Long-Term Effects and Societal Impacts of Alcohol Consumption

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Taylor Webb
BIO 311 – Biology & Society
Writing assignment #2 – Final Draft
Dr. Manfred Laubichler
October 30th, 2012

Long-Term Effects and Societal Impacts of Alcohol Consumption
Studies have shown that both long-term and short-term alcohol consumption affect every organ in the body in one way or another ("College Drinking - Changing the Culture", 2012). Some of the most commonly affected organs are the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, stomach, kidneys, and lungs ("College Drinking - Changing the Culture", 2012). Alcohol consumption has also been shown to affect one’s mental health as well as cause damage to the developing fetus (Fergusson, 2009). “Short-term” alcohol abuse refers alcohol consumption over days, weeks, or a few months; while “long-term” alcohol abuse is referring to high consumption of alcohol over several months to several years. Alcohol abuse also goes beyond the human body; it touches every part of society, particularly families and the economy, and likely has affected every human being in way or another.

Organs Affected by Long-Term Alcohol Consumption
Brain
The short-term effects of alcohol consumption are more obvious because they are the effects that are seen when someone is intoxicated: slurred speech, lack of balance, poor memory, and blurred vision. The long-term effects of alcohol consumption on the brain are a little more subtle. One of the most common findings amongst long-term alcohol consumers is thiamine deficiency (thiamine is also known as vitamin B1), which is an essential nutrient for all tissues in the body (“Alcohol Alert”, 2004). The approximately 80 percent of alcoholics that have a thiamine deficiency are at a great risk of developing Wernike-Korsakoff Syndrome, a disease that consists of two syndromes, Wernike’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis (“Alcohol Alert”, 2004). Wernike’s encephalopathy causes mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and difficulty with muscle coordination, which 80-90 percent of the time develops into Korsakoff’s psychosis, a chronic syndrome characterized by memory and learning problems (“Alcohol Alert”, 2004).

Heart
While studies have shown in recent years that the antioxidants found in red wine can actually decrease one’s risk of developing heart disease, The American Heart Association states, “Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood (triglycerides). It can also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake…Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to stroke. Other serious problems include fetal alcohol syndrome, cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death” (American Heart Association, 2012).

Alcohol can also affect the heart indirectly. Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to conditions such as obesity and/or diabetes, which put one at a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease (American Heart Association, 2012).

Liver
The liver is the organ in your body that filters out toxins, such as alcohol, from the blood. Drinking more alcohol than the liver can process can actually damage liver cells, and over a long period of time can cause alcohol related liver diseases such as fatty liver disease (build up of extra fat in liver cells), alcoholic hepatitis (swelling and damage of the liver), and alcoholic cirrhosis (scarring of the liver where soft healthy tissue is replaced with hard scar tissue) (American Liver Foundation, 2011). The damaged liver cells caused from long-term alcohol abuse can lead to inflammation, increasing the risk of liver cancer (“Alcohol Use and Cancer”, 2012).

Liver disease can be fatal, and complications from liver disease may include build up of fluid in the abdomen, bleeding from veins in the esophagus or stomach, an enlarged spleen, high blood pressure in the liver, brain disorders or coma (from hepatic encephalopathy), and/or kidney failure (American Liver...
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