The most common diseases caused by alcohol are liver diseases, cancer, infections, anemia, gout, alcoholic neuropathy, pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, cerebellar degeneration, fetal alcohol spectrum syndrome, dementia and depression.
Diseases Caused by Alcohol
Drinking a few beers or other alcoholic beverages in company is considered a socially acceptable behavior, which can help to strengthen ties with family, friends and acquaintances.
In fact, drinking one or two servings of alcohol per day can be beneficial for your body, as they help prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke.
However, if you drink more than the recommended limits, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing numerous diseases and cause other consequences.
There is clear evidence that drinking too much alcohol affects our liver, stomach, mental health, blood circulation, nervous tissue, etc. As well as leading to an important addiction, alcoholism, which is considered a serious disease difficult to recover.
Diseases caused by alcohol consumption
Next, I present the diseases that can appear if alcoholic beverages are abused.
1- Liver diseases
It is widely known that excessive consumption of alcohol affects your liver. This organ is located in the upper right part of the abdomen and its main function is to help you process food, besides acting as a filter for certain substances.
What happens when we drink alcohol? First, alcohol reaches the stomach and intestines and then passes through our liver before circulating throughout the body.
The liver has chemicals called enzymes that process alcohol, transforming it into other chemicals that later turn into water and carbon dioxide. These leftover substances are expelled through the urine and lungs.
However, if you drink alcohol faster than your liver can process, blood alcohol levels rise and typical symptoms of drunkenness or “drunkenness” appear.
There are three types of liver damage caused by drinking more alcohol than the body can tolerate:
– Fatty liver: heavy drinkers frequently have accumulations of fat inside the liver cells. Having fat in the liver does not produce symptoms nor seems to be serious, the problem is that it predisposes you to develop a hepatitis if the consumption of alcohol remains.
This condition can be reversed if the consumption of alcohol is reduced or stopped.
– Alcoholic hepatitis: it is the inflammation of the liver that can have different levels of severity as the disease progresses. Thus, to a slight degree there may be no noticeable symptoms and only be detected through a blood test.
In contrast, severe hepatitis would cause dizziness, nausea, yellowish skin and eyes (due to high levels of bilirubin), and occasionally, pain in the liver area. In the most severe conditions, a liver failure can develop, a condition that can be fatal and that leads to confusion, coma, intestinal bleeding and problems with blood clotting.
To treat alcoholic hepatitis, the alcohol intake must obviously be interrupted, the individual will be fed through a tube in the stomach, and steroids will be administered.
If hepatitis becomes chronic, the liver can be damaged until cirrhosis develops.
– Liver cirrhosis: is a chronic disease that can not be reversed. It is characterized by the replacement of healthy liver tissue by scar tissue or fibrosis. Little by little that damaged tissue is increasing, and can block blood circulation. Thus, the liver stops working properly, preventing the normal regeneration of liver cells.
This condition arises after more than 10 years drinking alcohol excessively, and appears in 1 in 10 alcoholics.
However, you should know that not all cirrhosis is caused by alcohol, they also appear in people who do not abuse it and who are in other situations. Hepatitis B or C infection, obesity, or certain inherited diseases are some examples.
Since the early twentieth century, it was known that alcoholic beverages consumed in excess could be carcinogenic.
It seems that this happens because the body converts alcohol into a potentially carcinogenic substance called acetaldehyde.
More specifically, in a study of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) it was found that alcohol increases the risk of cancer in the upper digestive tract (mouth, oropharynx, esophagus and larynx), the lower one (colon, rectum and liver), besides breast cancer.
However, more recently other studies are discovering connections between alcohol and other types of cancer such as prostate cancer, stomach cancer, endometrium, pancreas, etc.
On the other hand, alcohol consumed in moderation may be a protective factor against some types of cancer such as renal cell carcinoma (Escudo, Parry & Rehm, 2013).
Cancer is more likely to appear if the person is also a smoker.
The immune system, which is the one that protects us from infections and other external contaminants, seems to be weakened in individuals who abuse alcohol.
Therefore, they more easily present infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV, or sexually transmitted diseases. The latter are frequent, since people who are intoxicated with alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
It can happen that an excessive consumption of this type of drinks decreases the number of red blood cells, which are the ones that carry oxygen to the cells. This is known as anemia, and results in symptoms such as permanent tiredness, shortness of breath and paleness.
Anemia and alcohol are linked for different reasons: alcohol prevents the absorption of iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 (deficits of these substances produce anemia). On the other hand, alcoholics can suffer from malnutrition because they usually forget to maintain a balanced diet, which promotes the appearance of anemia.
This condition can be detected through a blood test.
It is a type of arthritis that gives rise to inflammation in a joint and appears suddenly. Gout arises from the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the affected joint.
It is related to alcohol since it contains high levels of purine. Purine is a substance that, when metabolized inside cells, produces uric acid that can crystallize in the joints.
It is treated with medications that reduce the levels of uric acid in the body, and a restriction or reduction of foods with a high content of purine, such as alcoholic beverages, meats and some fish.
6- Increase in blood pressure
Alcohol consumption is an important risk factor for hypertension, located between 5 and 7% (Spanish Heart Foundation).
If alcohol is abused, it can alter the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to temperature, stress, or stress.
Both binge eating and excessive alcohol consumption can increase our blood pressure, and over time, it becomes a chronic condition known as hypertension.
Hypertension can cause kidney disease, heart problems and even strokes.
It seems that more than two drinks a day for prolonged periods of time, facilitate high blood pressure. However, in recent research it has been discovered that minor intakes could have this effect.
7- Alcoholic neuropathy
It is a disease in which the peripheral nerves are damaged by neurological damage associated with alcohol consumption, as it is toxic to nerve cells.
It also appears because alcohol produces a malabsorption of nutrients such as thiamine, vitamin E, vitamins B12 and B6. These seem to have an important role in keeping the nerves in an optimal state.
The main symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy are weakness, severe pain, tremors, and tingling, which primarily affect the extremities.
It consists of inflammation of the pancreas, an organ related to digestion that produces hormones (such as insulin) and secretes digestive enzymes.
Its main symptom is abdominal pain that gets worse after meals, as well as nausea, vomiting, fever and weakness. It is a life-threatening disease that must be treated right away.
It may have other causes, but 60% of patients with pancreatitis have developed it due to alcohol abuse.
10- Cardiovascular diseases
An excessive consumption of alcohol and, especially, the ingestion of large amounts of alcohol in a short time, promotes that the platelets are grouped in blood clots.
As these clots increase, they can clog our veins and arteries, which increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
In people who are prone to having heart attacks, and have already survived one, it has been found that alcohol abuse can double the risk of death.
Another disease that can cause alcohol is cardiomyopathy, which involves a weakening of the heart muscles. It is a serious condition, since the heart can not pump blood as it should, they damage structures of the nervous system, lungs, liver and other organs due to lack of blood flow.
It seems that large amounts of alcohol are toxic to the heart muscle cells, especially if it takes many years consuming it in excess.
11- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
There are two syndromes in one (Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis). Wernicke encephalopathy is of short duration, but of serious severity. It is characterized by lack of motor coordination, confusion and paralysis or lack of control of the eye nerves.
On the other hand, the following phase consisting of Korsakoff’s psychosis is chronic and in it the following symptoms are present: amnesia, difficulties of new learning, apathy, difficulties of concentration and lack of awareness of one’s own disease ( anosognosia ).
It is caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1), something very common in alcoholics, and which causes brain damage.
12- Cerebellar degeneration
In chronic alcoholics it is observed in almost 27% (and over 38% of those who already have Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome). It consists of atrophy located in a part of the nervous system called cerebellum, progressively producing instability and gait ataxia (lack of coordination and balance when walking).
It seems that it also comes from a lack of thiamine in the body.
13- Fetal alcohol spectrum syndrome
It arises when the woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, since during this one should not take any alcohol.
This is because it causes numerous risks to the fetus such as brain damage, developmental problems, low birth weight, cognitive delay, concentration problems … in addition, babies can suffer alcohol withdrawal symptoms once they are born.
The child’s development is also worsened because these mothers, if they are alcoholic, often suffer malnutrition, smoking, and even consume other drugs.
14- Dementia and other cognitive deficits
It is known that alcohol has neurotoxic effects for the cells of our brain. Therefore, it is not surprising that it accelerates its aging, giving rise to evident difficulties in cognitive processes.
It is common for alcoholics who have been drinking for a long time to have memory loss, deterioration in attention, concentration, planning, as well as difficulties in solving problems.
On the other hand, an abusive consumption also produces malnutrition, which in turn can cause multiple damages in the cognitive system.
It has been proven that it is very common for excessive consumption of alcohol to lead to depression. However, it is not known exactly what happens first, that is, whether depression promotes alcoholism or alcoholism that leads to depression. Something similar seems to happen with anxiety.
What is certain is that there are people with mental disorders that tend to consume alcohol or other drugs to alleviate their discomfort. Those who have some type of mental disorder accompanied by addiction to alcohol or other drugs is called “dual pathology”.
In any case, there is research that has found that problems with alcohol can be related to a high risk of depression. This is what researchers from New Zealand found, who analyzed a group of 1055 participants for 25 years. However, they do not know the exact explanation of why this occurs (Fergusson, Boden & Horwood, 2009).