe in the brain. Since the prefrontal cortex controls executive functioning—planning, problem-solving, setting goals, and inhibition—alcoholics put themselves at an increased risk for a wide variety of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional issues. Moreover, alcoholism and depression often co-occur, and consuming alcohol heavily has been associated with a myriad of negative emotional states, such as anxiety and depression. Whether alcohol abuse actually causes these disorders is up for debate, but research certainly suggests that it does exacerbate it.
Negative Effects of Alcoholism: PhysicalThe Brain Brain function is associated with both the physical and mental effects of alcoholism. Indeed, alcoholism impairs the communication pathways of the brain and can alter its structure and function. These disruptions can affect mood and behavior and make it more difficult to think clearly and move with coordination. The Heart Drinking heavily over time or even too much during one episode can cause damage to the heart, and lead to problems including cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, stroke, and high blood pressure. The Liver Alcoholism can take a toll on the liver and has been linked to many health complications, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Also, drinking too much alcohol at one time, especially if the liver has already been damaged, can lead to acute liver failure and death. The Pancreas Alcohol consumption causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually result in pancreatitis, dangerous edema (swelling), and inflammation of blood vessels in the pancreas, which impairs digestion. Immune System Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can impede the immune system, and therefore, chronic drinkers are more vulnerable to disease. Long-term alcohol abusers are more apt to contract diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis than others who drink occasionally or abstain.
CancerBased on substantial research, there is a scientific consensus that an association exists between alcoholism and several forms of cancer. In fact, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies alcohol consumption as a human carcinogen. Evidence also shows that the more alcohol a person drinks over time, the higher the risk of developing cancer associated with excessive alcohol use. According to statistics from 2009, around 3.5 percent of all cancer fatalities in the U.S. (around 19,500) were also alcohol-related. Clear patterns have appeared between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer: Cancers of the Head and Neck Alcohol use is a known risk factor for some head and neck cancers, particularly those of the oral cavity (e.g., mouth, larynx, and pharynx). People who consume more than 3.5 drinks per day have at least a twofold higher risk of developing these cancers than non-drinkers do. Esophageal Cancer Alcohol use is also a significant risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Those who have an inherited deficiency in an alcohol-metabolizing enzyme have a much higher risk of developing esophageal squamous cell carcinoma after using alcohol. Liver Cancer Alcohol use is a primary cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). The other major causes are chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infections. Breast Cancer More than 100 studies have investigated the link between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer among women. This research has consistently revealed that an increased risk of breast cancer is associated with increased alcohol use. An analysis of over half of these studies found that women who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol each day (about three drinks) had a 1.5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer over non-drinkers. Colorectal Cancer Alcohol use has also been linked to a modestly increased risk of colon and rectal cancers. An analysis of dozens of studies that examined the link between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer risk showed that those who regularly drank 50 or more grams of alcohol each day had 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer than non-drinkers or those who drank infrequently.
Negative Effects of Alcoholism: SocialMany alcoholics gradually withdraw from society, spending less time participating in activities they once enjoyed and interacting with friends and family. They may even find a new social circle of friends whom they prefer to spend time with (perhaps other heavy drinkers) or they may be solitary drinkers, further isolating themselves from friends, family, and society. Alcoholism has a ripple effect—it begins by impacting those closest to the person who is suffering, and proceeds to expand outward into far-reaching areas. For family members and friends, loving an alcoholic is not always easy. Effects may include the following:
- Feelings of guilt related to enabling the alcoholic’s drinking habits and behavior
- Blaming oneself for the actions of the alcoholic
- Embarrassment and shame related to the alcoholic’s behavior
- Fear that alcoholic will harm themselves or someone else
- Attending to the responsibilities of the alcoholic, which sometimes means children must act as a parent (e.g., babysit the alcoholic and take care of other young siblings)
- Distress over altercations with the alcoholic when he/she is intoxicated
- Mental or physical abuse suffered at the hands of the alcoholic when he or she is intoxicated
- Resorting to drug or alcohol use oneself as a means to cope or self-medicate
- More DUI-related accidents
- Increased traffic deaths
- Private and public property damage
- Increased medical claims and higher insurance premiums
- A decline in health and the development of chronic health conditions
- Increased medical claims
- More work-related accidents