Despite popular misconception, the use of alcohol can lead to devastating mental and physical health effects. While the immediate effects of alcohol use can be easy to identify, from loss of coordination to slurred speech and more, alcohol has a myriad of long-term effects that can continue to impact one’s physical and mental health negatively. To recover from alcohol use and alcohol use disorder (AUD), individuals must address and overcome the long-term, lingering effects that may have resulted from use.

Personalizing Your Recovery

No two people will experience the same addiction or recovery journey. Recovery is a personal endeavor informed by one’s unique perspectives, relationships, environment, and experiences. An effective treatment and recovery program incorporates these unique perspectives to develop the best approach to meeting one’s needs and goals. Knowing the long-term effects of alcohol use can help an individual develop the most informed, effective approach to recovery. Additionally, being informed of these lingering effects can help individuals make better decisions about future substance use, such as refraining from alcohol use altogether. 

Several factors may determine the severity of symptoms that can result from alcohol use. These may include:

  • How often one consumes alcohol
  • The quantity of alcohol that is typically consumed
  • How young an individual was when they started to consume alcohol regularly
  • If an individual struggles with other co-occurring mental health disorders

These factors will also inform one’s needs and goals throughout their recovery journey. 

The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Physical Health

Alcohol affects one’s entire self. While the use of alcohol can result in dehydration or changes in heart rate, persistent use of alcohol can have further extended physiological effects. For some, alcohol can cause intense weight gain, which can come packaged with other health concerns. Others may suffer from malnutrition as meals are compromised or skipped while continuing to engage with alcohol. 

Heart damage and cardiovascular disease are also typical due to alcohol use and stroke. Liver disease, such as liver cirrhosis, is also common and dangerous, as the constant use of one’s liver to process excessive amounts of alcohol causes one’s liver to scar. This can lead to permanent damage, making it difficult to function effectively. Alcohol use is also tied to the development of stomach ulcers or gout. Additionally, extended use can compromise one’s immune system, putting an individual at an increased risk of further health complications. 

Lastly, alcohol use has also been connected to the development of various cancers, especially in the mouth, liver, breast, and colon.

These physical effects of alcohol use also do not account for the increase in the chances of injury due to alcohol use. Loss of coordination or increased risk-taking behaviors while under the influence of alcohol can all beget their physical dangers. Tripping, falling, and more can all result in physical injury and trauma. 

The Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

Alcohol has intense effects on one’s brain, affecting balance, coordination, thought processes, critical thinking, and memory. However, chronic or heavy users of alcohol may find that these effects persist even while one is not actively engaged with the substance. 

Some potential long-term effects of alcohol use on one’s mental health can include the following:

  • Pervasive feelings of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Increase in risk-taking or self-destructive behaviors
  • Decreased attention span or difficulty focusing on immediate tasks
  • Difficulty recalling or forming new memories
  • Nerve damage
  • Familial schisms and strained personal relationships

Each of these effects can fundamentally affect one’s daily life. Those overcoming AUD may continue to battle these symptoms throughout treatment and long-term recovery. 

Wet Brain

“Wet brain” is a unique long-term effect of alcohol use and comes with many different names. Wet brain, alcohol dementia, Korsakoff’s psychosis, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are all various names to describe the syndrome. Wet brain is typically caused by a vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency resulting from excessive use of alcohol and can result in intense signs and symptoms. 

While the name “Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome” may indicate that it is a single syndrome, wet brain is a combination of both Wernick’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Still, symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy tend to manifest first. 

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Compromised muscle coordination
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blurry vision, or double vision
  • Leg tremors
  • Hypothermia
  • Drooping eyelids

After these effects of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis may set in. This can include:

  • Memory loss or amnesia
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Fabricating fictitious stories
  • Continued tremors
  • Sustained vision problems

Finding Help for AUD

The fact of the matter is alcohol is a dangerous substance. While there is no single path through recovery, nobody is ever beyond help. Recovery from alcohol use and AUD require professional treatment and support. Professional treatment can help individuals better cope with painful withdrawal symptoms and the long-term effects of its use. Fortunately, many treatment programs are available to treat alcohol and drug addiction and the health effects they can cause. 

Alcohol can be incredibly destructive to your physical and mental health, with lasting effects even long after one has stopped drinking. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the complex and intricate nature of alcohol addiction and recovery. We are committed to helping you identify and overcome these long-term effects of AUD. As one of the leading alcohol treatment centers in Hawaii, we are prepared to blend our proven and effective treatment modalities with the natural advantages of the islands, making rehab in Hawaii a truly transformative experience. From nature and ocean-based therapies to new cultures, ideas, and communities, we can help create a treatment plan that is right for you. For more information, call us today at (866) 390-5070.