Effects of Alcohol on your Health and Life

A few drinks might relieve stress at the time, but in the long run, its wreaking havoc on your body.

Interpersonal Problems
The more heavily you drink, the greater the potential for problems at home, at work, with friends, and even with strangers. These problems may include:

· Arguments with or estrangement from your spouse and other family members;

· Strained relationships with coworkers;

· Absence from or lateness to work with increasing frequency;

· Loss of employment due to decreased productivity; and committing or being the victim of violence.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects
If you are a pregnant woman or one who is trying to conceive, you can prevent alcohol-related birth defects by not drinking alcohol during your pregnancy. Alcohol can cause a range of birth defects, the most serious being fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with alcohol-related birth defects can have lifelong learning and behavior problems. Those born with FAS have physical abnormalities, mental impairment, and behavior problems. Because scientists do not know exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause alcohol-related birth defects, it is best not to drink any alcohol during this time.

Long-Term Health Problems
Some problems, like those mentioned above, can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time. But other problems--such as liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and pancreatitis--often develop more gradually and may become evident only after long-term heavy drinking. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems after consuming less alcohol than men do over a shorter period of time. Because alcohol affects many organs in the body, long-term heavy drinking puts you at risk for developing serious health problems, some of which are described below.

Alcohol-related liver disease
More than 2 million Americans suffer from alcohol-related liver disease. Some drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, as a result of long-term heavy drinking. Its symptoms include fever, jaundice (abnormal yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and urine), and abdominal pain. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause death if drinking continues. If drinking stops, this condition often is reversible.

About 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Alcoholic cirrhosis can cause death if drinking continues. Although cirrhosis is not reversible, if drinking stops, one's chances of survival improve considerably. Those with cirrhosis often feel better, and the functioning of their liver may improve, if they stop drinking. Although liver transplantation may be needed as a last resort, many people with cirrhosis who abstain from alcohol may never need liver transplantation. In addition, treatment for the complications of cirrhosis is available.

Heart disease
Moderate drinking can have beneficial effects on the heart, especially among those at greatest risk for heart attacks, such as men over the age of 45 and women after menopause. But long-term heavy drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some kinds of stroke.

Cancer
Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and voice box. Women are at slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer if they drink two or more drinks per day. Drinking may also increase the risk for developing cancer of the colon and rectum.

Pancreatitis
The pancreas helps to regulate the body's blood sugar levels by producing insulin. The pancreas also has a role in digesting the food we eat. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is associated with severe abdominal pain and weight loss and can be fatal.

If you or someone you know has been drinking heavily, there is a risk of developing serious health problems. Because some of these health problems are both reversible and treatable, it is important to see your doctor for help. Your doctor will be able to advise you about both your health and your drinking.