THE TOXIC EFFECTS OF LONGTERM ALCOHOL USE & ABUSE
By Carmen Greger
Alcohol has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. It has been used for celebrations, religious ceremonies, and as a way to unwind after a long day. While alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation with the occasional cocktail, glass of wine or craft brew, its effects on our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being can be quite toxic when consumed excessively.
Physical Effects of Alcohol
One of the most noticeable physical effects of alcohol is weight gain. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and can cause people to gain weight quickly. A single serving of alcohol can contain between 100-300 calories, depending on the type of beverage. Regularly consuming alcohol can lead to weight gain and ultimately obesity, which increases the risk of many chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it increases urine production and causes the body to lose more fluids than it takes in. This can lead to dehydration, which can cause symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and dry skin. Chronic dehydration can also increase the risk of kidney stones and other kidney-related problems.
Alcohol also affects the liver, which is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body. When the liver processes alcohol, it produces a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can damage liver cells, leading to inflammation and scarring. Over time, this can cause liver disease, which can be life-threatening.
Mental Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it slows down brain activity and can cause drowsiness, slurred speech, and impaired judgment.
While many people use alcohol to relax or unwind, excessive alcohol consumption can have the opposite effect and lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. Long-term alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of developing depression and other mental health disorders.
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to brain fog and cognitive impairment. Alcohol can impair the ability to think clearly and can cause memory loss and blackouts. Long-term alcohol abuse can also kill brain cells and lead to permanent brain damage.
Neurological Effects of Alcohol
Chronic alcohol abuse has been shown to lead to neurological problems such as peripheral neuropathy, which is a condition that causes tingling, numbness, and pain in the extremities.
Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of developing seizures, stroke, and other neurological disorders.
Emotional Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol abuse can have a profound effect on a person’s emotional well-being. Excessive consumption can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. Alcohol can also impair judgment, leading people to make poor decisions that can have long-lasting consequences.
Social Effects of Alcohol
Excessive consumption of alcohol has also been linked to social isolation. People who abuse alcohol may begin to prioritize drinking over other activities and may withdraw from friends and family. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which can perpetuate the cycle of alcohol abuse.
Habit, Routine, & Crutch
While celebrating or unwinding with a cocktail seems like a nice treat once in a while, when this becomes a habit, a routine, and even a crutch, the party’s over; it’s time to take a good look in the mirror and get clean. Alcohol abuse can quickly spiral out of control and lead to a host of physical, mental, emotional, and social problems.
If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, a short-term detox can be a good place to start. A detox can help rid your body of alcohol and give your mind and body a chance to heal. During a detox, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, and nausea, but these symptoms can be managed with mindfulness meditation and/or medication as well as support from a medical professional.
Benefits of Detox
Once you’ve completed a detox, you may be surprised at how great you feel in mind, body, and spirit. Detoxing from alcohol can lead to improved mental clarity, better sleep, and increased energy levels. You may also find that your mood improves and that you feel more motivated to pursue healthy habits such as exercise and a balanced diet.
While a short-term detox can be a good first step, long-term sobriety requires a choice, a consistent and concerted effort, a game plan and the support of community, friends, family and/or a professional.
If consuming the occasional alcoholic beverage at a weekly happy hour gathering or sharing a glass of wine during dinner with a loved one feels like a positive endeavor to you, it is still a good idea to step back and evaluate your reasoning and calculate your intake.
Oftentimes, the habit has a sneaky way of growing beyond our original intention and current perception, unless we train ourselves to manage it with regular self-evaluations.
The shifting-of-gears cocktail ritual between our busy, professional daytime selves and our more personal and family/domestic-centered counterpart within seems to be the prime time for that daily glass of wine.
Take note that being aware of and honoring the need for the shifting gears and winding down can be enacted with a much healthier beverage such as tea, kombucha or an adaptogen-spiked cocktail. Many whom have experimented with these substitutes have reported not missing the alcohol component of the daily decompressing ritual.
I recommended that every 30 days we take a break for 7 and have launched a vitality boosting cleanse called “30 or Dirty”. Stay tuned; we will be sharing the program in an upcoming article.
Overall, just remember that If you are going to consume alcohol, mindfulness and moderation are important; Keep the cheer in your cheers.