‘Head-to-toe’ health issues from alcohol abuse

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‘Head-to-toe’ health issues from alcohol abuse

23 January 2015

Of course, it’s misleading in the sense that alcohol is not good to consume regularly. The seven drinks (units) a week report being good for the heart will ‘invite’ too many people to think ‘if 7 units is a benefit, then double that will be even better and double that even better still’. A proportion of people will not take any notice of warnings about drinking more. The only reason it's a benefit is because it thins the blood (like aspirin) and so passes through ageing blood vessels and arteries easier.

Sensationalist scientific claims aside, the beginning of the New Year is as good a time as any to look at how alcohol impacts negatively on our health over time.

So here’s a head-to-toe guide:


There’s a common misconception that alcohol can help you sleep, make you feel better and make you less anxious, when in fact the opposite is true. In fact, a 2014 study involving 24 students aged 18-24, shows that rapid eye movement during sleep increases significantly following the consumption of alcohol. The study, by the University of Melbourne, showed the effects from this increased activity during sleep lasts for hours.

Alcohol is, quite simply, a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol disrupts the neurotransmitters in the brain leaving people with permanent memory problems and even the early onset of dementia.

Chronic drinkers can also develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome due to poor nutrition leaving them deficient in thiamine. This can lead to severe confusion, agitation and difficulty with coordination and eye movement.


We’ve all heard people justify their evening drinking with “I’ve been told it’s good for my heart”. That’s not true for heavy drinkers.

Drinking a lot over time, or even too much on a single occasion, can damage the heart. Alcohol has a toxic effect on the heart muscle and can lead to a weak heart and even heart failure.

Heavy drinking can affect the electrical impulses in the heart, which may result in cardiac arrhythmia that could be fatal. Also, heavy drinking over time can lead to an enlarged heart, making it less affective as the major organ in the body.

Chronic drinkers can have problems with high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.

Immune System

Excessive drinking can weaken the immune system – it’s often why people feel poorly just after the Christmas break, but all too often colder weather gets the blame.

Chronic drinkers are especially prone to having a weakened immunity and can catch pneumonia much more easily. This is due to a number of factors; the toxic effect of alcohol on the blood itself, an unhealthy lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies.


If asked ‘what part of the body does alcohol affect first?’ most people will answer ‘the liver’. In actual fact, it’s the brain that is affected first but the liver is most certainly one of the most damaged organs of chronic drinkers. After all, the liver filters toxins from the blood. However, the more you drink, the much harder it is for the liver to process the alcohol. Most of us wouldn’t have heard of alcohol hepatitis, but it occurs when the liver becomes so inflamed by damage. Scar tissue also builds up, leading to cirrhosis, which is considered the most serious kind of liver disease. In fact, in the UK, over the last 10 years, rates in people under the age of 30 suffering from liver disease has increased by 112%.


The pancreas digests food and release hormones, including insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. If consumed excessively for years, it’s common to develop pancreatitis, which not only interferes with digestion, but is life threatening.

Pancreatitis also can be a risk factor in developing pancreatic cancer.


We all know that drinking can cause weight gain; even drinking moderately can do so, but it can also cause severe gastric problems, not to mention nausea, cramping and diarrhoea.
It’s even possible for cirrhosis to develop, where fluid needs to be drained from the stomach. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause the abdominal muscles to become weakened and for the stomach to appear distended.

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