Alcohol abuse can negatively affect your body, your mental wellbeing and personal relationships. What makes alcohol abuse, and alcoholism so complicated to treat is that despite the long con list, alcohol is very much mainstream and alcohol abuse has been celebrated and glamourized for decades.
When it comes to addiction, drugs are more feared than anything else. We’ve all seen films like Trainspotting, which show what a drug like heroin can do to you. Many of us have loved ones who have become addicted to drugs, and the terrible effects are difficult to hide.
Alcoholism, on the other hand, is easier to hide and far more socially acceptable. Some studies indicate that one in eight adult Americans is an alcoholic. It’s a problem that cannot be swept under the rug, as it impacts our whole society.
I’m not reactionary about this. I harbor no illusions that we should go back to the days of the “Prohibition.” Alcohol can be used in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle, and a glass of wine every so often is possibly very good for your health.
However, it is important not to underestimate the damage that alcohol can do, to your body, your mind, and your relationships.
Many people are unfortunately all too aware of what alcoholism has done to a loved one. It can damage an individual and those around them in a number of ways.
Binge Drinking is Dangerous
It is easy to think yourself immune from the damaging effects from alcohol if you are not dependent on it. Unfortunately, many lives have been ruined by people who were not addicts, but who indulged in binge drinking.
Binge drinking is not the same as simply getting drunk. One can party and get very drunk without binge drinking.
Binge drinkers are those who, once they start drinking, don’t stop, even if they planned on having just one drink. They get drunk very quickly and without regard for possible consequences. This is very dangerous, because if you did not consider the consequences before you got drunk, it’s very easy to make very bad decisions.
You might destroy relationships by saying things you would never have said if you were any less drunk. And there are far worse possibilities. People who believed they would never even consider driving drunk have ended up ending their own lives or those of others after binge drinking.
Responsible drinking is easy for some, but may be near impossible for others. If you know that you can’t drink without binge drinking, it may be necessary to stop drinking, or at the very least ask those close to you for help controlling it.
Alcohol and Your Body
Your body may be a temple. But that doesn’t mean regular wine offerings will do it any good.
Over an extended period of time, abuse of alcohol can damage your entire body. It can shrink the frontal lobes of your brain. It can lead to throat or mouth cancer, heart damage, liver damage, and lung infections. It increases your risk of pancreatitis. It can also lead to frequent diarrhea.
Sexual dysfunction, infertility, and birth defects caused by alcohol have broken the hearts of many potential parents. Thinning bones and coordination issues can make it difficult to lead a normal, active life.
Again, these problems occur when one abuses alcohol, but need not prevent you from drinking in moderation. However, if you do have liver problems, issues with your heart health, or a history of pancreas complications, you should consider quitting or moderating your intake even further.
Alcohol and Your Mind
As mentioned, alcohol can affect the very size of your brain, and can therefore have a major impact on your mind. This can lead to behavior changes, shorten your attention span, disrupt your capability for abstract thinking, and cause memory impairment.
With even small changes, your way of life can suffer. Coming in late to work because of hangovers, struggling to get things done as quickly as before, and an inability to concentrate during meetings can lead to you losing your job. Finding another one while still suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse will be even more difficult.
Ultimately, it makes it difficult to be a contributing member of society. Relationships fall apart, careers falter, and happiness is hard to come by. Many alcoholics began drinking because it made them feel good, but continue drinking to try and stop feeling at all.
Alcohol abuse can be as damaging as abuse of any hard drugs. It is far more easily accessible, which would not be a major problem if society was more attuned as to how dangerous it can become. It is crucial for those who have been lucky not to have a loved one suffer from alcoholism to realize that no one is immune. The worst case scenario is not an ill-thought-out tattoo or a bad hangover. It’s a complete breakdown of body, mind, and way of life.
Dr. Nancy Irwin is co-author of “Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery” and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.