Alcohol’s status as a legal intoxicant makes it no less dangerous than most illicit substances. Chronic consumption of alcohol can be devastating to the brain and body, leading to serious health complications or early death. Excessive alcohol consumption is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The effects of acute alcohol consumption on the brain are obvious—we lose motor function, memory, have slurred speech and blurred vision. Over long periods of time, however, the effects become much more serious. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 80% of alcoholics are deficient in thiamine, leading to brain disorders such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes “mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes (i.e., oculomotor disturbances), and difficulty with muscle coordination.” Furthermore, “Approximately 80 to 90 percent of alcoholics with Wernicke’s encephalopathy also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a chronic and debilitating syndrome characterized by persistent learning and memory problems. Patients with Korsakoff’s psychosis are forgetful and quickly frustrated and have difficulty with walking and coordination.” Korsakoff’s psychosis can cause a person to be unable to pick up new information, often forgetting simple conversations that happened only moments before. The effects of alcohol on the body are just as dangerous. 90 percent of heavy drinkers develop excessive fat around the liver. Overtime, this causes inflammation and scarring, eventually leading to cirrhosis. Medical News Today explains the effects of severe liver damage from chronic alcohol abuse: “If the liver is unable to perform its life-sustaining functions, multiple organ failure and death will occur. Unfortunately, among those who do develop liver disease, symptoms often develop only after extensive damage has already been done.” Prolonged liver dysfunction can cause hepatic encephalopathy, a potentially fatal brain disorder. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Hepatic encephalopathy can cause changes in sleep patterns, mood, and personality; psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression; severe cognitive effects such as shortened attention span; and problems with coordination such as a flapping or shaking of the hands (called asterixis). In the most serious cases, patients may slip into a coma (i.e., hepatic coma), which can be fatal.” Many health complications associated with chronic alcoholism are reversible with discontinued use. However, without seeking treatment for the disease of alcoholism, the chances of developing fatal health issues and terminal diseases is very likely.
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