Complications of Alcohol Abuse
Excessive drinking over a long period of time creates medical, psychological, and social problems. The amount and frequency of the drinking and the general health of the alcoholic affect the degree to which complications develop.
Medical Complications of Alcohol Abuse
Chronic alcohol abuse and dependence can damage all organ systems, including:
- Blood forming
- Easy bruising
- Esophageal varices
- Inflammation and/or cancer of the esophagus
- Increased risk of infectious diseases (e.g., tuberculosis)
- Liver damage, hepatitis, liver cancer
- Low blood sugar
- Pancreatic cancer
Some neurological complications are related to vitamin deficiencies. Blackouts, the inability to recall events that occurred while drinking, are common. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or permanent short-term memory loss, is a rare but possible result of severe vitamin B deficiency caused by chronic alcoholism.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may result in fetal alcohol syndrome (i.e., low birth weight, short length, small head size, mental retardation, and damage to muscles, including the heart).
Psychological Complications of Alcohol Abuse
Upwards of 44% of alcoholics have mental health disorders that were present before alcohol dependence. Mood disorders are the exception; it is common for alcoholics to develop mood disorders such as major depression after onset of dependence. Studies show a strong association between alcoholism and depression, and 25% of suicides involve alcohol.
Social Complications of Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism causes suffering in relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Alcoholics have a higher rate of divorce and separation and of engaging in domestic violence and other types of violent and aggressive behavior. Missed work, poor job performance, and in some cases, on-the-job accidents are common. Legal problems are also common, such as citations for driving under the influence and/or traffic accidents.
Most disturbing, alcohol use kills. Estimates are as high as 150,000 deaths each year from alcohol use. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV, more than one-half of all murderers and their victims are believed to have been intoxicated at the time of the murder. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 1997, over 16,000 fatalities from traffic accidents were attributed to drunk driving. There are also a number of alcohol-related deaths from acute alcohol poisoning and accidents, which are reported on college campuses with increasing frequency.