Long term exposure to alcohol consumption will cause damage to nearly every system in the body including but not limited to the gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system, integumentary system, and nervous system. With each system damaged, it has the potential to systemically affect the other ones. This may vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the number of years. Starting with the gastrointestinal system, exposure to alcohol can cause gastrointestinal bleeding or deterioration of the gastrointestinal mucosa, known as gastritis, if there is enough exposure to vomiting.
Acute pancreatitis is very common in alcoholics which has the potential to turn into chronic pancreatitis. Near the pancreas is the liver.
The buildup of fat in the liver from consumption of alcohol can reduce the oxidation of fatty acids and cause fatty liver disease. Some other liver problems from alcohol include alcohol-induced hepatitis and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is when the healthy liver tries to repair itself with scar tissue. Hepatitis is when the liver becomes inflamed and diseased.
When the liver becomes damaged, white blood cell count decreases and vitamin deficiencies occur which causes the body to have a suppressed immune system. The damages to the gastrointestinal system can systemically cause problems such as increased risk for infection including periodontitis and gingivitis. Next is the cardiovascular system. Even if only a couple of drinks are consumed each day, this does cause constriction of the heart. Peripheral vasodilation can cause the heart to have a variation in contractibility. If an individual is a heavy drinker, three or more drinks per day, they will be at risk for mild to moderate hypertension, coronary heart disease and alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Over time, the left ventricle contractions become limited and arrythmias could occur. Health failure would result from these problems.
Nervous system problems include peripheral neuropathy which feels like “pins and needles”, especially in the hands and feet. Over time, this will cause impairment in everyday function such as holding objects, gait and also risk of injury or infection. If alcohol is discontinued, this will prevent further deterioration of the nerve tissue. Alcoholic myopathy will occur in binge drinking. This is where the muscles mass decreases and as a result causes muscle weakness. Although this problem is reversible if alcohol is discontinued, it may take weeks to months for the muscle mass to return to normal. Some other life-threatening diseases from long term exposure to alcohol may include thrombocytopenia or cancer, especially in the head and neck. Cancer may also develop over time in the liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. Thrombocytopenia is due to liver cirrhosis and its ability to not develop platelets. This causes an individual to be more easily bruised, prolonged bleeding and may lead to infection if the individual develops an injury.
In heavy alcohol consumers, thiamine deficiencies may occur due to the insufficient nutritional intake, decreased absorption in the gastrointestinal tract and reduced hepatic storage and function. Thiamine deficiencies may lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome has other causes but has been tied to heavy alcohol consumption. This disease causes impairment in the brain resulting in ataxia, confusion, and tremors. If not treated, this disease will result in death and neurological complications. Alcohol also alters brain cells and neurotransmitters which can cause blackouts, memory loss, impaired motor function, slowed reflexes, poor vision and slurred speech. Alcohol inhibits the brain to allow new memories to be processed by the hippocampus and temporal lobe resulting in amnesia.