Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism

effects of alcoholismA tiny sip of alcohol can flood people with feelings of warmth and security. Boring people blathering away at office parties seem easier to tolerate, as do whining children who refuse to complete their chores. When the lubrication of alcohol is in place, some women find that life is just a little bit easier to handle. While low to moderate consumption of alcohol might be helpful for some women, smoothing out the rough parts of a hectic life, many women find that alcohol is deceptively powerful. In time, a few drinks sipped on occasion become multiple drinks consumed rapidly, each and every night. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that some 5.3 million women in the United States drink alcohol in a harmful manner like this, and these women can experience severe physical and mental damage due to the long-term abuse of the drink they once found to be so helpful.

Risky Situations

Alcohol can dull the mind and slow the reflexes, making it easier for people to say and do things they might never even contemplate while they were sober. Women who drink heavily on a regular basis may be in this silly, sedated state almost every day, and each time they’re under the influence, they’re at risk for experiencing some sort of violence or assault. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that college women are at particular risk for alcohol-influenced sexual assault, and one in 20 college women are sexually assaulted. But the risk can continue when a woman reaches adulthood.

Women might be attacked by strangers they interact with in bars and restaurants, but they might also be assaulted by people they know and love.

A study in the journal Violence and Victims found that women who had alcoholism were more likely to endure sexual abuse, including multiple episodes of sexual abuse, than women who were not dealing with alcoholism. These alcoholic women were also likely to endure sexual abuse that stretched over a long period of time. It’s possible that some of this abuse took place as the alcoholic women were unable to protect themselves from assaults, due to the sedation they felt while under the influence, but it’s also possible that alcohol in and of itself caused a spike in violent behavior, and that violence led directly to sexual assault.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that a large consumption of alcohol tends to make both men and women more violent. For example, a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that alcoholic women had higher levels of both verbal and physical spousal abuse, when compared to nonalcoholic women. While under the influence, the household seemed to become chaotic, and relationships that were once loving turned caustic and violent. Living in a household like this could put a woman at risk for assault or even death. Women in this situation might also be arrested and spend time in jail, if they deliver the blows.

Destruction of Brain Tissue

alcohol helpPeople who drink alcohol all know, on some level, that the substance can destroy brain tissue. It’s the only explanation for the faulty memory that follows a heavy night of drinking. While people might feel as though they’re restored to normal when the effects of the alcohol have faded away, the fact is that alcohol can cause a significant amount of long-term damage to the brain, and women might be more susceptible to this type of damage than men.

A study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that drinking alcohol shrinks white tissue in the brain, and the researchers suggest that this shrunken tissue is responsible for the memory problems and cognitive damage that can appear in people who have a long history of alcohol abuse.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that women tend to recover from this damage much more quickly than men do. Women who choose to stop drinking can recover their lost brain function, these researchers suggest, and they might see improvements in their abilities quite quickly.

Women who do not stop drinking can reach a point at which their brains are so very damaged they cannot recover. The connections between critical parts of the brain can become so severed and frayed that women have difficulty walking, talking, planning and taking care of themselves. These women might need to live in nursing communities for the rest of their lives, due to the damage they’ve experienced during the course of the alcoholism.

Liver Damage

The active ingredients in alcoholic drinks are processed by the liver, and as the tissues in the liver come into repeated contact with alcohol, they can become brittle and crispy, unable to process alcohol at all. This severe destruction of the liver, known as cirrhosis, is considered the end stage of liver damage, and according to the American Osteopathic Association, women can develop the disease after consuming only three drinks per day over 10 years. Alcoholic women might drink much more than this on a standard day, and they might do irreversible damage to their livers in the process.Early stages of liver disease can be subtle and easy to ignore. Symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow-tinged skin and eyes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Queasiness

Some women attribute these symptoms to hangovers or overindulgence in alcohol. Other women attribute these symptoms to menstrual changes or menopause-related changes. Women who ask for assistance when they spot these changes, however, may be able to heal if they stop drinking altogether and allow their livers time to rest and recuperate. Women who don’t do so may face the prospect of a liver transplant.

Increased Cancer Risk

Cancer is caused by a complex interplay of genetics, nutrition and the environment. Often, all three factors must be in perfect alignment before the aggressive and explosive cell growth that characterizes cancer can begin to take place. Many experts believe that alcohol provides a key that can turn the cancer process on, and allow massive destruction to begin.

People who drink alcohol may face an increased risk of cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Head
  • Stomach

Women who drink might also be at an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a study published in JAMA, and that risk tends to increase in a liner fashion, with higher intakes of alcohol associated with higher rates of cancer risk. It’s unclear why alcohol would have such a transformative effect on breast tissue, but studies like this make the connection quite clear and quite difficult to ignore.

Cardiovascular Disease

help for alcoholismAlcoholic drinks contain a huge number of calories, and people who drink tend to consume salty and sugary snacks during their drinking episodes. A long history of drinking can translate to an immense amount of weight gain, and carrying extra pounds can put pressure on the heart. Sweet and fatty snacks can also cause an increase in blockages in the veins and arteries, which puts further pressure on the heart. Alcohol itself also seems to be toxic to the heart, as well as the body’s system of arteries and veins. Put all of these factors together and it’s easy to see why alcohol would increase the risk of heart disease, as well as the risk of stroke. Added pounds as well as basic toxicity can cause an immense amount of damage, when they’re added together.

Women who stop drinking may lose weight in the process, and over time, the arteries and veins may clear and the body may return to a normal level of functioning.

It’s unclear how long this process might take, however, and it’s also not clear if the person could experience some forms of damage that might not be correctable during the course of the alcoholism.

Stopping the Damage

As this article makes clear, alcohol can be incredibly damaging to the tissues in a person’s body, and alcoholism also puts people at risk for extreme physical and mental violence. Some of these consequences may be permanent in nature, if they’ve reached a certain critical mass, but many of these issues can be resolved if people stop drinking and stay sober.
At The Orchid, we specialize in helping women overcome their addictions. We utilize therapies that have been tailored for the special preferences of women, and we know just how to provide help that women will both appreciate and benefit from. Please call us to find out more about how our programs can help you learn how to stop drinking, and stay sober for the rest of your life.