Alcoholism is a chronic disease. It has tools and treatment for long-term management. As with diabetes and high blood pressure, you can take steps to protect yourself and your health. Untreated alcohol addiction comes with long-term risks. These risks can be minimized with professional care and support.
How Dangerous Is Alcohol?
Because it’s legal and widely used, we sometimes forget alcohol can cause serious long-term health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol abuse is one of the top lifestyle-related causes of death in the United States.1 It contributes to 80,000 deaths in this country every year. One of the biggest risks of alcohol abuse is the risk of dependence and addiction. This adds to the medical, psychological and social damage this drug can cause.
Alcoholism and Your Body
Alcohol can affect your heart, digestive system, kidneys and brain. Drinking can cause a wide range of health problems including:
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Stomach inflammation, ulcers and pancreatitis
- A great risk of cancer especially of the digestive tract, liver and breast
- Fragile, breakable bones
- A suppressed immune system
- Nerve damage
- Cognitive problems and memory loss
- Complications with pregnancy and birth defects
- Problems with sexual function and libido
The liver, which metabolizes most of the alcohol you consume, may suffer the most harm from heavy drinking. The liver foundation explains that long-term drinking can cause any one of the following three major types of liver disease:2
- Fatty liver disease: An early stage of alcohol-induced liver disease, this condition is characterized by the accumulation of extra fat cells in the liver.
- Alcoholic hepatitis: Seen in approximately 35 percent of adults with alcoholism, hepatitis causes inflammation and swelling of the liver which can cause sudden liver failure and death.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis: Up to 20 percent of heavy, long-term drinkers develop cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver, which can lead to liver failure.
In addition to these health conditions caused by heavy drinking, alcohol also increases your risk of being injured or killed in an accident. Fortunately many of the risks and effects of drinking can be prevented or reduced by getting treatment for alcohol addiction.
Alcohol and the Brain
Alcohol has immediate effects on how you think and act. It also makes long-term changes to your brain. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that long-term alcoholism can actually alter the size and structure of the brain.3 Studies have found shrinkage in the brains of alcoholics. Chronic alcoholics show cognitive deficits in their ability to learn, process information and remember. The NIAAA adds that after one year of abstinence, even chronic alcoholics show improvements in their cognition and memory. Whether you’ve been drinking for a few months or for decades, it’s never too late to begin the healing process.
Alcohol’s Effects on Mental Health
Alcohol abuse can have a negative effect on your psychological health. Alcoholism and mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder often occur at the same time. Mental health issues can predate drinking or can be triggered by alcoholism. Integrated treatment addressing co-occurring disorders. This means that when you get help for alcoholism, you also get the help and support you need for complete mental health.
Getting the Help You Need
It’s never too soon to take action and stop an alcohol abuse problem. It is never too late to begin your recovery. The Oaks at La Paloma meets you where you are. We offer a full range of recovery resources including the following:
- Alcohol detoxification supervised by consulting physicians in a safe, supportive environment
- Guidance from addiction counselors who understand the complex nature of chronic alcoholism
- The support and encouragement of peers who are overcoming similar struggles
- The opportunity to strengthen your relationships and create a more nurturing home life through family counseling
- Nutritional counseling to help you restore your physical health
- Relapse prevention education to give you the coping skills you need to maintain long-term sobriety
- Transitional living after treatment to help you adjust to the demands of daily life after you graduate from rehab
- Aftercare services like counseling and support group meetings to help you keep up with your recovery goals
No matter where you are in the cycle of addiction, it’s never too late or too early to recognize the destructive power of alcohol. Reclaim control over your health and your life. Call us, and learn more about our comprehensive treatment options. At The Oaks at La Paloma, we give you the tools you need to build a healthy, sober life. Find out how treatment at our beautiful, holistic facility can help you achieve long-lasting recovery.
1 “Fact Sheets–Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control. 18 Oct. 2016. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
2 “Alcohol-Related Liver Disease.” American Liver Foundation. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
3 “Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.” National Institute Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Oct. 2004. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.