Long after you consume the actual drinks, the damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption linger on. The amount, frequency, and duration of the excessive alcohol consumption will ultimately determine the severity of the effects, as well as the age at which you’re likely to feel the most damaging effects. As a general rule, all excessive drinking is dangerous, and at any level it does come with the risk of long-term complications.
To clearly define terms, excessive drinking is generally defined as any amount of alcohol consumption that results in noticeable impairment. The bottom line is that even just getting drunk once will definitely have some short-term implications, but it also carries a risk of long-term issues as well. In addition to frequency, duration, and amount factors, some people may also have a genetic predisposition for certain alcohol-related issues, which is evaluated clinically by assessing your family history and the incidences of addiction. Your overall health may determine how alcohol negatively affects you, but excessive alcohol consumption will degrade your health in some way at any health level.
Excessive alcohol consumption in the short term
Short-term damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption are undoubtedly the most widely-recognized, because they’re observable in a person’s overall behavior during or soon after they’ve consumed the alcohol. Common symptoms include impaired cognitive ability, slurred or broken speech, and lack of proper balance. In addition, alcohol is associated with a lack of inhibitions that may lead to sexually “loose” behavior, violence, and speaking or acting in ways that are inconsistent with a person’s personality while sober. In addition, consuming too much alcohol can lead to “blackouts,” or periods of time during which a person cannot later recall what they said or did while drunk.
Alcohol poisoning is the primary immediate danger with excessive alcohol consumption, which can lead to disorientation, loss of consciousness, abnormal breathing patterns, and even coma. People with severe balance impairments run a high risk of injury due to trips and falls while under the influence of alcohol.
After an excessive amount of alcohol is consumed, most people suffer from dehydration, which can range from moderate to severe. This causes pounding headaches, nausea, and other classic symptoms that are categorized by the dirtiest word on college campuses – a hangover. As uncomfortable as a hangover may be, the truly dangerous part of excessive alcohol consumption at this point is withdrawal. The lowering of alcohol levels in the blood stream can cause anything from shaking and irritability, to vomiting and hallucinations. Medical care is recommended for withdrawal symptoms, as they can lead to death in severe cases.
Long-term excessive alcohol consumption effects
Frequent excessive alcohol consumption over long periods of time have a profoundly damaging effect on major internal organs, including the kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. Though moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to lower instances of coronary artery disease in some studies, it can lead to substantial weakening of the heart. As the heart weakens, sufferers generally experience arrhythmia first, and have a much higher chance of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Cirrhosis is closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption, including many different types of liver disease, hepatitis, liver cancer, and an overall increased risk of complete liver failure. Kidney failure is a common complication with excessive alcohol consumption, especially if it’s paired with over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, such as some headache medications, that are not intended for use with alcohol.
Studies demonstrate ongoing long-term damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption in the brain. The studies have been conducted in order to show how short-term effects that are observed while drunk can become permanent in the long-term. Brain mass studies have also been conducted, where there is a marked decrease in the mass of a brain that has been subjected to long-term overuse of alcohol compared to “normal” brains from people who do not consume alcohol, or who only consume small amounts.
The damaging effects of excessive alcohol on development are well-documented and proven, particularly as it applies to developing embryos and fetuses. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) can result in profound, lifelong impairments for the child that has been exposed. This also raises questions about whether or not alcohol has more serious effects on children and teenagers than on an adult, further demonstrating the dangers of underage drinking. Serious brain problems, such as dementia, seem to be much more likely in people who began consuming excessive amounts of alcohol at a young age, even if the total number of years drinking equal fewer than someone that began consuming alcohol in excess in adulthood.
Impact of alcohol on relationships and mental health
In both the short-term and long-term, the excessive consumption of alcohol can be extremely damaging to close relationships and to personal mental health. Overuse of alcohol can lead to a lack of emotional availability for children, spouses, and others who are close to you. The behavioral changes that take place with excessive alcohol consumption often lead to verbal and physical abuse, and physical impairment can be especially dangerous when there are children in the household. People who frequently consume alcohol in excess are far more likely to be divorced, to lack bonding with their children, or to have a spouse or significant other who is depressed or suffers from anxiety.
Excessive alcohol consumption correlates with higher incidences of depressive disorders, anxiety, paranoia, loss of self-esteem, and other mentally destructive issues. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption over long periods of time can significantly impact social interaction. There is a much higher incidence of suicide among people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol than for those who consume in moderation or not at all. Overall, excessive consumption of alcohol has serious implications for physical and mental well-being, as well as interpersonal relationships. Effective treatment programs are available.