Disorders Caused by Alcohol

June 25, 2024

Discover the far-reaching disorders caused by alcohol, from physical health to mental well-being.

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Alcohol-Related Disorders

Alcohol, when misused, can lead to a plethora of disorders that can have severe consequences on both physical and mental health. This section delves into the impact of alcohol misuse and the neurological consequences that can ensue.

Impact of Alcohol Misuse

The misuse of alcohol is not just a social concern but also a significant health issue. It can lead to a variety of serious health conditions that range from muscle weakness to severe liver disease. For instance, alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a major cause of death, responsible for over 60 deaths per year in the UK alone.

Furthermore, chronic alcohol misuse can lead to alcohol-related myopathy, a condition that results in muscle weakness. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of people who experience chronic alcohol misuse also experience this condition.

Alcohol misuse can also lead to cerebellar degeneration, a condition where the neurons in the cerebellum, the part of the brain controlling coordination and balance, are affected. The exact cause of this degeneration, whether it's alcohol's effects on the brain or thiamine deficiency, is still a topic of research among scientists.

Lastly, alcohol misuse can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can occur when a person is exposed to alcohol before birth. This exposure can lead to risks such as brain damage and developmental, cognitive, and behavioral issues.

Neurological Consequences

Beyond the physical disorders, alcohol misuse can also lead to a range of neurological conditions. Collectively referred to as alcohol-related neurologic disease, these conditions affect the nerves and the nervous system. Such disorders can range from fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause developmental and cognitive issues, to dementia and alcoholic neuropathy, which affect cognitive functions and the peripheral nerves respectively.

It's important to remember that the disorders caused by alcohol are not limited to those who misuse alcohol. Fetal alcohol syndrome, for instance, affects individuals exposed to alcohol before birth. Consequently, it's crucial to understand the risks associated with alcohol misuse, not just for one's own health, but also for the health of those around them.

In conclusion, the impact of alcohol misuse extends beyond the individual, affecting society at large. Understanding the disorders caused by alcohol is the first step towards mitigating these risks and promoting healthier lifestyles.

Alcohol-Related Health Conditions

Excessive and chronic alcohol misuse can lead to a variety of health conditions. Here, we delve into some of these disorders caused by alcohol, which include muscle weakness and myopathy, cerebellar degeneration, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Muscle Weakness and Myopathy

Alcohol misuse can lead to muscle weakness, a condition frequently seen in people who engage in chronic alcohol misuse. In fact, about 40 to 60 percent of people who experience chronic alcohol misuse also experience alcohol-related myopathy. This condition is characterized by muscle weakness, which can affect mobility and overall quality of life.

Cerebellar Degeneration

Another condition associated with alcohol misuse is alcohol-induced cerebellar degeneration. This condition results from alcohol affecting the neurons in the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for controlling coordination and balance. Researchers are still unclear if it's caused directly by alcohol's effects on the brain or if it's related to thiamine deficiency, which is common in people with alcohol misuse [1].

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol can also have severe effects on a fetus when consumed during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol before birth. This exposure can lead to risks such as brain damage and developmental, cognitive, and behavioral issues. FAS is the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States and can cause physical and developmental problems in children [2]. Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve the prognosis for affected children.

These conditions showcase the seriousness of the health risks associated with alcohol misuse. It's important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse. There are many treatment options available, including behavioral therapies and medications, that can support recovery and lead to a healthier life.

Mental Health Effects

Alcohol misuse can have significant impacts on mental health. This section will delve into the effects on general mental well-being and the specifics of alcohol use disorder, one of the disorders caused by alcohol.

Mental Well-Being

Alcohol can initially seem like a stress reliever, however, in the long term it can significantly affect mental well-being. Research has linked excessive alcohol use to increased risk of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that quitting alcohol had a positive effect on most people's mental well-being, particularly noticeable for women. The improvement in mental health following alcohol cessation further underscores the detrimental effects of alcohol misuse on mental well-being.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a significant health problem, affecting millions of people worldwide and leading to serious medical, social, and economic consequences [3].

The World Health Organization estimates that harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year, accounting for 5.9% of all deaths globally. More than 14 million adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. have AUD, and 1 in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem.

AUD is associated with a wide range of medical and psychiatric comorbidities including liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and anxiety disorders. Therefore, it's vital for individuals with AUD to seek professional help.

Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems. Behavioral treatments for alcohol problems, led by health professionals, can help people develop skills to avoid and overcome triggers, such as stress, that might lead to drinking.

Additionally, there are three medications, Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram, currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse [4].

In conclusion, it's crucial to understand the mental health impacts of alcohol misuse, from general well-being to the development of serious disorders such as AUD. Recognizing these issues and seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery and improved mental health.

Physical Health Implications

Excessive alcohol consumption has severe physical health implications, including disorders related to liver, cardiovascular health, and cancer. These health issues are among the primary disorders caused by alcohol.

Liver Disease and Damage

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a significant concern for heavy drinkers. ARLD is a major cause of death, responsible for over 60 deaths per year in the UK alone [3].

Three types of liver disease are linked to excessive alcohol consumption: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

Type of Liver Disease Description
Fatty Liver Accumulation of fats in the liver. Usually reversible with abstinence from alcohol.
Alcoholic Hepatitis Inflammation and damage to the liver cells caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
Cirrhosis Scarring of the liver tissue, affecting the liver’s ability to function properly. It develops in 10%-20% of heavy drinkers after 10 or more years of alcohol consumption.

Cirrhosis is particularly serious, potentially fatal, and may necessitate a liver transplant for some patients.

Cardiovascular and Cancer Risks

In addition to liver disease, heavy drinking can also lead to cardiovascular problems and increase the risk of several types of cancer. In fact, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., resulting in 95,000 deaths annually.

Health Condition Description
Cardiovascular Problems These can include high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. Alcohol can also lead to cardiomyopathy, a serious condition where the heart muscle weakens and eventually fails.
Cancer Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast cancer.

These physical health implications highlight the severe risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. It underscores the importance of promoting responsible drinking habits and providing effective treatment options for those struggling with alcohol misuse.

Treatment and Recovery

The journey to recovery from disorders caused by alcohol is challenging, but various treatment options can help individuals regain control over their lives. These include behavioral therapies and medications, among other interventions.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral treatments for alcohol problems are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial [4]. These therapies aim to change drinking behavior through counseling and are often a primary component of addiction treatment. Furthermore, these techniques can help people develop skills to avoid and overcome triggers, such as stress, that might lead to drinking.

Residential treatment programs offer comprehensive care for serious alcohol use disorder. These programs incorporate individual and group therapy, support groups, educational lectures, family involvement, and activity therapy. A team of experts, including licensed alcohol and drug counselors, social workers, nurses, and doctors, provide these services [6].

Medications and Interventions

In addition to behavioral therapies, certain medications can help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. In the United States, three medications - Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram - are currently approved for this purpose.

Medication Purpose
Naltrexone Reduces alcohol cravings
Acamprosate Reduces alcohol cravings
Disulfiram Causes physical reactions like flushing, nausea, vomiting, and headaches if alcohol is consumed

Source: Mayo Clinic

While Disulfiram causes physical reactions like flushing, nausea, vomiting, and headaches if alcohol is consumed, Naltrexone and Acamprosate help combat alcohol cravings without making the individual feel sick after drinking.

It's important to note that medications are most effective when used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and not as stand-alone treatment. The combination of medication, therapy, and personal commitment offers the best chance of recovery from alcohol-related disorders.

Genetic Factors

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder, is not merely a consequence of lifestyle choices or environmental influences. It is, in fact, a complex genetic disease. To fully understand the disorders caused by alcohol, it's crucial to delve into the genetic factors that contribute to alcohol dependence and the role of genetic variants.

Genetic Links to Alcohol Dependence

An international team of researchers has identified a gene that regulates how quickly the body metabolizes alcohol as a key risk factor for alcohol dependence. The gene, known as ADH1B, speeds up the conversion of alcohol to a substance called acetaldehyde, which has a protective effect, making individuals less likely to drink heavily or become alcoholics. This study involved genetic data from people of European and African ancestry [7].

It's noteworthy that genetic factors associated with alcohol dependence have also been linked to other psychiatric disorders, such as depression. The same study involved genetic variants from nearly 15,000 individuals diagnosed with alcohol dependence and nearly 38,000 people without such a diagnosis. This suggests that there may be shared genetic links between alcohol dependence and other mental health conditions.

Role of Genetic Variants

The risk of alcohol dependence conferred by the ADH1B gene is one of the strongest single-gene effects seen in people with a psychiatric illness. However, it explains only a small proportion of the risk, indicating that many additional gene variants contribute to alcoholism risk. Larger sample sizes are needed to identify these variants [7].

In addition to ADH1B, variations in a large number of genes affect the risk of alcoholism. Some of these genes include ALDH2, GABRA2, CHRM2, KCNJ6, and AUTS2. Each of these genes plays a distinct role in the body's response to alcohol and contributes to the complex genetic risk profile of alcohol dependence [8].

Moreover, genetic factors related to alcohol dependence have also been found to be linked to the risk of other psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression, and the use of cigarettes and marijuana. Future studies are planned to further investigate these links between genetic susceptibility to alcohol dependence and the risk for other psychiatric illnesses.

Understanding the role of genetic factors in alcohol dependence is crucial in the development of targeted interventions and treatments to address this complex disorder. As research continues, a more comprehensive picture of the genetic underpinnings of alcoholism and related disorders will emerge, providing valuable insights for affected individuals and healthcare providers alike.


[1]: https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-related-neurologic-disease

[2]: https://premierneurologycenter.com/blog/neurologic-diseases-associated-with-alcohol-consumption/

[4]: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help

[5]: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/effects-of-alcohol-on-your-health-and-liver

[6]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20369250

[7]: https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/alcohol-dependence-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-links/

[8]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056340/

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