Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious health concern in the United States today. AUD ranks as the third leading preventable cause of death in America.
We’re reminded of this sad reality when we hear the reports about fatal car accidents involving drivers under the influence. But another important part of the AUD discussion that we shouldn’t forget is our physical health.
Unhealthy lifestyles of alcohol use can quickly add to a wide range of negative impacts on our physical health. These negative impacts can become life-threatening when they go unchecked for a long time. Here are some top ways alcohol use disorder negatively impacts physical health.
Physical Health 101
Alcohol addiction (alcohol use disorder) is a disease affecting the brain, leading us to crave alcohol as a life-sustaining source. Generally speaking, alcohol slows down activity in the central nervous system while stimulating GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain to relax us.
Because alcohol affects the brain’s reward center like other drugs, it releases dopamine in the brain to create that euphoric feel-good sensation.
While this may sound harmless to describe recreational or even responsible drinking, ongoing patterns of this process can rewire the brain, directly affecting how the rest of the body functions.
Physical health can be understood in various ways, but one helpful definition describes good physical health as what happens when body functions and processes work at their peak.
If we’re trying to understand how alcohol diminishes physical health, we can work backward by exploring how excessive alcohol use compromises the body’s functions and processes.
How Alcohol Use Compromises the Brain, Heart, and Lungs
The brain is one of the most important places to look here. People understand this, so there is no shortage of strong recommendations for various foods and exercises to help maintain healthy brains.
You won’t find alcohol among those recommendations. This is because alcohol is a neurotoxin. It suppresses the brain from functioning properly, which affects how the brain communicates with the rest of the body. This can have a wide range of health effects, but it causes a chain reaction throughout the body.
One of those chain reactions is the heart, specifically heart disease. Drinking as little as three alcoholic beverages can increase your blood pressure, and high blood pressure can cease to return to normal as drinking becomes a more prominent part of your lifestyle.
With increased blood pressure comes the added risk of heart failure and strokes. Alcoholic beverages are usually packed with calories, which increases the risk of obesity. Also, obesity makes the heart work harder, increasing the risk of heart failure.
The lungs are also at risk of working like they should when alcohol is involved. Alcoholic lung disease is the official term used to describe how alcohol can increase acute respiratory distress syndrome three- to four-fold and a mortality rate as high as 50 percent.
It might be surprising that alcohol can affect something as random as the lungs. But remember, alcohol disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. Nothing is off the table in terms of its negative impact.
The Last Word on How Alcohol Use Disorder Negative Impacts Health
Because of this, we should seriously consider our health. We might not look at our brains, hearts, or lungs, but we can identify some alcohol abuse warning signs that show up physically.
These physical signs can include a flushed appearance, extremely dry skin, yellowing skin, eyes, or a significant change in weight.
While these are not exhaustive, they are examples of how we can tell if alcohol negatively affects our physical health.
As with any substance abuse, the sooner we treat it, the less damage it will have on our body and the greater chance of getting our health on the right track. If you or anyone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, the stakes are too high not to take action.
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