Health Problems Caused by Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Allison Bush | May 10, 2013

Reviewed by Robert Hurd, MD

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A slew of recent studies are starting to promote alcohol as “healthy”; that is, drinking a few glasses of wine in a week. However, those that consume three or more drinks a day may be damaging their bodies irreparably. Learn what conditions alcohol abuse may be responsible for causing.

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Damage to the nervous system and brain cells

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Alcohol interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and nervous system. Chronic alcohol abuse can result in psychological problems, rapid pulse, trembling, anxiety, and the loss of intellectual ability. Be sure to ask your health care provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol if you are taking certain medications, such as pain medications or sedatives.

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Heavy drinking, usually over a period of 10 years or more, is the cause of about eight out of 10 cases of chronic pancreatitis. Alcohol disrupts the digestive process by inflaming the pancreas and damaging its cells, often causing severe pain.

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Erectile dysfunction

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Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other sexual dysfunctions, mainly because of the depressant effect of alcohol on the nervous system.

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Too much alcohol can cause chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can impair its ability to secrete insulin, ultimately leading to diabetes. If you already have diabetes, alcohol is even more dangerous because if your liver (the organ that stores your glucose supply) gets damaged, your glucose levels may become unsteady and put you at risk for hypoglycemia.

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Cirrhosis of the liver

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Most people who consume alcohol do not suffer damage to the liver, but heavy alcohol use over several years can cause chronic injury to the liver. For women, consuming two to three drinks — including beer and wine — per day and for men, three to four drinks per day, can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis.

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Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, stroke, and high blood pressure.

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Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast.

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Immune system

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Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink as much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

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Alcohol can affect the brain at any stage of development — even before birth. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the full range of physical, learning, and behavioral problems, and other birth defects that result from prenatal alcohol exposure. The most serious is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

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Heavy drinking can lower your red blood cell count, which can trigger symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach, leading to chronic blood loss and anemia.

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Alcohol and diet may play a role in contracting gout, which is a condition caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints.