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Alcoholism and Negative Impact on Longevity

Alcohol consumption plays a role in many vehicular accidents and deaths.Chronic alcohol abuse poses many threats to health and general wellbeing. In fact, alcoholism increases the risk for so many diseases that scientists believe they haven’t even pinpointed all of the health issues that alcohol either causes or exacerbates. Doctors guess that chronic alcohol abuse will lower a person’s life expectancy by as many as twelve years.

Though many people are aware that alcohol improves the likelihood of liver complications and heart disease, many people do not realize how many other risks alcohol poses. Those risks do not stop with deteriorating health. Alcoholics are also more likely to cause injury and emotional pain to people in their social circle and they are more likely to be involved in accidents and crimes.

Alcohol’s Impact on Accidents, Suicide and Homicide

Excess alcohol consumption plays a role in many accidents and premature deaths. These scary statistics show just how much alcohol increases the likelihood of injury or death.

Alcohol and Premature Death:

  • Alcoholics have a much higher risk of dying from an injury, accident or act of violence.
  • Alcoholics have a higher risk of dying from an overdose.  Younger people who abuse alcohol are especially at risk for an overdose, as peer pressure and inexperience can be a deadly combination for adolescent drinkers. An overdose can result just from one particular instance of binge drinking or from prolonged exposure in the bloodstream.
  • One in twenty alcoholics experience delirium tremens.  This is an acute withdrawal symptom where an alcoholic experiences extreme delirium and disorientation after not having had a drink in a few days. Occasionally, delirium tremens can result in death.
  • Heavy drinking can cause damage to many organs and systems in the body, which can result in pancreatitis, internal bleeding, liver damage and anemia.
  • Alcoholics have a higher risk of severe complications after all types of surgery, and thus show a much slower recovery rate after major operations. They have a higher likelihood of developing infections and other issues that prevent wounds from healing.

Alcohol Related Accidents, Crime and Suicide:

  • Alcohol is involved in at least 50% of fatalities that result from car accidents.
  • The number one killer of young adults is car accidents where alcohol is involved.
  • Even a small amount of alcohol can impair someone’s driving. The risk of injury from a car accident is doubled after one drink. After four or more drinks, someone is eleven times more likely to be injured in a car accident.
  • One fourth of all people who kill themselves exhibited alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is involved in more than fifty percent of all homicides.

Alcohol and Hangovers

Though most people do not consider hangovers to be a serious effect of alcoholism, they do have several adverse health effects.  During a hangover, the person is at greater risk for cardiac arrhythmias, depression, hormonal imbalances, as well as impaired brain and liver function. In addition to these health concerns, a person with a hangover might not perform well at work.  Depending on the nature of their work, could result in a serious accident or case of negligence. Chronic and occasional drinkers are both vulnerable to hangovers. Hangovers are more likely to result when men consume more than five drinks or women more than three drinks.

How Alcohol Affects Relationships and Family

Children of alcoholics are at risk of violence, developing depression and self-esteem issues.

Alcohol has very detrimental impacts on families, making them less cohesive and less able to approach conflict in a healthy manner.  Domestic violence is a common consequence of alcohol abuse.

Effect on Women. A serious risk factor from injury due to domestic violence may come from a history of alcohol abuse in the male partner.

Effect on Children. There is a risk of violent behaviour and abuse towards children when there is alcoholism in parents. Children of alcoholics tend to do worse academically than others, have a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, stress and lower self-esteem than their peers. In addition to their own inherited risk for later alcoholism, many children of alcoholics have serious coping problems that may last their entire life.

Adult children of alcoholic parents are at higher risk for divorce and for psychiatric symptoms. One study concluded that the only events with greater psychological impact on children are sexual and physical abuse.

Likelihood of Other Addictions

Though a great deal of research is still needed on genetic disposition to addiction, researchers are beginning to identify the genes that make someone more vulnerable to developing addictions. Thus many alcoholics that are addicted to alcohol are also addicted to cigarettes. The risk of other substance abuse is also higher. Heavy drinking coupled with heavy smoking results in even higher risk for many health issues. However, research has shown that a person who abuses alcohol and cigarettes will more likely die from smoking-related issues, rather than alcohol related issues.

Alcohol and the Liver

The liver is the organ that is most endangered by chronic alcohol abuse. That is because after the alcohol passes through the small intestine, it goes immediately to the liver, where the liver then tries to metabolise the alcohol. The alcohol is toxic to liver tissues, so the liver creates cytokines to counter this toxicity, which in turn injures and inflames the liver. When this is repeated over and over again, cirrhosis occurs.  The liver develops scarring and its ability to function deteriorates. Alcoholism is the primary cause of all cirrhosis cases, and as many as 20% of chronic alcohol abusers will develop this fatal condition.

When the liver begins to deteriorate, a person might experience bleeding disorders, brain malfunction, and fluid build-up. Sometimes even moderate drinking can lead to abdominal pain, which indicates stress on the liver that may be associated with alcohol hepatitis or a fatty liver. In some cases, these conditions can be reversed if the person abstains from alcohol.

The chance of liver damage is increased when a person drinks without eating, or drinks different types of alcohol in one sitting. Obesity also increases the chances that a person will experience liver damage as a result of alcohol consumption.

Hepatitis B and C put people in great danger of liver cancer as well as cirrhosis. Because some alcoholics may make decisions that increase their chances for contracting hepatitis, they should be vaccinated for Hepatitis B (there is not yet a vaccination for Hepatitis C).

Alcohol and the Gastrointestinal Problems

Heavy drinking also causes gastrointestinal issues. Alcoholics are likely to experience occasional instances of violent vomiting, which causes tears at the point where the stomach meets the oesophagus. Frequent usage of aspirin or Ibuprofen can exacerbate this issue.

Chronic alcohol abuse can also result in inflammation in both the oesophagus and the pancreas. Research suggests that alcoholics have a bigger risk of pancreatic cancer, although some doctors believe that this risk results from smoking, as opposed to alcohol use.

Alcohol and Risks of Heart Disease and Stroke

Recent research has established a connection between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of heart disease. Scientists believe that having one to two drinks a day can boost HDL (good cholesterol). However, more research is still needed in this area, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada does not advise drinking alcohol just to reduce the risk of heart disease.

While we still don’t fully understand how moderate drinking affects the heart, it is absolutely clear that heavy drinking has a negative impact on heart health. Heart failure is the most common cause of death for chronic alcohol abusers. The toxicity of alcohol harms the heart by multiplying the amount of triglycerides in the blood. This puts alcoholics at risk of heart attack, stroke and unhealthy blood pressure. Furthermore, calories from alcohol consumption lead to obesity, which adds even more risk for heart problems.

Alcohol and Cancer

Studies have shown a correlation between heavy drinking and many types of cancers: oesophageal, colorectal, gastrointestinal and mouth. Studies suggest that small amounts of alcohol might even increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Women who are already at risk of breast cancer should do their best to avoid alcohol.

The Effect of Alcohol on Lungs

Heavy drinking can lead to pneumonia, because alcoholics have lower levels of the white blood cells that help fend off pneumonia. The damaged immune system cannot fight against the disease, which can cause intense chest pain, fever, painful coughing and even death. To reduce this potentially fatal risk of alcoholism, alcoholics should be vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia.

The Effect of Alcohol on Other Systems

Heavy drinking can also lead to weakened bones, a condition known as osteoporosis. Furthermore, it can cause muscle dystrophy and various types of skin irritations. Studies have suggested that women are at a greater than men for developing bone and muscle damage.

Effects of Alcohol on Hormones and Foetal Development

Heavy drinking leads to an increased level of oestrogen and decrease in testosterone, which has negative effects for both men and women. This imbalance leads to sexual dysfunction as well as enlarged breasts for men, and interruptions in the menstrual cycle and inability to conceive for women.

When women drink even in small amounts during pregnancy, they put themselves at a greater risk for a miscarriage and their child at a greater risk for an unhealthy birth weight. When women drink heavily during pregnancy, they put their child at risk for Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This condition has devastating consequences, such as mental retardation and other serious developmental problems. Though research has not yet determined exactly how much alcohol leads to FASD, the probability that a child will have this condition increases with the amount and the frequency of exposure to alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol on Weight and Diabetes

Though the effect of moderate alcohol use on diabetics is unknown, heavy drinking leads to obesity, which puts someone at greater risk of developing diabetes. Heavy drinking can cause a severe drop in blood sugar, which is a serious threat to people with diabetes who use insulin. In addition, when diabetics are intoxicated, it is less likely that they will be able to effectively monitor their blood sugar.

Alcohol and the Brain

Excess alcohol causes memory loss and other alcohol induced disorders.Alcohol has both temporary and permanent ramifications on brain functioning. The immediate neurological problems that may result from a period of heavy drinking are trouble sleeping and headaches. The permanent effects that can result from long-term drinking are difficulty with problem-solving, long term memory loss, deficiencies in short term memory and difficulties paying attention. Some of these effects can be reversed if alcoholics are able to stop drinking, but the time frame for reduction in these symptoms can be anywhere from a few weeks to several years. However, researchers suggest that the reduced mental functioning that alcoholics experience might make it even more difficult to stop drinking.

A potentially fatal condition that can result from alcoholism is known as Delirium Tremens. The condition is an extreme withdrawal symptom that causes an alcoholic to become disoriented and delirious after having gone a few days without consuming alcohol. In very extreme cases, delirium tremens can cause death.

Alcohol and Nutritional Deficiencies

Excessive drinking impedes the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, causing dangerous deficiencies for alcoholics that can lead to serious health conditions. In order to avoid these health concerns, alcoholics should make sure to supplement with necessary vitamins.

Alcoholics are particularly at risk from conditions that result from insufficient levels of B vitamins. Folate or folic acid (vitamin B9) is one of these vitamins that should be supplemented, as insufficient levels can lead to anaemia. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is another potential vitamin that might be deficient in someone who drinks heavily. Insufficient levels of Thiamine can lead to a dangerous neurological disorder that results in loss of balance and coordination, and in extreme conditions it can even result in death. The only way this condition, known as Wernicke-Korskff Syndrome, can be reversed is by means of intravenous treatment. Finally, low levels of B12 may result in peripheral neuropathy, which causes tingling and pain in extremities of the body.

Drug Interactions and Alcohol

Alcohol has adverse reactions with many types of medications. Alcohol can intensify the effects of antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and sedatives. However, it can impede the effects of anti-seizure medications as well anti-coagulants. Gastrointestinal bleeding may occur when alcohol is mixed with ibuprofen and aspirin, and nausea and headaches may result from mixing alcohol and antibiotics. Patients should never consume alcohol whilst taking other medications, unless a physician advises them that it is okay.

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