Alcoholism

Although there is a debate among experts over whether alcoholism should be considered a disease, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognizes alcoholism as a disease. The risk for developing alcoholism is influenced by a person's genes and lifestyle behaviors. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that lasts for a lifetime. If diagnosed and treated early, however, alcoholism may be completely cured and severe complications prevented. Chronic alcohol abuse increases a person's risk for developing serious health problems, such as liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer (especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, and throat), and pancreatitis.

Approximately two million Americans suffer from liver damage caused by alcohol abuse. About 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis of the liver, which is characterized by scarring of the liver and causes irreversible damage. If heavy drinkers do not stop drinking, cirrhosis can cause poor health and, ultimately, death. In addition to cirrhosis, heavy drinkers may suffer from chronic liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis.

Damage to the liver can lead to problems with blood sugar levels. When alcohol is present in the body, the liver works to metabolize it. Because the liver is busy metabolizing alcohol, it is often not able to adequately maintain blood sugar levels, which may result in hypoglycemia (low levels of blood sugar). Hypoglycemia is most likely to occur in individuals who have not maintained an adequate diet. When it occurs, the brain is not able to receive the energy it needs to function, and symptoms such as hunger, weakness, headache, tremor, and even coma (in severe cases) may occur.

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to poor nutritional status. Chronic heavy drinkers do not eat adequate amounts of food because of the high caloric content of alcohol. This prevents them from getting the required vitamins and minerals to maintain health and well-being. Furthermore, when a person consumes large amounts of alcohol, it impedes or halts the digestion of food, as alcohol decreases the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pan-

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