Alcohol is a substance that affects the entire body. The brain reacts to even small amounts of alcohol – the reward system is activated and it becomes difficult for you to control judgments and responses.
Large amounts of alcohol or drinking over a prolonged period can lead to abuse or addiction, with serious physical and psychological consequences. If you have a problem with alcohol, you can get help to stop drinking.
Alcoholism, or chronic alcohol addiction, is a disease whereby you cannot control how often and how much you drink. It may be associated with shame and moralizing about “having yourself to blame” – but alcohol problems often have complex reasons; there are also genetic factors that can increase the risk of this disorder.
At a high level of consumption, there is great risk of bodily damage; but even those who drink moderately can suffer from alcohol-related illnesses, because we are differently sensitive to alcohol. The brain is adversely affected and even the heart, liver and other organs can be damaged. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 60 diseases are associated with high alcohol consumption – there is, for example, a clear link with various types of cancer.
Alcohol abuse also causes mental illnesses. Anxiety and depression are especially common, and alcohol abuse often has negative consequences for relatives as well. Alcohol abuse can lead to economic and social problems and affect other people because of emotional outbursts and drunkenness. Near every third fatal accident is connected with alcohol, half of all suicides are alcohol-related, and when it comes to violent crimes, two out of three perpetrators are affected by alcohol.
With a temporary high intake of alcohol, the brain’s nerve cells are affected directly – it becomes difficult for you to control judgments and responsiveness, you lose balance and get memory gaps. It’s difficult to control muscles and emotions, you sleep poorly and may even have nausea and vomiting. A really high level of alcohol in blood can lead to unconsciousness and alcohol intoxication – a life-threatening condition that requires urgent care.
Prolonged high alcohol consumption can cause the same problems, but usually also gives longer lasting symptoms.
Physical symptoms of long-term alcohol intake are:
- gastritis and gastric ulcer
- heart rhythm disturbances
- infertility and impotence
- epileptic seizures
- withdrawal syndrome is shaking, sweating and high heart rate.
Mental symptoms of long-term alcohol consumption are:
- sleeping problems
- cognitive impairment
Alcohol psychosis, such as delirium tremens, can occur because of long-term alcohol dependence if the person suddenly stops drinking and gets severe withdrawal. Typical symptoms are palpitation and anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, tremor and sweating.
CHRONIC ALCOHOLISM: In the case of long-term high alcohol consumption, the body usually gets damaged, but sometimes people who drink moderately can also suffer from alcohol-related diseases. These may include liver diseases, heart disease and stroke. Vitamin B deficiency due to prolonged alcohol consumption also causes severe memory disorders because of death of the neurons in the brain.
- Cognitive impairment means severe memory disorders and personality changes. It can cause symptoms that are typical to dementia; it is so-called “alcohol dementia”
- Vitamin B deficiency is the severe deficiency of B1 vitamin in combination with malnutrition. It can cause neuron damage in the brain and lead to so-called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
- Stroke. Alcohol increases the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage
- heart diseases – rhythm disorders, enlarged heart
- liver diseases – fatty liver disease, jaundice (hepatitis) and cirrhosis of the liver
- Gastrointestinal disorders – peptic ulcer and gastritis
- Anemia – alcohol makes it harder to produce red blood cells
- skin problems – increased risk of psoriasis, eczema and other skin disorders
- osteoporosis – alcohol inhibits the production of new bone cells and increases the loss of calcium
- cancer – alcohol has clear links with cancer of the mouth and throat, liver cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer
- depression – the risk of depression increases with high alcohol consumption.
- Alcohol also reduces fertility in both women and men. In addition, the risk of birth defects increases during pregnancy due to chronic alcohol consumption.
Alcohol problems can affect anyone and are caused by a combination of several factors. Some are more vulnerable to developing an addiction than others – research of alcohol addiction shows that the neurons in the brain are affected differently by alcohol in different individuals.
Alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors, life situation and various physical and mental disorders. Depression is a common explanation of alcoholism. Alcohol is often used as so-called “self-medication” for temporary anxiety – a counterproductive behavior that can both cause an alcohol addiction and lead to a deeper depression.
Alcohol problems are treated differently depending on the severity of the problems. An addiction can be treated, for example, with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, support calls or so-called twelve-step treatment. The various forms of therapy help you to understand your problems and to get concrete tools that make it easier to make important behavioral changes.
Alcohol problems can also be treated with different types of medicines, and sometimes there is a need for hospitalization.
If your alcohol addiction has damaged your body and that requires drug treatment, you will receive targeted medical treatment that can vary widely depending on the severity of the disease. In the case of liver disease and osteoporosis, the symptoms can be alleviated or even disappear completely after a couple of months of sobriety.
What you can do for yourself:
If alcohol consumption affects your everyday life, work, behavior or relationships, it is a powerful reason to stop drinking. It can be a major challenge, but you have a lot to gain from abstaining from alcohol – both in terms of your physical and mental health.
To deal with mild alcohol problems, you can try to change your alcohol habits by yourself by being completely sober over a period of time or by determining in advance how much you can drink during a certain time period. Writing down information about how much and how often you drink can help you get a clearer view of your alcohol habits. Try to stop smoking, because nicotine and tobacco strengthen the brain’s reward system and make it harder to abstain from alcohol.
Pay attention to warning signals
If you suspect that you have unhealthy alcohol habits, it is important to seek help. Here are some common warning signs that may eventually develop into alcoholism:
- you feel a strong craving for alcohol
- you drink more, longer and more often than you intended
- You have to drink more than before to be affected
- you get memory gaps and feel shame for your drinking
- alcohol plays a central role in your life at the expense of something else
- you have tried to cut down on the alcohol but are not successful
- you feel bad without alcohol with difficulty sleeping, shaking and nausea
- you drink in secret or take something to curb withdrawal
- you drink to cope with everyday life
- people in your area point out that you drink too much
- Alcohol leads to financial problems, relationship problems or suicidal thoughts.
If you find it difficult to limit your alcohol intake or stop drinking at all, you can get help in several ways. You can contact the usual health care, dependency clinics, the municipality or various non-profit organizations.
People living near someone with alcohol problems may also need help. If alcoholism is in the family, you as a loved one may find it difficult to know what to do. To handle dependency or a difficult situation, you can turn to health care and related organizations.
When to consult a doctor
If you think you are drinking a lot, you should turn to health care or an organization that can help you to break the addiction. Do this also if the use of alcohol affects your work, your mood or your relationships.
Seek urgent care if you have withdrawal or if you have a fever, high heart rate, hallucinations, tremor, sweating or confusion because of alcohol consumption.
Contact emergency or a psychiatric emergency room if you have suicidal thoughts while drinking alcohol.
How APPOTEK can help
You can contact APPOTEK for help with alcohol problems. A doctor or psychologist will make an individual assessment. You may then be prescribed treatment or referred on for further treatment.
If you need to talk to someone or get help with any alcohol related abuse, you can talk to one of our psychologists. We offer continuous follow-up and return visits for both you and your relatives.