Brain damage, chronic kidney disease, and psychosis are just some of the potential long-term harms of alcohol consumption the public should be more aware of, as compiled by leading provider of behavioural care, Priory Group, in their longlist of the short- and long-term effects of alcohol on 17 parts of the body.
The resource, which comes off the back of an 83% rise in enquiries for Priory’s addiction treatment programme in the first half of 2021 vs last year, focuses in on the damaging effects of alcohol consumption on our physical and mental health.
The impact of alcohol on areas of our body, such as the brain, liver, heart and mental health, are cited from studies within the scientific community.
- Short-term. Alcohol interferes with a number of neurotransmitters including glutamate and GABA, lowering our brain activity and energy levels.
- Long-term. Alcohol-related brain damage is an effect of long-term heavy drinking, which can lead to brain shrinkage as well as learning and memory problems.
- Short-term. Drinking heavily increase the risk of experiencing gastritis, ulcers and heartburn.
- Long-term. Chronic alcohol gastritis, where the stomach damage and pain is long-lasting, serious, and life-threatening. On top of indigestion, severe stomach pain, bloating and nausea, a person may experience bleeding or stomach ulcers as a result of their stomach lining wearing away.
- Short-term. Heavy alcohol use affects how the brain functions, altering brain chemicals and causing hormone imbalances in ways that are associated with many common mental disorders.
- Long-term: When a person drinks heavily over a long period of time, it can also result in them displaying signs and symptoms that mimic disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
Treating alcohol addiction in 2021
When asked if he expected alcohol related admissions to rise as 2021 progressed, Dr William Shanahan, Clinical Director of Addictions at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, said: ‘I would expect so. People have been using alcohol as a way of dealing with anxiety and stress during the lockdowns. It helped to stave off boredom, and it offered some chemical support initially. Now that people can do more and can get back to the gym and to exercising there is a realisation that many had ended up misusing alcohol.
‘Many people saw their intake increase [during the pandemic]. This also led to weight gain along with the tendency to eat more. For some, it will be difficult to wheel back to the place they were in before the pandemic began.’
Asked if he believes addiction patients have a real awareness of the long-term effects of alcohol on physical and mental health, Dr Shanahan said: ‘I do not think that they do. There tends to be mixed messages around what constitutes “safe drinking”. The Chief Medical Officer recommends a maximum of 14 units per week. This can seem contradictory to people who are much bigger than others. Logically, they believe that they can handle more.
‘People will complain of low mood and insomnia and not realise that it is the alcohol that is contributing to these problems. Having a blood test to look at liver function can be very “sobering” for some.’
The resource was created to be used as an educational tool, helping people of all ages to understand the long-term effects of alcohol on our physical and mental health if we abuse the drug.