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Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

When someone begins drinking alcohol, they almost never suspect it may turn into an addiction that threatens their health and even their lives. Someone who has struggled with this problem for a lengthy time likely runs into dealing with the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. For people who binge drink or have developed a dependence on alcohol, the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can be even worse. These can be both physical and emotional in nature, and they keep a person from enjoying the good health they deserve. 

For those dependent on alcohol, they can start to experience blackouts. A blackout is the inability to recall events, conversations, and activities that occurred while intoxicated. Blackouts could cover a short period of a few hours or much longer, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. 

What Does Alcohol Abuse Look Like?

People who have developed an alcohol use disorder exhibit signs of this condition. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse often make the signs more prominent and easily recognizable. Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Drinking alcohol to try to “cure” a hangover
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Sweating
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Redness of the nose or face
  • Shakiness
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Changes in weight
  • Changes in heart rate or blood pressure
  • Blackouts while drinking
  • Medical diagnoses related to alcohol consumption

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse on The Body?

When someone has been consumed by alcoholism for a long time, certain medical conditions can occur. These include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Heart damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Stroke
  • Cancer of the colon, mouth, liver, breast, and esophagus
  • Compromised immune system

Additionally, long-term alcoholism can contribute to poor mental health symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. For those who already experience mental health disorders, their conditions and symptoms may worsen. For others, long-term alcohol abuse can contribute to the person developing mental health disorders. In fact, about half of all people who deal with an addiction to drugs or alcohol also have at least one diagnosable mental illness. This is called dual diagnosis and many addiction care programs treat this condition.

How Does Long-Term Alcohol Use Damage the Brain?

The effects from long-term alcohol use on the brain are as follows:

  1. Neurotoxicity – The neurons in the neural networks continue to overreact for far too long. When this occurs, the neurons die and stop firing.
  2. Damage to Neural Networks – As neurons die, the neural networks slow down even more as there are fewer pathways in the brain for signals to be sent. 
  3. Slowed Response Times – With fewer neural networks to send signals over, response times become slower and slower. 
  4. Brain Matter Damage – Brain matter that was connected to neural networks where the neurons have stopped firing become damaged.
  5. Shrinkage of the Brain – The cell bodies, gray matter, and the cell pathways, white matter shrink in size as a result of the brain matter damage. 

The cycle continues the more a person continues to drink. As the person continues to abuse alcohol and get older, the amount of brain matter damage and shrinkage continues to increase. Eventually, the person can experience a range of cognitive impairments, including:

  • Difficulty Forming Words and Speaking
  • Difficulty Remember and Recalling Information
  • Inability to Solve Problems
  • Increased Impulsiveness
  • Alcohol-Related Dementia
  • Malnutrition
  • Vitamin Deficiency

If a person continues to abuse alcohol and does not seek treatment, they could develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is permanent cognitive damage. 

Can the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use on the Brain Be Reversed?

For many recovery alcoholics in a rehabilitation treatment program, the brain will heal itself once alcohol use has been discontinued. Once treatment begins and alcohol is no longer in the body, the brain will start to grow lost brain matter in about a few weeks. 

The damaged neural networks also begin to repair themselves as the newly grown brain matter creates new neurons. Continuing sobriety for longer periods allows the brain to gradually heal itself and repair the damage caused by alcohol abuse. 

The most noticeable repair to the brain occurs in about a year. However, the longer someone continues to live a sober lifestyle, the greater the reversal of the long-term effects of alcohol use on the brain. 

How Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse Treated?

Someone who deals with an alcohol use disorder needs professional medical treatment. When they have reached the point of developing long-term effects of alcohol abuse, their care may need to be adapted to deal with this. Alcohol detox, which comes first when treating alcohol abuse, may take longer if the person has been addicted for a lengthy amount of time. 

As well, sometimes the withdrawal symptoms can be more frequent or difficult. Fortunately, the medical staff knows how to recognize when an individual can benefit from medications to help make them more comfortable. Several FDA-approved medications exist that help people have an easier time moving through detox and into the next steps of treatment.

After detox, an assessment will be made of each person to determine what their next type of treatment should involve. For some, transitioning into a residential rehab works best. They live in a facility for 30 days or more and receive care around the clock. Another option involves attending outpatient care. With this plan, the person goes to treatment sessions during the day but continues to live at home. The more treatment a person commits to, the more likely they are to overcome their alcohol abuse for good.

Overdosing on Alcohol

While anyone can overdose on alcohol, it can become even more of a danger for someone who deals with the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. When someone has been addicted to alcohol for a long time, they develop a tolerance and need to increase the amount they drink in order to feel the same effects. This can lead to an inability to anticipate when the person has consumed so much that they may develop alcohol poisoning. 

Overdosing on alcohol can also happen when a person combines drinking with other substances. Drugs, including prescription, over-the-counter, and street drugs, can be dangerous and even deadly when mixed with alcohol use. For many, dealing with alcohol poisoning can be a wake-up call that they need help. Sadly, for some, it comes too late because this medical condition can be fatal. 

Signs that someone has overdosed on alcohol may be easy to miss. Too often, others may think the person is just really drunk and either needs to just power through the hangover or sleep it off. Signs that someone has overdosed on alcohol include vomiting, a state of mental confusion, and poor coordination. A change in skin color or temperature may also occur. A person who is experiencing alcohol poisoning may lose consciousness. They risk cardiac arrest, choking on their vomit, and other dangers they cannot communicate because they are unconscious.  

Find Treatment for Alcohol Abuse in Atlanta

Have you come to the brave decision to get help for your alcohol addiction or do you know someone who has? Buckhead Behavioral Health in Atlanta provides a safe detox program and several options for alcohol rehab in Atlanta designed to help you stop drinking. We offer many types of therapy that allow you to understand how the long-term effects of alcohol abuse have impacted your life. As well, we teach you how to avoid triggers to relapse both while in our care and after you leave our program.

Visit our admissions page today and see how simple it is to begin treatment. Our knowledgeable staff can answer questions about getting started and insurance coverage.

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