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12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Health Risks of Alcohol: 12 Health Problems Associated with Chronic Heavy Drinking
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High blood pressure

Alcohol can disrupt the sympathetic nervous system, which, among other things, controls the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to stress, temperature, exertion, etc. Heavy drinking -- and bingeing, in particular -- can cause blood pressure to rise. Over time, this effect can become chronic. High blood pressure can lead to many other health problems, including kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.

Infectious disease

Heavy drinking suppresses the immune system, providing a toehold for infections, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases (including some that cause infertility). People who drink heavily also are more likely to engage in risky sex. "Heavy drinking is associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease," Rehmn says.

Nerve damage

Heavy drinking can cause a form of nerve damage known as alcoholic neuropathy, which can produce a painful pins-and-needles feeling or numbness in the extremities as well as muscle weakness, incontinence, constipation, erectile dysfunction, and other problems. Alcoholic neuropathy may arise because alcohol is toxic to nerve cells, or because nutritional deficiencies attributable to heavy drinking compromise nerve function.

Pancreatitis

In addition to causing stomach irritation (gastritis), drinking can inflame the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis interferes with the digestive process, causing severe abdominal pain and persistent diarrhea --and "it's not fixable," Saitz says. Some cases of chronic pancreatitis are triggered by gallstones, but up to 60% stem from alcohol consumption.

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Reviewed on September 15, 2011

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