How Alcohol Affects the Body and Mind
When taking a look at substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorders, it is important to know the facts. We know that alcohol addiction is harmful, but sometimes people don’t always know exactly why it’s so bad for us. Let’s look at some facts about how alcohol addiction negatively affects the mind and body.
Alcoholism is a result of an imbalance in the brain and is hard to get rid of. According to Alexis Charrys, Doctoral Psychology Intern for Centerstone, “alcohol causes the release of chemicals in two key reward brain centers, leading to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Alcohol can also make physical changes to your brain chemistry, adding to its addictive properties.”
Because of these physical changes, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can overload the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, leading an individual to experience cravings and desire more. When one stops drinking, these reward centers are diminished and you may feel sad or hopeless, making you want the experience again. Alcohol also can also compromise impulse control and decision-making, making it easier to return to the substance.
Individuals with alcohol addiction may experience a range of mental effects:
- Depression or anxiety
- Spending significant amounts of time trying to obtain alcohol
- Desire to drink despite relationship issues caused by alcohol use
- Being unable to fulfill obligations at work, home or school
- Avoiding enjoyable activities so you can drink
- Continually needing higher amounts of alcohol over time to feel happy
Beyond the effects alcohol can have on your brain, it can also cause significant damage to several parts of your body.
- Stretching or drooping of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
- Irregular heart beat (arrhythmias)
- High blood pressure
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Fibrosis, or the formation of permanent scar tissue
- Liver disease
- Pancreatitis, inflammation and swelling of blood vessels that prevents proper digestion
- Head and neck cancers, including in the mouth, throat and larynx (voice box)
- Esophageal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
Moderation and recovery
It is clear that long-term alcohol misuse can have devastating effects on your mind and body. This is why moderation is important. For those in recovery, however, it is not recommended that they engage in any level of alcohol use so as to not risk a return to addiction.