The numbers don’t lie – alcoholism is a serious problem. Excessive drinking leads to over 140,000 deaths in the US each year, cutting lives short by an average of 26 years. For adults 20-49 years old, 1 in 5 deaths are due to excessive alcohol use.
The economic costs are huge, too. In 2010 alone, excessive alcohol consumption cost the US $249 billion, equal to $2.05 per drink.
The sobering truth is that alcoholism should be treated as a chronic medical disease. But the good news is, it’s a treatable disease. Recognizing the problem and getting proper help can lead to recovery and a healthier, happier life without relying on alcohol.
Why Is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease?
Alcoholism is considered a chronic disease for several reasons. First, it is a lifelong condition with no known cure. Like diabetes or heart disease, alcoholism may get worse over time without treatment and management. Even with sobriety, there is always a risk of relapse.
Genetics plays a role in the development of alcoholism. If you have close family members who struggle with alcohol addiction, you are at higher risk. Environmental factors, like growing up around heavy alcohol use, also increase the chance of alcoholism. A history of trauma, abuse, or mental health issues can contribute to the risk.
Once alcoholism develops, it causes long-term changes in the brain that persist even with sobriety. Parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control can become impaired. These brain changes help explain why it is so difficult to stop drinking and stay stopped.
How Does Alcohol Change The Brain Chemistry
Alcohol directly impacts your brain chemistry in ways that lead to addiction and other harmful effects. When you drink, alcohol interferes with communication between neurons in your brain. It disrupts neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in your brain that transmit signals between neurons. Alcohol inhibits neurotransmitters like glutamate that stimulate brain activity while increasing neurotransmitters like GABA that slow brain activity.
This disruption of your brain’s communication network makes it harder to walk steadily, remember events, speak clearly, and make good judgments. The effects are intensified in the areas of your brain involved in these functions, like the cerebellum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
Teenage brains are especially susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol. The prefrontal cortex, involved in self-control and judgment, is still developing up until age 25. Drinking during adolescence and young adulthood can disrupt growth in this and other brain regions, leading to long-term cognitive damage.
What are The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body?
Long-term alcohol use takes a major toll on your body and health. Drinking heavily over a long period can lead to chronic diseases and serious medical issues that significantly reduce both quality of life and life expectancy.
Chronic alcohol use is a major cause of heart disease, like high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), and even heart failure. The heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood through the body, which can lead to long-term damage.
The liver breaks down most of the alcohol in the body, and it can only handle so much at a time. Years of frequent, heavy alcohol use can cause inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), fat buildup (fatty liver disease), scarring (cirrhosis), and permanent liver damage. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be needed to survive.
Increased Cancer Risk
Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and long-term use increases the risk of several types of cancer, like head and neck, esophageal, liver, colorectal, and breast cancers. The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk becomes over time.
Other Health Issues
Chronic heavy alcohol use is also linked to digestive problems, diabetes, osteoporosis, immune system issues, and greater susceptibility to pneumonia or tuberculosis. It can also lead to permanent brain damage, resulting in dementia, memory loss, and impaired motor functioning.
In addition, years of alcohol abuse take a major psychological and social toll through anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and difficulties at work or school.
Find Help and Long-Term Support at Louisville Recovery Center
To overcome alcoholism, you need comprehensive treatment and long-term support. At Louisville Recovery Center, we provide personalized care for overcoming this chronic disease. We offer innovative therapies like alcohol detox and medication-assisted treatment to guide you to sobriety safely.
Our small group and one-on-one counseling help reframe thoughts and behaviors. We encourage spiritual development through 12-step programs and mindfulness practices. Connecting with something greater than yourself provides strength and purpose.
Overcoming alcoholism is a lifelong effort. We offer continuing care and alumni programs to help you thrive in recovery. Regular check-ins and a strong local support network will keep you accountable and motivated. Don’t struggle alone.
Call Louisville Recovery Center at (502) 334-1140 to learn how we treat alcoholism as a chronic disease and start your personalized recovery plan. Our caring staff provides a welcoming environment where you’ll find hope, healing, and the tools for a sober life. You deserve to live free from addiction, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.