How alcohol consumption adversely affects your body

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, January 4, 2018

The intent of this article is not to judge or criticize the use of alcoholic beverages, but to bring awareness to the numerous and sometimes deadly effects it can have on our body. 

While we generally agree that using drugs, other than as prescribed by a physician, is dangerous and risky; we often do not attach the same concerns to the abuse of alcohol.  So what are those concerns? 

Many of the more common risks and effects of drinking are well known, such as intoxication, nausea, vomiting and hangover, not to mention the possibility of a DUI arrest or an accident. 

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While these are all real concerns, I want to discuss the health issues presented by both acute and chronic alcohol abuse. 

Binge-drinking, often associated with college students, is also practiced by many others who may abstain from drinking during the week and make up for it on the weekends.  It is usually associated with heavy drinking of any alcoholic beverage within a relatively short period of time, or over the course of a weekend. 

While the immediate consequence may be intoxication, the more grave danger is acute alcohol poisoning. 

The signs of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slowed breathing to less than eight breaths per minute (respiratory depression), irregular breathing, blue-tinged or pale skin, cool skin, stupor (being conscious but unresponsive) and passing out (unconsciousness) and cannot be awakened. 

In addition, the gag reflex is impaired thus imposing a high risk of vomited material being drawn into the trachea or airway.  This could result in immediate asphyxiation or lack of oxygen and impending death. 

If a person does survive, the likelihood of aspiration pneumonia would follow. 

It should be well noted that anyone who passes out and cannot be aroused is in immediate risk of dying.  911 should be called for anyone who exhibits the signs of acute alcohol poisoning, and never those suffering from it should never be left alone. 

Common myths about sobering up include drinking black coffee, taking a cold shower or sleeping or walking it off.  They don’t work. Only time will reverse the effects of alcohol. In the case of alcohol poisoning time is something you may not have.

With chronic alcohol abuse, the effects of the alcohol on the brain, liver, heart and other organs is well documented.  Beyond the obvious intoxication and aberrant behavior are the processes that lead to chronic debilitating disease and death. 

Alcoholic dementia and cognitive deterioration, along with other central nervous system effects such as tremors, agitation, and hyperthermia are ways the brain is affected. 

The heart may develop alcoholic dilated cardiomyopathy, irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation, hypertension and risk of blood clots to the brain (stroke).

Fatty liver disease, which progresses to cirrhosis and can progress to gastrointestinal varices, may result in spontaneous hemorrhage from ruptured veins in the esophagus and stomach and can cause death by loss of adequate blood volume in the body (bleeding to death).

If you must drink, please be aware of the possible consequences.

Michael Hughes is the Jessamine County Coroner.