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Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. Addiction is a brain disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli, regardless of the inevitable ensuing of negative consequences. Abusing a substance of any kind will have great affects in all areas of one’s life. An individual will prioritize satisfying his or he addiction above all else. This could lead to strained relationships with family and/ or friends, financial challenges, employment difficulty, legal complications, and physical consequences. Due to the nature of the substance, an individual that habitually abuses alcohol can be faced with severe physiological short and long-term effects.  

Alcohol contains calories, and although they are metabolized differently than food, they must be accounted for. It has been noted, that the higher the alcohol content of a beverage the more calories it likely contains. An individual that struggles with alcohol addiction may have a decreased appetite, which can contribute to weight loss. Whereas another individual may make highly unhealthy dietary choices, while intoxicated that subsequently results in gaining harmful amounts of weight. 

Alcohol and Digestion

Alcohol is metabolized differently in one’s body than the way one’s body processes food. When alcohol is ingested, it travels directly down one’s esophagus to one’s stomach and small intestine. Consistently overwhelming one’s intestinal tract with alcohol can be damaging, as it can impair one’s ability to properly absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food that is eaten. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause nausea, vomiting, and/ or diarrhea, which can further deplete one’s body from properly absorbing and processing its needed nutrients. The body is physically unable to store alcohol, which means all alcohol consumed must be quickly broken down by one’s liver. The liver is the organ that filters out toxins in one’s body. A damaged or malfunctioning liver can lead to an array of health complications (i.e. intestinal bleeding, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, fatigue, liver cancer, cirrhosis…etc.). The liver is also responsible for storing extra glucose. Research has found that the presence of alcohol can impede the release of glucose, elevating one’s blood sugar levels, which in turn can increase the risk for developing cardiovascular complications and metabolic problems (i.e. diabetes).  

Weight Changes and its Effects

Every individual is different and will have a unique physiological response to alcohol abuse and/ or addiction. Some individuals may gain weight from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and others may lose weight. Regardless, there are several health risks associated with alcohol related weight changes. Some of the potential dangerous effects that can manifest include any combination of the following:

  • High cholesterol 
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Eating disorders
  • Tooth decay
  • Joint problems
  • Seizures
  • Elevated risk for developing certain cancers (i.e. esophagus, liver, throat, mouth, breast…etc.)
  • Neurological deficits
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Mood disorders
  • Memory loss
  • Dehydration

An individual is also at risk for developing internal organ damage and/ or disease of the liver, heart, brain, kidney, and/ or pancreas. In some cases, extreme malnutrition can lead to the onset of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (a form of dementia). Depending on how an individual’s physical body is able to process alcohol intake he or she may suffer from irreversible long-term health effects. In addition to all of the above negative consequences that can occur as a result of alcoholism, including the myriad ways it can disrupt proper nutritional levels in one’s body, if left untreated, alcohol abuse and/ or addiction can ultimately lead to death.

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one in regards to substance abuse and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one.