The dangers of alcohol abuse

The dangers of alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse: Even occasional drinking can have adverse effects on your health. It turns out that nearly three million people die worldwide from alcohol abuse each year. Alcohol is known to affect the liver, but did you know that it has deteriorating effects on the kidneys, heart and brain?

Alcohol doesn’t only affect the physical body but lowers inhibitions. People who are under the influence of alcohol usually take more significant risks. Many bad decisions have been made after a few cold ones.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in about two hours for men, or four or more drinks for women. Casual drinking is around three drinks a week.

The statistics on Alcohol

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is the most widely-used drug in the world. In 2016, South Africa was ranked as one of the top 20 biggest drinking nations in the world.

South Africa’s average alcohol consumption is almost double the WHO African region average of six litres and is expected to increase to 12.1 in 2025.

More than a quarter of the drinking population in South Africa are considered binge drinkers, consuming at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol in one session within 30 days, Business Tech reports.

According to the WHO statistical update, tracking alcohol consumption per capita, across 194 countries – Worldwide alcohol consumption in 2015 was projected to be 6.3 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 or older.

And since then, the numbers have risen. Alcohol abuse has become a catalyst for larger health and crime-related problems.

South Africa was noted as the ‘worst country in the world for drunk driving’. This is evident from a large number of deaths on the road, particularly over long weekends. The road accident death toll for the festive season of 2019 was at 1,612. Most of those deaths were owing to drunk driving.

Immediate effects of alcohol abuse

Besides the long-term damage that alcohol causes, there are immediate side effects of having a bit too much.

After a few drinks, you will notice your mood change. Usually, people admit to feeling calmer, more amiable. This is known as the tipsy stage of drinking and is seen as a harmless, entry-level of intoxication. The effects of this stage are short-lived and will lessen if you stop drinking at this point.

If you continue drinking, you will notice more apparent effects such as difficulty in walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory, says US Department of Health and Human Services; Alcohol Alert.

“Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops. On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she has achieved sobriety,” the institution continues.

Hangovers and memory lapses

The infamous hangover is an immediate after effect of a night of drinking. Some people feel like they have mild flu while others are in pain, and experience nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

Some drinkers experience blackouts – this is when you stop remembering things that have happened after a certain point while drinking (even if you seemed to be awake for that period).

This typically happens when people drink too much and too quickly, rapidly raising their blood alcohol level.

Liver damage

Most notoriously, alcohol is known for damaging the liver, particularly that of avid drinkers. Your liver has one main job: to flush out toxins from the body. Alcohol is a toxin, a deadly one at that. A night of excessive drinking can cause blood poisoning and death, so don’t underestimate the potency of alcohol. Drinking too much, too fast can result in your liver being overloaded and not being able to filter out the toxins promptly.

WebMD says that alcohol can kill liver cells and lead to scarring called cirrhosis. Long-term heavy use of alcohol may also give you alcoholic fatty liver disease, a sign that your liver doesn’t work as well as it should.

Other organs

Alcohol also affects the brain, heart and kidneys as previously stated. And yes, to a large degree. It can cause these organs to fail. Alcohol increases the chances of blood clots and high levels of fats and cholesterol in your body.

Alcohol affects the brain’s communication pathways and causes nerve damage. It literally causes brain damage and kills brain cells. This can impair your ability to think logically, even when you’re sober.

Alcohol abuse has been linked to depression, anxiety and in severe cases, paralysis.

Cell damage

Alcohol can damage the cells in nearly every part of your body. This leads to several types of cancers. The types of cancers that are most commonly linked to excessive drinking are liver, breast and intestinal cancer.


Drinking can cause inflammation in the pancreas, liver and stomach. Many long-time drinkers find that they have gastric issues: chronic liver inflammation and liver disease. The scarring caused by this inflammation is known as cirrhosis.

The build-up of abnormal activation of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas from excessive drinking can lead to inflammation known as pancreatitis.

Alcohol abuse and Overdose

Overdosing from alcohol is a severe medical emergency.

Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

Symptoms include difficulty staying awake, seizure, mental confusion and excessive vomiting. Some people have trouble breathing, a slow heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking).

iER is an emergency response app that puts help at your fingertips.

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