Results from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that 77% of Australians aged 14 and over drank alcohol in the previous year. Of this, nearly 10% of them are likely to meet the criteria for alcohol addiction. A further 29% of this group were using alcohol to a hazardous or harmful extent.
Perhaps you’re wondering if you meet the criteria for alcohol dependency yourself, or maybe you simply want to understand the long term effects of drinking. Either way, it’s important to be aware of the various impacts that your habits can have on you and those you care about.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the potential long-term effects of alcohol consumption, providing answers to:
- How Can Long Term Drinking Affect the Body?
- Can Alcohol Impact Mental Health?
- How Can Drinking Affect Your Social Health?
How can long-term drinking and alcohol addiction affect the body?
It’s common for people to believe that only ‘heavy’ drinkers are susceptible to alcohol-related diseases. The fact is, anyone who regularly drinks more than 10 standard drinks in a week is increasing their risk. The following are some of the main contenders for drinking-related diseases.
Possible liver damage
One of the most significant long-term effects of alcohol consumption is liver damage. Alcohol is a toxin, and your liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of your body. When you drink alcohol, your liver has to work overtime to filter it out. This can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver, which can eventually lead to liver disease such as Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or Cirrhosis.
Increased risks of cancers
Drinking alcohol and alcohol addiction can also increase your risk of developing certain types of cancers such as head and neck, liver, breast, and colon cancer. Research indicates that the more alcohol you drink, especially the more you drink regularly over time, the higher your risk of developing alcohol-related cancer.
The long-term alcohol consumption doesn’t need to be heavy either. Those who drink no more than one beverage a day or are binge drinkers (defined as four or more for females in one sitting and five or more for males) also have a modestly increased risk.
Higher rates of cardiovascular problems
If you drink alcohol regularly, you may also be at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. These can include heart disease and stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and acute cardiovascular events. Alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which can damage your arteries and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
How can alcohol impact mental health?
Drinking alcohol slows down your central nervous system, which controls how your mind communicates with your body. Many people drink to take the edge off their struggles with anxiety, depression or daily stress. The problem starts when what you think is a couple of drinks turns into long term alcohol use and/or abuse. This can have the effect of worsening what you’re trying to ease; it can increase anxiety, depression and stress.
Alcohol changes your brain
Chemicals that exist naturally in your mind to help handle anxiety are depleted by drinking alcohol. Then what do you do to help yourself manage the increasing anxiety? Drink more alcohol. Research shows that people who said they self-medicate their moods with drinking have a higher chance of developing alcohol addiction.
For some, drinking can trigger angry outbursts and violent behaviour. When you’re under the influence of alcohol you aren’t able to process thoughts as easily and decision making is impaired. It can be harder to resolve conflicts rationally, which can lead to arguments that can escalate faster than if you were sober.
Impacts on Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions
If you are taking any medications prescribed for mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, even a couple of drinks can have a negative interaction. It’s vital that anyone who is taking prescription medication discusses their drinking habits with their doctor.
It’s also important to note that people with anxiety and/or depression are more likely to experience alcohol addiction, compared to those who do not have pre-existing mental health conditions.
How can drinking affect your social health?
For some people, the desire to drink might be at the top of their priority list without them even being aware of it. Drinking can come before significant relationships, jobs, studying, or any other previously important commitments.
Putting drinking ahead of everything else in your life can eventually impact all areas. Namely your relationships with loved ones and your professional life. Some people will lose connection with those they care about and their jobs as a result. This can then lead to more serious scenarios for the individual and possibly their families.
The bottom line
Making the decision to drink alcohol is a personal choice. If you do choose to drink, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks. Harmful levels of drinking can lead to injury, chronic disease and even premature death. Many think the possible impacts of drinking only apply to other people or put the impacts ‘on the backburner’ as they’re not seeing any real impact on their day-to-day life right now. The reality is that alcohol remains one of the most common drugs of concern that people seek treatment for in Australia.
Concerned about your drinking habits?
Sometimes it can be difficult to recognise that you might need help. If you want support for giving up alcohol or if anything you’ve read concerns you about your alcohol intake, or that of someone you care about, we can help you.
At Arrow Health, we offer a range of treatment options, including:
- 28-day detox program
- Inpatient alcohol rehab
- Outpatient program
- Alcohol counselling
- Family support
- Intervention service
- Aftercare program
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Arrow Health. We’re here to help and answer any questions you might have.