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Long-term effects of alcohol

Alcohol can have both short and long-term effects on your body. In this article, we’ll highlight how drinking alcohol can impact your health in the long-term and provide some tips for drinking less.

Here’s a list of some of the long-term effects of alcohol:

1. It can damage your liver

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is damage to your liver caused by drinking too much alcohol. It’s important to take care of your liver’s health because it aids food digestion, filters out toxins, helps to fight off diseases and infections and regulates your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. When you drink alcohol, you can kill some of your liver cells. Whilst you can develop new cells, alcohol abuse will harm your liver’s ability to create new cells and you’ll be at risk of causing permanent damage and suffering serious health complications.

If your liver is damaged, you may notice symptoms such as pain in your abdomen, fatigue and loss of appetite. More severe symptoms include yellowing of the skin and whites of your eyes and swelling in your abdomen. Find out more about ARLD on the NHS website. 

2. It can cause some types of cancer

If you drink alcohol regularly, you’re at increased risk of developing some cancers, including:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Some throat cancers (oesophagus, larynx and pharynx)
  • Liver cancer 

Alcohol can cause cancer as it damages cells (and prevents them from repairing this damage), changes your hormones (such as increasing oestrogen and insulin) which can make your cells divide more frequently and changes cells in your mouth and throat which means you may absorb more harmful chemicals.

3. It can lead to high blood pressure

Drinking too much alcohol on a daily basis can raise your blood pressure (and this can be long-term increases, not just a temporary rise). Sustained high blood pressure is known as hypertension and it can increase your risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Essentially, high blood pressure puts a strain on your heart as it has to work extra hard to pump and the arteries which carry blood are under more pressure. 

Most people don’t know if they have high blood pressure and may only find out after suffering a stroke or heart attack. You can check your blood pressure yourself by investing in a blood pressure monitor or you can visit your local pharmacy or GP to measure this for you. 

4. It can damage your nerves (neuropathy)

People with alcoholism can experience tingling and pains in their limbs as a result of damaged peripheral nerves which send signals between your body, brain and spinal cord.

These nerves are what helps you to move your body and function (such as walking and talking). Alcoholic neuropathy could cause direct damage to these nerves or the nutritional issues linked to alcohol could also damage your nerves.

5. It can impact your mental health

If you’ve been feeling stressed, you may have noticed alcohol helps to “take the edge off”. Whilst it’s true that alcohol can make some people feel relaxed, this is only temporary. In the long-term, alcohol can actually take a toll on your mental wellbeing and lead to anxiety, depression and memory loss. This is because regular heavy drinking can affect the chemicals in your brain which are good for your mental health.

You can find out more about the link between alcohol, anxiety and depression here

6. It can increase your risk of suffering strokes

Research has indicated that drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of suffering a stroke. This is mainly because alcohol can lead to a number of other medical conditions that increase your risk of suffering a stroke such as high blood pressure, diabetes and ARLD.

If you have a stroke, you should really try to cut down on alcohol or eliminate it from your life. This is because you could have another stroke, alcohol may react to medication you now take and you could be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

7. It can damage your brain

Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can lead to alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) and may increase your risk of developing conditions such as dementia which impacts your memory. Research suggests that you can reduce these risks by drinking less and leading a healthy lifestyle (i.e. being active and eating a balanced diet).

8. It can lead to type 2 diabetes

By drinking too much alcohol, you can change the way your body reacts to insulin (this is a hormone which helps you to use up sugar in your blood) which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

9. It could cause sexual issues and increase your risk of becoming infertile

Alcohol can have a long-term impact on sex and fertility. Alcohol can lower your libido and cause erectile dysfunction (ED), which could be down to alcohol interfering with your brain or reducing the production of testosterone. Typically, ED is temporary but if you constantly drink too much alcohol, you may continue to experience this problem. Alcohol can also reduce your fertility - even small amounts, so, it’s important to consider the future impact drinking now may have later down the line.

10. It can have an impact on your social life

Alcohol misuse can cause serious health issues, but it’s important to also consider the impact it can have on your social life. If you’re dependent on alcohol, your drinking could affect your relationships and ability to go about your normal tasks, such as going to work and meeting friends. If you or someone you know is drinking too much alcohol, there’s plenty of help on hand. You can speak to a healthcare professional such as an advisor at LiveWell Dorset, see your GP, call a helpline (such as Alcohol Change UK) or join a support group.

The risk you’re at for developing these long-term effects of alcohol will depend on a number of factors, including how much alcohol you consume daily, your age, gender, genetics and whether you suffer from any other health issues. By cutting down on your alcohol intake, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing these health complications and diseases. As drinking any amount of alcohol can put you at risk, the more you cut down, the more you reduce the risks involved. 

How can I stop drinking alcohol?

 

After reading the above, you may be feeling worried about yourself or the health of a loved one. The best thing you can do now is to cut back on alcohol and the risk of developing the health risks highlighted in this article will be reduced. That said, if you’re dependent on alcohol, you should speak to a health professional first as when you stop drinking, you can experience withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea and shaking). Therefore, it could be dangerous to go cold-turkey and not seek support.

 

Here are some tips on how to drink less alcohol:

1. Understand why you want to drink less

It’s a good idea to start your journey to drinking less by outlining what is motivating you to make these changes. Are you worried about your future health? Have you been thinking about the effects of drinking on your family or have you recently experienced a health complication? Whatever your reasons are, write them down and keep reminding yourself why you’re cutting down. It’s also very helpful to set yourself some goals so you know what you’re working towards. Learn all about setting SMART goals here.

2. Set a daily limit and track your alcohol intake

Try to be strict with yourself by setting a limit on the amount of alcohol you can have each week. NHS guidelines recommend that you don’t drink over fourteen units of alcohol a week, across three days or more (this is roughly six regular glasses of wine or six pints of beer). You could also look to set a budget for the amount of alcohol you buy when you go out. Not only will limiting yourself have serious benefits for your health, you’ll also save money.

It can take time to adjust to a change in your drinking habits, but try not to give up! Even if you go over your limit, log your weekly alcohol intake in a diary so you can track your progress. If you experience “bad days”, write down your feelings and try to think about why this may have happened.

3. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach

If you drink on an empty stomach, your body processes alcohol differently. Alcohol will be absorbed in your bloodstream faster which can raise your blood alcohol levels to a dangerous amount. If you’re going to drink, make sure you’ve eaten first.

4. Try mocktails or other non-alcoholic drinks

You can get really creative with non-alcoholic drinks and experiment with different flavours. Why not try and make your own version of your favourite drink? Alternatively, you can find many non-alcoholic versions of drinks such as beer in supermarkets, restaurants and pubs to enjoy. 

5. Drink more water

Drinking water keeps us hydrated (in contrast to alcohol which dehydrates you!) If you’re drinking, try to drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink as this will also help you to cut back.

6. Find new ways to relax

Some people turn to drink as a way to relax. If you can relate to this, try to discover new ways to de-stress. Some things you can try are yoga, getting outside and being active (even a walk can work wonders for clearing your mind!) and meditation. Find what works for you so that the next time you feel the urge to drink, you can switch up your routine and do something else.

7. Reward your progress

Cutting back on your alcohol intake is something to celebrate. It’s not easy to change your drinking habits, which is why you should reward yourself as you start to see progress. You could put money that you’ve saved from buying alcohol to one side and spend it on something you’ll enjoy - such as a family day trip or new clothes.

8. Avoid situations where you’ll be tempted to drink

Sometimes the situation you’re in can increase your desire to drink. For example, going to the pub on a Friday night may be routine for you but you could try and make different plans, such as going to the cinema or visiting a friend. 

9. Let others know you want to stop drinking alcohol

By letting family and friends know that you want to cut back on alcohol, they’ll be able to offer their support. If others know you’re drinking less, they may be less likely to offer you a tempting drink and can be a trusted person to reach out to.

10. Get support

If you’re looking to drink less alcohol and reduce the long-term impacts it can have on your body and wellbeing, we’re here to help. Here at LiveWell Dorset, we have a team of health advisors and coaches who will support you as you cut back on your drinking habits. If you’re a Dorset resident and you’re ready to improve your health through lifestyle changes, register to our services today. Alternatively, if you’d like some more information about how we can help you or a loved-one, contact us - we’d love to speak with you!

Bernie

It's time for me to get my health in order

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How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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