Many people like to consume some form of alcoholic beverages. This is perfectly fine as long as one drinks occasionally and in moderate amounts.
However, regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause a wide range of serious medical conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at the various health risks that too much alcohol might cause!
How much is too much?
There are two different types of drinking too much alcohol:
- Binge drinking: Consuming 4-5 or more standard drinks on a single occasion.
- Heavy drinking: Consuming 8-15 standard drinks on a single occasion.
The lower limit usually applies to women and people with lower body weight.
What is a standard drink?
Drinks containing roughly 1-1.2 tablespoons of alcohol are considered a standard drink.
This is a small bottle (12 ounces or 330 ml) of beer, a glass of wine, or a small glass of spirit, like gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.
Most healthy people can tolerate occasional binge drinking. However, long-term heavy drinking takes its toll on our health.
Common diseases caused by alcohol
Long-term heavy drinkers are more likely to develop certain serious medical conditions. The most common ones are:
- Heart disease: Studies have shown that heavy drinkers are more likely to have cardiovascular problems. Cardiomyopathy, heart attack, angina, and atrial fibrillation are all possible risks.
- Liver problems: For our bodies, alcohol is a toxin. The liver is responsible for filtering alcohol, during this process some of the liver cells die. Even though the liver can develop new cells, unless one drinks too much, too fast. Alcohol can cause cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
- High blood pressure: More than three drinks on one occasion can increase blood pressure. A healthy body can usually handle this, however, if this happens regularly, the increase might become permanent.
- Weight gain: While small amounts of alcohol might actually help to manage body weight, drinking too much often increases body weight. (Ever heard of a beer belly?)
- Stroke: High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, or being obese increase the risk of a stroke. Since alcohol can cause all of these, long-term drinkers are more likely to have a stroke.
- Weaker immune system: It has been shown that excessive amounts of alcohol have an adverse effect on the immune system. Heavy drinkers are more susceptible to pneumonia, acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS), sepsis, etc. They also recover slower from infections, surgery, or other trauma.
- Cancer: Alcohol can cause cancer in the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, colon, etc.
- Nervous system problems: Alcohol also affects the brain and the nervous system. It can not only cause nerve damage, but also mental problems – like depression or dementia.
- Digestive problems: The lining of the stomach might get inflamed after drinking alcohol. This might cause all kinds of digestive problems, like abdominal pain, nausea, chest pain, etc.
- Sleeping issues: You might think it’s easier to fall asleep after drinking alcohol, but it is usually the exact opposite. First, alcohol usually makes people sleepy, however, after drinking a certain amount, people usually feel more alert. As a bonus, the quality of sleep is also lower.
Symptoms of too much alcohol
In the short term, too much alcohol makes us drunk. After a few hours, this effect wears off.
However, experiencing the following symptoms fairly often after drinking alcohol should raise a red flag and you should cut back your alcohol consumption and visit a doctor:
- Chest pain: Experiencing regular chest pain after drinking alcohol might indicate that you have acid reflux (beer is especially likely to trigger it), but it might also indicate serious cardiovascular problems. If you are a long-term drinker and often feel chest pain after drinking, make sure to talk to a doctor!
- Shortness of breath: This might be the symptom of anemia. This condition means there are not enough healthy red blood cells in the body. These cells carry oxygen to the tissues, if there are not enough of them, the result might be shortness of breath.
- Abdominal pain: When the stomach lining is inflamed, it often causes digestive problems and abdominal pain.
Long-term heavy drinking has numerous adverse effects on our health.
The single best thing you can do to avoid these problems is to limit your alcohol intake.
This might be problematic for some people, long term drinkers might develop an addiction to alcohol. But help is available even in such cases, just make sure you find an addiction treatment center near you!