- How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect The Body?
- Alcohol’s Effects On The Body
- Alcohol’s Effect On The Brain
- Alcohol’s Effect On The Heart
- Alcohol’s Effect On The Liver
- Alcohol’s Effect On The Pancreas
- Alcohol Abuse Causes An Increased Risk Of Cancer
- Decreased Immune System
- Alcohol Has Different Effects With Age
- Get Help For An Alcohol Problem Today
- What to Expect From Drug Withdrawal
- What Is Physical Dependence, and Why Does It Matter?
- Common Withdrawal Symptoms
- How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
- What Is Medical Detox?
- Medical Detox Isn’t the End
How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect The Body?
Alcohol abuse is considered to be a habitual misuse of alcohol. Where the person is using alcohol as an escape mechanism to let loose and have fun, or to escape their own reality in some way. Anyone can abuse alcohol, it does not mean that there is an addiction (alcoholism) present, only that there is a higher lihood for addiction to occur.
The more alcohol in the blood, the higher the risk for serious side-effects to occur. Which include increased risks for certain cancers, damage to the liver, brain, and other organs, and unintentional injury or violence.
The recommended drinking amount is 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Drinking more than this is considered to be problematic drinking and can result in permanent damage to the body.
Alcohol’s Effects On The Body
When first consumed, 33 percent of alcohol gets absorbed immediately into the bloodstream, via the lining of the stomach. The rest is slowly absorbed by the small intestine. When someone abuses alcohol, they consume more than the amount their body can handle, and the amount of alcohol that is in their blood increases more quickly.
Once in the blood, alcohol makes its way to the brain, heart, and most other biological tissues.
Alcohol’s Effect On The Brain
Alcohol abuse can produce a significant amount of alcohol in the blood that supplies the brain. When the brain is flooded by alcohol it interferes with the brain’s neural messaging network by causing a disruption to the neural pathways. These disruptions can result in sudden mood changes, or changes in general behavior. And make it more difficult to think clearly, or be coordinated.
Alcohol’s Effect On The Heart
Abusing alcohol can cause serious heart malfunctions. When habitually abused, over a long time period it can cause the muscles in the heart to sag or droop (cardiomyopathy), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), stroke, and high blood pressure.
Alcohol’s Effect On The Liver
Heavy drinking can take a huge toll on the liver over time. The liver is the organ responsible for detoxifying your body of harmful substances. When alcohol is introduced into the system, the body recognizes it as a contaminate. The pancreas and liver begin producing and releasing enzymes that break down the alcohol and make it less toxic to the body.
Overtime, abusing alcohol causes the liver to become overworked and injured. Because most people who abuse alcohol attempt to remain a little drunk all the time, in order to avoid the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol leaving their system. As a result of the damage this constant state causes the liver to become inflamed.
The inflammation can appear as:
- Steatosis (fatty liver)
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Fibrosis (scarring of the liver)
- Cirrhosis (chronic degeneration of liver cells)
Depending on how long the person has abused alcohol.
Alcohol’s Effect On The Pancreas
With the constantly raised levels of alcohol, the pancreas can only produce enough enzymes to break down a little of the excessive amount. This causes the pancreas to be flooded with toxic substances that, over time, lead to inflammation (pancreatitis).
Pancreatitis is dangerous because the swelling of the blood vessel prevents the body from being able to digest things properly, which can damage multiple other systems throughout the body.
Alcohol abuse can lead to long-term irreparable damage to these major organs. It can also cause the body to slowly shut down over time. It’s essentially slowly poisoning yourself because your organs become to damaged to properly detox your body.
Alcohol Abuse Causes An Increased Risk Of Cancer
Abusing alcohol can increase risk of cancer to the mouth, esophagus, and throat. This is thought to result because the majority of alcohol is consumed orally. The mouth, esophagus, and throat all become exposed to habitual abuse, and the cells within the tissues that initially consumed the alcohol degenerate from the inside out once the remaining alcohol enters the blood.
Alcohol abuse has also been shown to increase the risk of getting liver and breast cancer. The increased risk to liver damage will happen when the liver becomes overworked and the damage sets in.
The increased risk to breast cancer is thought to be because of the increased fat cell content in this tissue, because fat cells are more susceptible to alcohol penetrating their cell membranes than normal body tissue cells.
Decreased Immune System
With time, alcohol abuse can also lead to a less than optimal immune system. Typically when the body encounters a foreign substance it sees as harmful it will produce white blood cells to fight and destroy that substance to return the body to homeostasis.
Abusing alcohol lowers the body’s ability to do this by damaging internal organs and keep the body constantly in a state of fluctuation.
This is why people who drink chronically, are more ly to contract diseases pneumonia and tuberculosis, over people who rarely drink.
It is important to note that even after a single binge drinking session the body’s ability to ward off infection is lower than normal for up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Alcohol Has Different Effects With Age
How the body handles alcohol can change with age. And alcohol abuse symptoms are sometimes easily mistaken for common problems among old people, balance issues.
This can be dangerous because it can make it more difficult for doctors to understand their elderly patients symptoms, and they are more ly to be misdiagnosed.
The increased risk of elderly becoming confused and forgetful often lead to the misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
It is possible for elderly people to feel the effects of alcohol without increasing the amount they drink. Because the body breaks down with age, making it more difficult to build up a tolerance. This can lead to increased risk for falls and fractures.
Abusing alcohol has also been shown to worsen some health conditions osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, ulcers, and mood disorders in older people.
Get Help For An Alcohol Problem Today
Still have questions regarding alcohol abuse and its effects? Contact one of our alcohol detox treatment specialist at Vertava Health to find out more about these topics. Abuse is the borderline to addiction, reach us today if you or a loved one is in need. We are here to help.
What to Expect From Drug Withdrawal
Withdrawing from alcohol or drugs comes with many unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms range in severity and depend on several factors. Which drug you were addicted to plays the largest role, but personal factors genetics and metabolism make a difference too.
Signs of withdrawal can begin within a few hours of your last use of the drug, or they may take days to appear. They can last anywhere from days to weeks. In cases of severe addiction to certain drugs, long-term symptoms may linger for months.
Withdrawal symptoms usually have several stages. They include:
- An acute withdrawal period, when the symptoms begin and are most intense – This lasts anywhere from a couple days to a week.
- A protracted withdrawal period, when symptoms are at their worst, then start to fade.
- A prolonged withdrawal period after physical symptoms subside – This includes long-term symptoms cravings and depression.
It’s easy to relapse while getting sober. This is because of the many uncomfortable and even painful symptoms of withdrawal.
Physician-assisted detox programs (medical detox) ease discomfort and treat potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
After you detox, a treatment program, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient, treats long-term withdrawal symptoms while teaching you to live a sober lifestyle.
What Is Physical Dependence, and Why Does It Matter?
You are considered physically dependent on a drug when you can’t stop taking it without experiencing withdrawal effects. It’s also known as chemical dependency, and it becomes worse when your tolerance builds. Tolerance means you need to take more of the drug over time to get the same high. Most people who regularly use drugs and/or alcohol develop tolerance.
Tolerance is thought to be the result of your body’s attempt to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is your body’s natural drive to maintain a stable level of functioning. It’s part of what allows you to function efficiently. For example, if you enter a cold room, your body will help warm you up by generating heat through shivering.
When you repeatedly use a drug or alcohol, the connections in your brain change. This helps it adapt to the effects of the drugs and maintain homeostasis. When your brain adapts, you no longer get the same high from the same amount of drugs. You need to take more because throwing off your body’s homeostasis is what allows you to feel high.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
The concept of tolerance helps us understand why withdrawal symptoms happen. It doesn’t tell us why you may experience certain symptoms and someone else withdrawing from the same drug may not. A couple things help determine which effects you will experience, :
- The type of drug used
- How high your tolerance is
Some similarities exist among withdrawal from all substances:
Rebound effects. These are symptoms that the drug was originally designed to control. They arise in full force once you stop taking the drug. For example, you might feel significant pain during opioid withdrawal, anxiety during benzodiazepine withdrawal, or lethargy during stimulant withdrawal.
Decreased tolerance. This occurs rapidly during drug withdrawal. It can be dangerous if you relapse because you may overdose due to your reduced tolerance.
Depression. A lack of motivation or inability to experience pleasure are common effects of withdrawal. “Anhedonia” is the inability to feel happiness. It occurs among people in recovery whose brains have been hijacked to produce too much dopamine—the feel-good chemical. In the absence of so much dopamine, people find they can’t feel happy.
Changes to the automatic nervous system. These symptoms include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Irregular breathing
- Changes in blood pressure
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
The timeline for withdrawal syndromes varies depending on the drug used. Other factors influence the timeline of withdrawal too:
- How much of the drug you typically took
- The manner in which you took it (snorting, injection, etc.)
- Whether you combined it with other drugs
- How long you abused the drug
- Individual factors your genetic profile, your metabolism, and your weight
Withdrawal timelines are generally broken down into three stages: acute, protracted, and post-acute. It’s important to understand what these phases look because knowing what to expect will help you—and your loved ones—put the right treatment and resources in place.
Check out the following guide to learn more about what specific withdrawal timelines can look :
The severity of alcohol withdrawal depends a lot on how severe your addiction is. Light to moderate drinkers will most ly experience mild to moderate symptoms. They may not require medical attention. Because there’s always the potential for seizures, a doctor trained in alcohol withdrawal should monitor you.
Heavier drinkers are at an increased risk of developing seizures, delirium (confusion and psychosis), and other life-threatening symptoms. There is still a risk that these could occur in light drinkers who have abused alcohol for a long time.
You could experience withdrawal symptoms within a day or two after you stop drinking. If you chronically, heavily abused alcohol, withdrawal symptoms may begin only a few hours after your last drink.
Mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically last a week or two. More severe symptoms can last for several weeks or longer, depending on the situation.
If you have an alcohol use disorder, you should begin with medical detox. Supervision from a physician will be needed; do not simply stop drinking on your own. Learn more about withdrawing from alcohol here.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines Xanax and Valium can appear similar to alcohol withdrawal. Both can occur rapidly, produce severe confusion, and trigger seizures that can be fatal. Both are typically treated by administering long-acting benzodiazepines in a physician-assisted medical detox program.
In detox, benzodiazepines are administered on a tapering schedule. That means you receive a smaller and smaller dosage over time until you are weaned off of them once your withdrawal symptoms stop.
Opioids include drugs oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Although withdrawal from opioid drugs can be very distressing, the symptoms are typically not fatal. There is a smaller risk that you will have seizures than there is when withdrawing from other drugs, unless you have a pre-existing condition that increases your risk for seizures.
A person’s tolerance level to opioids increases rapidly. If you’ve been chronically abusing opioids, you may have a very high tolerance. This allows you to take amounts of opioids that may be fatal to someone without tolerance.
The major risk associated with opioid withdrawal is that you will relapse. Since your tolerance will have significantly decreased, relapse could easily lead to a fatal overdose.
Other risks include dehydration and self-harm due to emotional distress.
For chronic, heavy users, opioid withdrawal symptoms can begin within several hours. For mild to moderate opioid use disorders, it may take a day or two for symptoms to appear.
Medical detox for opioids may involve medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and the use of an opioid replacement medication. Commonly used medications are methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone) and/or naloxone. When used as part of MAT, these medications can be very helpful in long-term opioid recovery.
Learn more about withdrawing from opioids here.
Common stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin), meth, cocaine, and amphetamines. Withdrawal from these drugs typically produces more emotional symptoms than physical symptoms, but you may also experience:
With meth in particular, there is a “crash” phase that can include several days of sleepiness.
For most people, withdrawing from stimulants produces extreme mood swings and cravings. These symptoms greatly increase your risk of relapse. As part of medical detox, medications help control cravings and reduce lethargy. Long-term treatment addresses apathy and depression. Learn more about withdrawing from stimulants here.
What Is Medical Detox?
To rid your body of drugs, you must go through the detoxification process. When you stop using drugs or alcohol, your body naturally gets rid of those substances, but this doesn’t mean it’s safe to detox on your own.
Detoxing in a medical facility is the safest option. A physician-supervised medical detox program doesn’t speed up the process, but it helps you through safely and as comfortably as possible.
It also addresses the symptoms of withdrawal that may cause you to relapse.
Medical detox is highly recommended for anyone with a substance use disorder. If you are addicted to alcohol and benzodiazepines, it’s necessary. We highly recommend it for the other types of addiction because it gives you the best chance possible at a healthy, sober life.
Medical Detox Isn’t the End
A medical detox program can reduce your risk of relapse in the early stages of recovery, but it’s not enough on its own to avoid relapses in the future.
Relapse rates for all types of substance use disorders are high. The potential to relapse is significantly decreased if you participate in treatment following detox. Generally, this means getting involved in some type of addiction treatment program where therapy is the backbone. When you complete a structured program, an aftercare program should be your next step.
In therapy, you’ll address the types of issues that caused your substance abuse in the first place. You’ll learn strategies to deal with these issues. With your therapist, you’ll develop a plan for avoiding alcohol or drugs long term. The longer you remain in treatment for your substance abuse disorder, the greater your chances are of remaining sober.
Are you looking to detox from drugs or alcohol in a safe, compassionate environment? Contact our team at Footprints to Recovery. We can help!