top of page
  • Writer's pictureJessica Harris

​The ugly side of excessive.

The other night I went with the family to Arby’s and I didn’t feel too guilty about consuming a yummy beef and cheddar, medium curly fry, and a soda. I didn’t think twice about the 1000 calories I was consuming in one sitting and the amount of unhealthy fat I was shoving down my throat. I didn’t feel guilty because I don’t eat fast food very often. It was fun, social, and tasted great. Kind of reminds me of a wine buzz! However, when I felt bloated and yucky the next day like I had a hangover I thought about my dinner. I wondered what it would be like if I ate that kind of food every day. The answer was pretty clear to me… it would be terrible for my health if I ate fast food every day because I would feel like crap and my body would begin to shut down over time. I know fast food is high in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. I know eating too much over a long period of time can lead to health problems. Therefor I make the choice to indulge in this unhealthy food in moderation.

In today’s society, we have no problem bringing awareness to the unhealthy food crisis.

It is socially acceptable for people to blog and tweet about the bad stuff in food, how it impacts our body and how to change our lifestyles for the better. Commercials advertise healthier food options, popular movies and documentaries share research about fattening foods on our bodies, restaurants are required to put calories on their menus so we know just how bad things are for us, organic farm fresh grocery stores are popping up on every corner, magazines at the grocery check out stands coach us on how to cook and what to eat, Pinterest is filled with ideas on how to eat clean, friends invite you to join 30 day clean eating challenges on Facebook, and Instagram feeds flash gorgeous pics of healthy salads and trendy wraps and shakes.

I think the average person can rattle off a list of negative side effects associated with poor food choices over a long period of time such as increased headaches from too much sodium, carb induced acne, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar spikes, depression, shortness of breath from obesity, bloating and puffiness, insulin resistance, memory and cognitive function decline, constipation, tooth decay, weak bones and the potential of cancer. We are very aware of the obesity crisis and for many of us this makes us think twice about eating fast food every night of the week.

Why doesn’t today’s society bring the same awareness to the long-term effects of alcohol consumption?

It isn’t quite as socially acceptable to point out the devastating effects of alcohol on your overall health as it is with food. We still promote the “fun” parts of drinking because the internal effects are not obvious. Yes, a booze bottle has a health warning. Yes, a commercial talks about drinking responsibly. But you don’t see magazines titled “Mocktails” at the grocery check out stand encouraging us to make better drink choices. You don’t see restaurants putting the blood alcohol count and calories next to every drink. You don’t see friends advertising 90-day booze snooze challenges on Facebook. I wonder if more attention was brought to the ugly, long-term, devastating effects of excessive alcohol use if more people would think twice like they often do with fast food?

Like long-term consumption of fast food, excessive alcohol consumption has a profound effect on the body.

The key word here is long-term and excessive consumption. I am not talking about kicking back and enjoying a few beverages with friends. Research shows that periodically consuming a couple of alcohol beverages is not going to be detrimental to your overall health. Everything in moderation is the trick. I am talking when moderation becomes more excessive and routine. I am talking about men who have more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 per week, or women who have more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 per week.

There are generally four main stages of alcohol use disorder:

  1. Early stage: Typically experimental, social, infrequent consumption, occasional binging and fun.

  2. Middle stage: You start to drink socially with greater frequency and use it for stress reduction or as a coping mechanism. Your tolerance starts to build but you may experience more frequent and intense hangovers. You may have blackouts or memory lapses.

  3. Late stage: Drinking is more problematic. It has become a habit, you have to manage the consequences of alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety pick up, you are less interested in activities and hobbies you used to enjoy, you drink to alleviate hangover symptoms, you may start missing work or social obligations because of the hangovers, you may feel irritable.

  4. End stage: Drinking is compulsive and your life is likely unmanageable. Long-term effects become more apparent, you have noticeable physical and psychological changes, you may experience job loss, family and relationship issues, and serious diseases begin to impact body functions.

Unless you abstain from alcohol completely, most people can identify with at least one of these stages of alcohol use. Society often will make jokes and bring humor to the first couple of stages. But most people don’t really break down what the last stage (end stage alcoholism) looks like. Alcoholism is a progressive disease where one body function after another breaks down. It starts out slowly and you may not feel any symptoms or side effects of the alcohol. Over time your body can’t handle the toxins anymore. The body will begin shut down over time and the result isn’t pretty. The liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, heart, stomach and nervous system start to fail and what gets really confusing for doctors is that symptoms of each one of those organ failures mimic the other.

Note: Alcoholism is a disease characterized by: inability to control alcohol use, a need to consume increasingly larger amounts of alcohol, and/or a constant impulse to consume alcohol. If this sounds familiar, please seek professional treatment immediately. With the right help, alcoholism is a 100% curable disease. No matter what stage of alcoholism you find yourself in, there is hope for recovery. Please visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for more information.

What happens to alcohol when it enters the body?

Every time someone drinks alcohol it immediately goes into bloodstream and it is distributed to entire body. Our body knows better and tries to get rid of the alcohol. The liver detoxifies the alcohol and removes it from the bloodstream so it doesn’t destroy our cells and organs. The kidneys now filter this alcohol waste from the liver in an attempt to keep the bodily fluid balance. The kidneys send the fluid to the bladder and ultimately out of our bodies. It gets complicated when the stuff the liver couldn’t detoxify continues through the bloodstream. These toxins cause ammonia to build up in various organs. The more scarred the liver, the less it metabolizes which means more and more ammonia builds up in the organs. The good news that our liver can metabolize occasional alcohol use and repair itself if we give it a break. This is great news for alcoholics because there is always hope! Progression to end stage alcoholism can be stopped or significantly slowed if we let our body heal.

It isn't pretty...The ugly truth of alcohol induced organ failure.

Don't stop reading at the early symptoms. Read ALL the way to the end. You may not ever personally experience this, but you may know someone who has or will. Maybe awareness will help you. Maybe awareness will help someone you love.

Early symptoms:

  • Occasional hangover.

  • More frequent detoxing after a hangover such as shaking hands, headaches and sweating.

  • Fatty liver. 90% of people who drink more than ½ ounce of alcohol per day develop this. This is symptomless and can be reversed if you stop drinking.

  • High blood pressure & high cholesterol.

  • Low sex drive and a drop in testosterone.

  • Sleeping get worse and maybe you experience sleep apnea.

  • Immune system weakens and you get sick more frequently such as pneumonia and fluid in the lungs.

  • Increased bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain.

  • Obesity. Increased weight gain, especially in the abdominal region.

  • Gallstones may form and are initially symptomless but may end up blocking a duct to the pancreas.

Acute symptoms:

  • Acute Pancreatitis. You get pain in the stomach, behind the ribs, spreads through the back, can cause nausea and fever but it usually resolves in a couple of days and may require a trip to the hospital. The pancreas is a gland that secretes digestive enzymes and releases insulin. It regulates sugar levels in the blood.

  • Gastritis. Inflammation, irritation, or erosion of the lining of the stomach. Can lead to ulcers and bleeding of the stomach. If stomach lining gets torn, it can lead to anemia.

  • "Food Poisoning". Vomiting and stomach pain that mimics food poisoning symptoms.

  • Gout. Caused by malfunctioning kidneys because uric acid builds up in your body forming sharp, needlelike urate crystals that cause pain, inflammation and swelling in joints.

  • TIA’s. (Transient ischemic attacks) These are like mini strokes but usually only lasts a few minutes and cause no permanent damage.

  • Colon Polyps. Bowel irritation causes adenomas which are tiny and benign tumors that are harmless but can develop into polyps which are larger and can be pre-cancerous.

Chronic symptoms

  • Chronic Pancreatitis. Inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas prevents proper digestion. Chronic pain behind the ribs, weight loss, foul smelling greasy bowels and leads to diabetes.

  • Type 2 Diabetes. Obesity and alcohol causes spikes in blood sugar because of carbs and sugars. This can have dangerous side effects, including heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease, foot amputation, slurred speech, impaired vision, cognitive issues.

  • Nueropathy. Nerve cell damages causes feelings of weakness, burning pain, pain and numbness in the feet and hands, muscle weakness, cramps, incontinence, constipation, problems urinating, dizziness.

  • Bone weakness. This leads to balance issues and falls. Bones become weaker because alcohol acts as a diuretic and flushes calcium from the bones. More susceptible to fractures.

  • Alcoholic hepatitis. Inflammation of the liver. Feel sick, tired, causes jaundice of skin and whites of eyes, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal tenderness, fever, fatigue, weakness, ascites (fluid accumulation in abdomen), confusion and behavior changes.

  • Vision and hearing issues

  • Edema. Swelling due to accumulation of fluid in the legs.

  • Depression. Alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mental health. This can lead to difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, financial problems, legal problems, mood swings, and inability to control emotions. It slows the body down and increases the likelihood, frequency and severity of suicidal thoughts.

Severe/Extreme symptoms

  • Cirrohsis. Permanently inflamed liver. Liver cells die, scar tissue builds. Irriversable damage to the liver that no longer function. Can cause red spider like blood vessels visible under the skin, loss of appetite, bruising, jaundice, bone issues, balance issues, falls, brain bleeding, edema, and ascities.

  • Ascites. Fluid builds in the abdomen. The only way to get relief is to drain the fluid using parasynthesis or tap.

  • Umbilical Hernia. 20% of patients with liver cirrhosis get an umbilical hernia due to the intraabdominal pressure from ascites.

  • Pruritus. Excessive Itching. A build up of bile ducts in the skin cells can cause excessive itching.

  • Internal Bleeding. Gastrointestinal bleeding and Esophageal varices. Internal bleeding can trigger Hepatic Encephalopathy.

  • Hepatic Encephalopathy. Worsening brain function that causes confusion, speech sounds slurred, sluggish, can’t move hands well anymore, bad breath, irritability, disorientation, poor personal hygiene, and invereted sleep patterns- flipping days and nights.

  • Loss of balance and Muscle Atrophy. Damage to the cerebellum (the part of the brain responsible for balance and coordination) leads to instability and problems with walking. Muscle atrophy is the loss or wasting of muscle tissue.

  • Kidney disease. Kidney’s become less able to filter blood and regulate the amount of water in your body. This can lead to anemia, bone weakness, heart disease, retention of fluid. alcohol is a diuretic which causes water to be lost from the body through the kidneys into urine. Causes dehydration. Loss of minerals and salts such as magnesium, calcium, phosphate, sodium, and potassium. Can lead to heart issues and seizures.

  • Alcoholic dementia. Low thiamine & vitamin B1 deficiency causes confusion, memory impairment, low body temperature, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, vision issues, frustration, personality changes, hallucinations, trouble finding words or communicating, trouble reasoning and handling complex tasks, depression, paranoia, agitation, and restlessness.

The ugly makes me think twice.

If I can naturally avoid consuming too much fast food because I am fully aware of how it can impact my body over time, I should be able to apply that same concept to alcohol. I should be able to kick back, relax, and enjoy a few cocktails with my friends without it having devastating effects on my body. For me, it is about moderation and awareness. I will always think twice before I order my next drink.

102 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page