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All about alcoholism and drinking alcohol abuse signs and symptoms of alcoholism causes of alcoholism risk factors for alcoholism effects of alcoholism fetal alcohol syndrome moderate drinking health benefits of moderate drinking alcoholism treatment alternative therapy for alcoholism treatment effects of alcoholism on women

What are the effects of alcoholism?

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system by acting as a sedative. In some people, the initial reaction may be stimulation, but as drinking continues, sedating or calming effects occur. By depressing the control centers of your brain, alcohol relaxes you and reduces your inhibitions. The more you drink, the more you're sedated. Initially, alcohol affects

thought, emotion and judgment. In sufficient amounts, alcohol impairs speech and muscle coordination and produces sleep. Taken in large enough quantities, alcohol is a lethal poison - it can cause life-threatening coma by severely depressing the vital centers of your brain.

Excessive use of alcohol can produce several harmful effects on your brain and nervous system and cause fatigue, short-term memory loss, as well as weakness and paralysis of your eye muscles. It can also have these other severe health effects:

  • Liver disorders. Drinking heavily can cause you to develop alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. Signs and symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness, fever, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and sometimes mental confusion. Over years of drinking, hepatitis may lead to cirrhosis, the irreversible and progressive destruction of liver tissue. A healthy liver processes nutrients into molecules your body can use, manufactures bile to help digest fats and regulates the amounts of sugar, protein and fat that enter your bloodstream.
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Alcohol can result in inflammation of the lining of the stomach (gastritis), which can lead to tears in the upper part of your stomach and lower part of your esophagus. Alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of the B vitamins, particularly folic acid and thiamin, and other nutrients. Heavy drinking can also damage your pancreas (pancreatitis). The pancreas has two functions: (1) it produces the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate your metabolism, and (2) it produces pancreatic juices and enzymes that help digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
  • Cardiovascular problems. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and damage your heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). These conditions can put you at increased risk of heart failure or stroke.
  • Diabetes complications. Alcohol prevents the release of glucose from your liver and can increase the risk of your blood sugar falling too low (hypoglycemia). This is dangerous if you have diabetes and are already taking insulin to lower your blood sugar level.
  • Sexual function and menstruation. Alcohol abuse can cause erectile dysfunction in men. In women, it can interrupt menstruation.
  • Birth defects. If you drink excessively during pregnancy, your child may be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. This condition results in birth defects including a small head, heart defects, a shortening of the eyelids and various other abnormalities. As these children grow older, they may have various developmental disabilities.
  • Neurologic complications. Excessive drinking can affect your nervous system, causing numbness of your hands and feet, disordered thinking and dementia.
  • Increased risk of cancer. Chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to a higher risk of cancer of the esophagus, larynx, liver and colon.

Other complications of alcoholism and alcohol abuse may include:

  • Domestic abuse and divorce
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Increased likelihood of motor vehicle fatalities and arrest for drunken driving
  • Greater susceptibility to accidental injuries from other causes
  • Higher incidence of suicide and murder

More information on alcoholism and drinking

What is alcoholism? - Alcoholism is an addictive dependency on alcohol characterised by craving, loss of control, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
What is alcohol abuse? - Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence.
What are the signs and symptoms of alcoholism? - People who abuse alcohol may experience many of the same signs and symptoms as people who are dependent on alcohol.
What causes alcoholism? - D2 dopamine receptor gene increases a person's chance of developing alcoholism. Usually, a variety of factors contribute to the development of a problem with alcohol.
What're the risk factors for alcoholism? - Steady drinking over time can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking over 14 drinks a week for men or seven drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol.
What are the effects of alcoholism? - Alcohol depresses your central nervous system by acting as a sedative. In some people, the initial reaction may be stimulation, but as drinking continues, sedating or calming effects occur.
What is fetal alcohol syndrome? - Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of birth defects caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
What is moderate drinking? - Four or five drinks may be moderate for large individuals but excessive for small or light people. The typical woman should generally consume 25 to 30 percent less than the average man.
What're the health benefits of moderate drinking? - Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers.
What is alcoholism treatment? - Treatment may include detoxification (the process of safely getting alcohol out of one's system), taking doctor-prescribed medications, and individual and group counseling.
What alternative therapy is available for alcoholism? - Acupuncture may reduce anxiety and depression, which lead some people to drink alcohol. Involving a spouse in the treatment process may increase the chances of success in treatment and in staying sober after treatment.
Why does alcohol affect women differently? - Women are effected by alcohol more rapidly because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat than men.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005