Alcoholism, an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by an uncontrollable craving for alcohol that negatively impacts important aspects of your life.
If alcoholism goes untreated for too long, it can take a profound toll on your body. Here are some conditions linked to alcoholism, and why getting help as early as possible is in your best interest.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause brain changes similar to dementia. Symptoms include confusion, memory loss, inability to complete tasks, and trouble processing ideas. Alcohol-related cognitive decline can be difficult to diagnose if drinking is not mentioned during diagnosis.
“What people may not realize is that it is possible that these types of cognitive declines to be misattributed to other factors, such as aging or other medical conditions,” Benson Munyan, a clinical psychologist in Orlando, Florida, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “In the case of those seeking mental health services for conditions that are not related to substance use, alcohol abuse or dependence can make it remarkably difficult to accurately attribute the cause of cognitive problems.”
Alcohol can exacerbate mood disorders, like depression. Some people struggling with alcoholism begin drinking to find relief from depressive symptoms, which eventually creates a vicious cycle.
“Due to alcohol being a depressant, it gives the illusion of relief – which is only temporary,” Princess Drake, M.S., Psy.D, a mental health practitioner at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, Minnesota, says. “The maladaptive pattern that develops between depression and alcoholism produces the constant need for the next sign of relief.”
Alcohol can decrease your bone density and increase the chance of osteoporosis.
“Osteoblasts are specific bone cells responsible for building new bone, and…when excess alcohol consumption inhibits osteoblast activity, bone breaks down at a faster rate than it is being formed, leaving bone brittle, weak, and at increased risk for fractures,” Dr. Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, a New Jersey-based physical therapist, says.
Alcoholism can damage your liver in several ways. This includes alcohol-related fatty liver disease (ALD), or when the liver accumulates fats. ALD can be painful and lead to other conditions like alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is when scar tissue accumulates in the liver. It can lead to fluid buildup in the body, behavior changes, a larger spleen and liver failure.
Alcoholic hepatitis is swelling of the liver that can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice.
High Blood Pressure
Drinking causes about 16 percent of chronic hypertension cases in the United States. Blood pressure can rise rapidly after just two drinks, which can increase the likelihood of stroke. Research has found that binge drinking can also significantly increase the likelihood of stroke, even among younger people.
The good news is that many of these conditions are preventable with early treatment and sobriety. To avoid the potentially irreversible long-term effects of alcoholism, speak to your loved ones about your problem and consider getting professional help in the form of treatment right away.