While some people find it easy to stop drinking after a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, others keep drinking even when they’re heavily intoxicated, which may lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse has a wide range of physical and mental effects, some of which can be life-threatening, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM

Millions of people enjoy an occasional beer, glass of wine or mixed drink without becoming dependent on alcohol or developing dangerous drinking habits. Unfortunately, some people have a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder due to the way alcohol affects their brains. In these people, the brain releases a larger-than-normal amount of endorphins in response to alcohol consumption. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals that make drinking pleasurable. Higher levels of endorphins have been linked to the development of alcohol use disorder.

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Levels of Intoxication

Depending on how much alcohol they consume, how much they weigh and whether they consume alcohol with food or on an empty stomach, people typically go through several levels of alcohol consumption. At the first level, which is characterized by a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01% to 0.12%, a drinker experiences an increase in confidence and may exhibit impulsive behavior. People at this level of intoxication may also display poor judgment or have trouble paying attention.

The next level of intoxication causes reduced muscle coordination, difficulty remembering things, slower reaction times, poor balance and vision changes. It typically occurs at a BAC ranging from 0.09% to 0.25%. In the confusion stage, a drinker may experience dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, lack of coordination or sleepiness.

The most serious levels of intoxication are stupor, coma and death. During the stupor phase, an individual is unresponsive to stimuli. They may vomit, have difficulty standing up or lose consciousness. This typically occurs at a BAC of 0.25% to 0.49%. Coma, which can occur at a BAC of 0.35% to 0.50%, leads to a loss of consciousness, poor reflexes, slow heart rate and shallow breathing. Death occurs when a person’s autonomic nervous system shuts down, preventing the brain from controlling circulation, digestion, respiratory function and other critical activities.

Physical Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol dependence can affect almost every part of the body, but some of the most common physical effects occur in the liver, pancreas and heart.

Liver Changes

Excessive alcohol use is associated with four main liver problems: steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. Steatosis, commonly known as fatty liver, develops when people drink too much alcohol, damaging the liver cells. People who abuse alcohol are more likely to develop steatosis if they are obese, take medications that are metabolized by the liver, or have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or certain infections.

Alcoholic hepatitis is a form of liver inflammation associated with repeated alcohol use. Although the condition is typically associated with heavy drinking, alcoholic hepatitis can develop in people who engage in moderate drinking over long periods of time. Early symptoms include yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), abdominal tenderness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and low-grade fevers. As the disease advances, it may cause fluid to build up in the abdomen, a condition known as ascites.

Fibrosis and cirrhosis are both forms of liver disease that can cause serious health problems. When people abuse alcohol, the liver has to work extra hard, which can damage the liver cells. When the liver attempts to repair these damaged cells, scar tissue forms, causing fibrosis. Severe fibrosis leads to cirrhosis, an irreversible condition that causes weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and fevers. Advanced cirrhosis can also cause jaundice, itching, memory loss and other serious symptoms.

Pancreatic Inflammation

Alcohol addiction is also associated with pancreatitis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin. Chronic pancreatitis causes abdominal pain, unintended weight loss and oily stools. A severe case of pancreatitis may even lead to kidney failure, diabetes, breathing problems and other serious side effects.

Heart Problems

People with alcohol problems may also develop heart conditions that increase their risk for stroke or heart attack. One of those conditions is arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. When the heart beats too fast or slow, it can cause lightheadedness, sweating, chest pain or dizziness. Alcohol use disorders have also been linked to cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscle to stretch, increasing the risk for heart failure.

Psychological Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

Many types of substance abuse have serious psychological effects, including binge drinking and chronic alcohol use. Even one drink can affect a person’s mental functioning, but serious psychological effects typically occur when someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in one sitting or smaller amounts of alcohol over a long period of time.

Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include lowered inhibitions, a sense of relaxation, memory problems and difficulty concentrating. The long-term effects of excessive drinking include increased anxiety, memory impairment, difficulty learning new things, increased substance use and changes in brain function.

Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time can lead to alcohol poisoning, a condition that causes vomiting, confusion, slow breathing, seizures, low body temperature and loss of consciousness. Alcohol poisoning is considered a medical emergency, meaning it can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated by a professional.

Alcohol Withdrawal

When someone realizes that binge drinking and other forms of substance abuse are having negative consequences, it can still be difficult to stop drinking. Quitting cold turkey may cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, depression, irritability, nightmares, mood swings and difficulty thinking clearly. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can cause dilated pupils, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, tremors or clammy skin.

Some people even experience a severe form of withdrawal known as delirium tremens, which may cause hallucinations, agitation, severe confusion, fevers or seizures. These symptoms can be life-threatening.

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HELP IS AVAILABLE

If you have an alcohol use disorder, you don’t have to suffer alone. Getting professional treatment can save your life and help you avoid the worst physical and mental effects of alcohol dependence. To schedule your admission for residential treatment, call Virtue Recovery Center at (877) 244-3250.

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