Alcohol use disorder is not uncommon, in fact it is the most common form of diagnosed addiction among adults in the United States. Because of this, a ton of research has been done to study the short and long term effects of alcohol abuse, whether it be physical or mental. These ramifications are the reason alcohol use disorder is not curable, rather it is manageable.
Individuals who have suffered from alcoholism may recover in a sense that they do not need alcohol to function, but their lives can be permanently altered otherwise. Nonetheless, life goes on and repairing the damage is possible.
Repairing the Physical Damage of Alcohol Abuse
The center of all bodily function, including function altered by drug and alcohol use, is the brain. Despite its importance, the brain is no exception to the damaging effects of alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol use over long periods of time can contribute to nerve and neuron damage, general inhibition of brain function and higher risk of strokes, mental health disorders, seizures, dementia and cancers.
Depending on how long and how severe an individual’s alcohol abuse was, some of these detrimental effects can be partially reversed. If one quits drinking, maintains a balanced diet and exercises frequently, they are more likely to experience some reversal in any structural changes that may have happened. These changes are most visible within one year, but are maintained with about five years of abstinence.
Alcohol abuse can also adversely affect the heart. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, weakened heart muscles, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol levels and, in extreme cases, heart attacks or cardiac arrest. In general, individuals suffering from cardiovascular issues in the first place should not be drinking alcohol and nor should individuals whose family history puts them at risk of developing them. Similarly to reversing brain damage, with abstaining from alcohol comes partial recovery. There is no evidence to suggest a full recovery, but heart functioning will increase and improve upon quitting drinking.
The most well-known victim of alcohol abuse disorder is the liver. The liver is responsible for cleansing the body of waste products — in other words, substances that are not essential to bodily function or should not be absorbed into the blood stream. In this vein, the liver is responsible for processing and metabolizing alcohol. When alcohol is consumed excessively in a short amount of time, the liver will not be able to metabolize it at a fast enough rate. This overhaul can overwork the liver and cause the formation of scar tissue deposits that decrease the liver’s ability to function properly.
In extreme cases, cirrhosis of the liver occurs when the scar tissue builds up to a point where the liver can no longer function at all; this is potentially fatal. While repairing the scar tissue deposits is not exactly feasible, individuals who seek treatment early on can reduce their risk of long term liver damage.
Repairing the Psychological Damage of Alcohol Abuse
While alcohol abuse may disrupt the physical functioning of the brain, with that comes the external effects of emotional changes. Alcohol abuse often comes in conjunction with a mental health disorder because of how it affects emotional receptors in the brain. In some cases, the individual already suffers from mental health issues, and in others, their alcohol abuse may cause a mental health disorder. Either way, the presence of alcohol only heightens its effects.
The most effective way to treat either of these disorders in advance is to seek treatment. Refraining from alcohol while suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental illness, may help aid recovery. Seeking treatment for alcohol abuse early on may help reduce the chance of developing a mental illness. The mental damage of alcohol abuse is much more easily treated in advance than the physical repercussions — these can be reversed or mitigated in ways bodily harm cannot.
Dealing with the mental effects of incoming alcohol abuse early on can also help save or repair damaged relationships. Alcohol abuse not only affects the individual with the substance use disorder, but the people around them as well. Repairing these relationships, including relationships with relatives, friends and co-workers is possible if excessive drinking is curbed early on. In addition, showing your loved ones and friends that you have worked hard to stop drinking and avoid any triggers will compel them to rekindle your relationship as well.
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