Moderate consumption of alcohol is not considered to be risky. In fact alcohol use is widespread across the world and is the norm in many cultures. However, alcohol and its byroducts are known to be toxic. The body can handle this toxicity in small amounts and rapidly eliminate it before there is any serious damager. However, excessive alcohol consumption in the way of daily drinking of amounts higher than the safe limit and binge drinking is dangerous. Sometimes the potentially deadly effects can occur with hours or days as is the case in alcohol poisoning. But for many it is the long term consequences of alcohol misuse that can lead to life-threatening conditions.
High Blood Pressure
Alcohol is known to contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension). Prolonged drinking can affect the way your sympathetic nervous system functions which controls the contractility of your heart and the diameter of your blood vessels. Alcohol misuse can also affect the kidneys – another organ that plays an important role in regulating your blood pressure. Over time, the elevation in blood pressure will increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. These conditions are are among the main killers across the globe even among non-alcoholics. The worst part though is that you will never know you have hypertension because it presents with almost no symptoms for months or years.
Research has shown that alcohol overuse increases the chances of heart diseases like cardiomyopathy. It is a disease of the heart muscle that can be potentially life-threatening. The heart muscle gradually weakens and the rhythm of the heart is affected. It makes the chances of a blood clot forming in the heart and blood vessels more likely. Even without cardiomyopathy, alcohol misuse may lead to blood clot formation within the blood vessels. It is a consequence of the platelets in blood clumping together to form a blood clot. These blood clots can be deadly especially when it lodges in the arteries supplying blood to the brain (stroke) or heart wall (heart attack).
One of the most widely known complications of heavy drinking is cirrhosis. It is one of the end stages of liver disease where there is extensive scar tissue that forms in the liver. It gradually causes a decline in the functioning of the liver, one of the most important organs that detoxifies the body and processes nutrients. Cirrhosis is potentially fatal. But the progression of cirrhosis varies from one person to another, where it can lasts years or even decades. And some drinkers never get cirrhosis for some reason. It is important to note that cirrhosis can even affect people who do not drink alcohol but it is alcoholics who are at the greatest risk.
Regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer. Studies have verified this. You do not even have to be a heavy drinker and it does not only apply to liver cancer. Alcohol use is linked to many different types of cancers in different parts of the body. If you drink heavily and smoke, your risk of cancer increases substantially more. It is believed that the cancer risk associated with alcohol use is largely due to the breakdown products of alcohol, and specifically acetaldehyde. This compound is known to be a powerful cancer-causing compound (carcingogen). But the way prolonged alcohol uses depresses the immune system may also have a role, since the immune system protects the body against the proliferation of malignant cells.
Alcohol is known to affect your judgement and diminish your inhibitions. It may put you in compromising situations that can increase your risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These days with the risk of HIV, alcohol use can play a direct role in your behavior that leads you to contract the virus. But apart from risky behavior, alcohol misuse also affects your immune system. Once your primary line of defense is low, then a host of different infections can occur. It may be as simple and as minor as frequent colds and flus. But it can be as serious and deadly as drug-resistant pneumonias and tuberculosis (TB).
Excessive alcohol consumption even once off can lead to acute pancreatitis. It is a serious condition but prompt medical attention may reduce the risk of potentially fatal outcomes. However, it is chronic pancreatitis that is more likely to kill you over time. And about two-thirds of chronic pancreatitis cases are directly related to alcoholism. Unlike acute pancreatitis with its intense symptoms, you may not even know that you have chronic pancreatitis in the early stages. Although the lethal complications of chronic pancreatitis may be avoidable to some extent with proper medical care and stopping drinking, it increases your risk of pancreatic cancer which is one of the most deadly types of cancer.
Brain and Nerve Disorders
There are host of neurological complications associated with heavy alcohol drinking. It can range from peripheral neuropathy (nerve dysfunction) and seizures to depression and alcohol dementia. While most of these conditions in itself will not kill you, it can increase your risk of a road traffic accident, committing suicide or placing yourself in harm’s way intentionally or accidentally. Many of these brain and nerve disorders are irreversible. Even if you quit drinking, some of these conditions may improve but may not resolve completely. You will suffer with a lifetime disability that could cause secondary complications which may be potentially life-threatening.
We all know that violent crimes are at times closely associated with alcohol use and other substance abuse. Be it a brawl among friends, an altercation with strangers or even domestic violence within the home, a person who is intoxicated is not as alert, able to defend themselves or able to judge a situation that could be turning ugly. In fact people who are intoxicated may trigger violent incidents that can eventually lead to their demise. Be it the company you keep, the places your visit or your physical and mental state, people who misuse alcohol are more likely to meet with violent death be it of their own doing or the actions of others.
Road Traffic Accidents
It is a global problem – intoxicated drivers causing road traffic accidents often with fatal consequences. In the US it is estimated that about 30% of road traffic fatalities involved one or more driver who was intoxicated. Non-fatal road traffic accidents due to alcohol consumption are obviously much higher but just how high is unknown for sure. Alcohol consumption impairs your senses and reflexes, your ability to make logical decisions and your coordination which are all needed to safely operate a vehicle. Naturally your inability to do so puts your life and those of other road users at risk.