The effects of alcohol – why alcoholism is such a terrible and debilitating disease
Alcohol has been accompanying man for over 4000 years, when the custom of drinking it was first adopted in Mesopotamia, from where it probably spread throughout the ancient world. This type of high-alcohol beverages immediately gained enormous popularity, which unfortunately continues to this day, despite the fact that excessive consumption of wine or vodka was condemned by the clergy already in the first years of Christianity. Even they treated alcohol not as something harmful, but as an effective remedy for many ailments, and this misconception, in most cases, persists in society even now. Many people still don’t realize that drinking one or more beers or vodka every day is in itself a disease and the consequences of drinking alcohol in larger quantities can be tragic.
- 1 What makes us reach for alcohol
- 2 Alcoholism – a disease with a high mortality rate
- 3 Correctly recognizing the symptoms of alcoholism
- 4 Successive stages of alcoholism
- 5 Diseases caused by drinking alcohol
What makes us reach for alcohol
However, before we write about the harmfulness of alcohol and its negative, even destructive influence on our health, we should know why we reach for it and why in some people it results in the development of an alcoholic disease. Determining the unambiguous cause of alcoholism is not easy and we can divide the addiction into two basic groups:
1. psychological dependence
This condition is most often defined as a strong mental need to reach for alcohol or any other equally addictive substance. It is fostered by the very effect of alcohol, which gives an illusory sense of mental relaxation, apparently also combating negative states of strong nervous tension, relaxing even during strong stress. This is the most sensitive and dangerous moment, when you can cross this symbolic border, and coming back from behind it will be at least difficult, sometimes unfortunately impossible.
It should be clearly stated that alcohol is not a miraculous means of dealing with all life problems, it only gives a false substitute for solving them. The next day, when you sober up, they come back with redoubled force, and fighting them while hungover will be even more difficult.
2. physical addiction
Being a natural consequence of mental dependence, the next stage of the progressive alcohol disease. In this stage, the alcoholic, because this is how the addict must be called, begins to provide the body with increasing doses of this stimulant. This is a direct result of the increase of the immunity of the body, so to reach the previous state of intoxication one simply has to drink more and more. Frequent drinking causes gradual damage to almost all systems and internal organs, especially the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems:
- disorders of the digestive system caused by alcohol, vomiting or diarrhea;
- severe stress, anxiety;
- sleep problems leading to insomnia;
- feelings of constant nervousness, often aggressive behaviour even towards close people;
- headaches that can be as bad as migraines;
- increased blood pressure, which can lead to damage to the heart muscle and blood vessels;
- alcoholic delirium, better known as delirium tremens. This is a dangerous state, threatening not only health but also life, in which hallucinations, disorientation disorders, mood swings from euphoria to depression, elevated temperature and convulsions occur.
Alcoholism, like, for example, overweight and obesity, is sometimes caused by genetic, hereditary factors. If in the older generation of the closest family there was a person addicted to alcohol, the fact that he or she drank can cause other family members to develop an addiction, and this phenomenon is called family alcoholism. In addition, this dangerous disease can have a basis:
- medical, when the body becomes so strongly dependent on a particular agent, in this case ethyl alcohol, that it is unable to function properly without its supply, regardless of the havoc it causes in the process;
- pedagogical, resulting from being in a dysfunctional family of alcoholics, which has a negative impact on the upbringing of the child who, having no other positive role models, often reaches for alcohol on his/her own and at an early age.
Alcoholism – a disease with a high mortality rate
Alcoholism is the same disease as many others, but if not treated in time it usually ends in the patient’s death. There is really no exaggeration in this statement, it is a disease with an extremely high mortality rate. More than 3 million people die every year because of alcohol, which, according to a report by WHO, the World Health Organization, accounts for nearly 6 percent of all deaths and men are more likely to die here, nearly 75 percent of all cases. This high percentage of deaths, of course, is not directly attributable to alcohol consumption itself, but also to the diseases it causes.
Correctly recognizing the symptoms of alcoholism
The treatment of alcoholism is a very difficult and long-lasting process and the basis for success is the right attitude of the addict, the willingness to fight with the addiction. It is the addict who has to admit that he or she reaches for wine, beer or vodka too often:
- a total lack of control over his addiction, an uncontrollable compulsion to reach for a glass;
- intemperance in drinking, most often an alcoholic drinks drunkenly, often leading to the state of unconsciousness;
- focusing one’s life exclusively on drinking, the alcoholic is gradually unable to think about anything else, constantly looking for occasions to drink and at the same time looking for pretexts to justify such behaviour;
- gradual, noticeable increase in the tolerance to the influence of alcohol, which makes it necessary to drink more and more to achieve the state of intoxication;
- concentration and memory problems, which over time make it impossible to focus on the simplest activities and to remember even small portions of new information;
- wrong way of perceiving the surrounding reality, completely distorted by the negative influence of alcohol on brain work, which causes at the same time problems with proper assessment of the situation and weakened sense of justice;
- disturbed by alcohol, correct transmission and reception of stimuli coming from the environment;
- constant proving to the surroundings that the alcoholic is able to control the addiction and break it at any time. This leads to paradoxical situations, when on the outside, at work, the alcoholic tries to stay sober, getting drunk to the point of unconsciousness in the evenings at home.
Successive stages of alcoholism
Observing the successive symptoms of this disease is a clear, but usually ignored, alarm signal that one is not in control of the progressing addiction. Unfortunately, this applies to the vast majority of alcoholics, who completely underestimate the consequences of drinking, which sooner or later they feel anyway. The progress of addiction has been divided by specialists into consecutive phases and in every addicted person we distinguish
- phase 1, initial, when the addiction is a method of getting rid of psychic tensions, gradually becoming an inseparable element of everyday relaxation, without which it is difficult to imagine relaxation or removal of stress effects;
- phase 2, the alarm phase, in which the first negative effects of drinking slowly become the most important thing done during the day. One of the symptoms characteristic for this phase are problems with remembering what we did while under the influence of alcohol;
- phase3, critical, in which you can no longer control the addiction and the addict is able to think only about the fact that he or she has to drink and somehow get money to buy alcohol, because in this phase many people can no longer work normally;
- phase 4, the chronic phase, which can be considered the last phase, because recovery from it and from the whole addiction often turns out to be impossible. The alcoholic is in a state of permanent intoxication practically all the time, causing the development of additional diseases, which usually end in his death.
Diseases caused by drinking alcohol
Organizations involved in the fight against alcoholism sound the alarm, wanting to sensitize the authorities to this problem and obtain the necessary measures to at least partially eliminate it. Unfortunately, most of the actions taken on the governmental side are limited to covering the problem and not really solving it. Raising the excise tax on alcohol also has apurely symbolic meaning, generating higher revenues to the budget, but not reducing the consumption.
Doctors of various specialties are similarly concerned, struggling with treating both the addiction itself and the effects, i.e. the havoc it causes in the body. The costs of this are enormous and often have to be borne by the addict himself, who cannot count on state aid and has to wait in queues of many years to be able to see theappropriate specialist. In this matter some effective action should be taken immediately, becauseuntreated alcoholism results in diseases:
Heart and cardiovascular diseases
These are the basic and at the same time one of the most dangerous diseases that a person abusing alcohol will have to deal with. These diseases are not worth taking lightly, unless we really don’t care about our health or even life. Among the ailments that should be taken into account in this case, the greatest danger is posed by:
- arterial hypertension, which e.g. in male drinkers occurs in about 20 – 30 percent of cases. If left untreated, it increases the risk of further diseases, including heart attack or a brain stroke, which is just as dangerous;
- heart rhythm disorders, which are often joined by atrial fibrillation, being together with arrhythmia the most common cause of death among alcoholics suffering from it;
- alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a severe disease, whose symptoms are progressive heart failure combined with its degenerative changes. This damage causes blood flow disturbances, reduces exercise tolerance, palpitations and swelling of the lower limbs and abdomen.
The digestive system
Esophagus, stomach, duodenum or intestines are the elements of digestive system damaged by alcohol to the extent that it is often impossible to restore their full efficiency. The list of diseases we may encounter in this case is constantly growing and includes, among others
- inflammation of the above-mentioned organs, and apart from them it also concerns the mucous membrane lining the entire digestive system from the inside;
- inflammation of thepancreas, which under the influence of disturbances in the secretion of the produced enzymes even undergoes self-digestion, which causes the patient a lot of pain;
- inflammation of theliver, caused by its increasing steatosis, manifested by severe pain and significant enlargement of this important organ;
- cirrhosis, a disease which in many cases ends in the death of the alcoholic, causing irreversible damage. Its characteristic symptoms are bursting blood vessels on the hands, yellowing of the skin and eyes, visible abdominal bloating, bleeding from the mucous membranes, hemorrhagic diathesis and, as a result, coma and death.
Brain damage and mental illness
Alcohol abuse also affects the functioning of the brain and nervous system leading to their physical degeneration manifested as follows:
- difficult-to-control convulsions, usually beginning with an innocent shaking of the hands;
- inflammation of the nerves, the symptoms of which are sensory disturbances, muscle pain and gradual atrophy
- disturbances of balance;
- fainting and prolonged unconsciousness;
- visual neuropathy;
- the aforementioned problems with memory, concentration and recall.
Alcohol is the number one enemy of our mental health, and by abusing this eminently harmful stimulant, we must reckon with the occurrence of the following harmful effects, such as:
- alcoholic paranoia, mental delusions that completely distort the perception of the reality around us. Very characteristic here is Othello’s syndrome occurring in men, who under the influence of alcohol constantly suspect their partners of infidelity;
- hallucinations, hallucinations, hearing voices or seeing non-existing things or people;
- depression, which can cause suicidal thoughts in many patients, often requiring treatment in hospital conditions.
Decreased sexual performance
Anyone who drinks large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis can forget about having a successful, satisfying sex life. The urge and libido decrease rapidly and most men find it increasingly difficult to get and maintain a proper erection for intercourse, alcohol is also a common cause of infertility. In women, alcoholism can accelerate the appearance of the first symptoms of menopause.