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Risks of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse

Most people know about two of the biggest risks of prolonged alcohol abuse– liver disease and car accidents. A liver that has to constantly filter alcohol will not stay healthy for long and everyone knows alcohol impairs one’s ability to drive. Some people decide to drive anyway because alcohol also impairs their ability to judge whether they are too drunk to drive. These are two major health hazards, but prolonged alcohol abuse has other dangers as well.

Anemia. Alcohol reduces the number of red blood cells, making it difficult for the blood to carry enough oxygen. This results in fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Cardiovascular disease. Alcohol increases your risk of two major cardiovascular problems–blood clots and atrial fibrillation. Heavy drinking makes blood platelets more likely to stick together, causing blood clots and strokes. Heavy drinking also weakens the heart muscle, a condition called cardiomyopathy. This muscle can eventually stop working completely. Heavy drinking can also lead to abnormal heart rhythms, which can also cause blood clots and stroke.

Prolonged drinking can also raise blood pressure. Alcohol interferes with the autonomic nervous system, constricting blood vessels, which gradually becomes permanent. High blood pressure can lead to other diseases like kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.

Cancer. Your body metablolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a potent carcinogen. Under normal circumstances, this compound is only present for a short time until it is metabolized further, but heavy prolonged drinking vastly increases the amount of acetaldehyde you’re exposed to. Prolonged alcohol abuse is linked to increased risk of liver and breast cancer, as well as cancers all along the digestive tract from mouth to colon.

Dementia. Given the cognitive impairment a few drinks can cause, it shouldn’t be too surprising that long term alcohol abuse can cause permanent brain damage. Your brain normally tends to shrink as you age, but alcohol can speed up the shrinking. You begin to suffer damage to the parts of the brain responsible for memory and executive function. These problems then become compounded by other problems such as malnutrition.

Life problems. Alcohol increases the risk of the problems above. Although none of them is inevitable, if you drink long enough, any one of them becomes more likely, especially liver problems. Other, more personal problems are likely to arise long before cancer of dementia. These problems may include failed relationships, problems at work, and accidents. All of these can ruin the quality of your life long before a major disease can end it.


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