By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Alcohol can affect your body in a great many ways.
Alcohol is so much a part of our society that we tend to take it for granted. That can be a costly mistake. The World Health Organization recently reported that one in every 20 deaths each year was attributable to problems caused or made worse by alcohol consumption. VA hospitals said that more than half of their hospital beds were occupied by people with issues connected to alcohol use.
Many people are poorly informed about alcohol and the problems it can cause. It’s easy to believe that alcohol-related issues only happen to alcoholics or people who frequently get drunk. Even small amounts of alcohol can make medical issues worse.
Alcohol affects your blood in several ways.
Alcohol is highly water-soluble, meaning it mixes readily with your blood. Blood flows throughout your body reaching every cell. Consumption of alcohol may interfere with some of the vital functions of your hematological or blood system.
Alcohol can contribute to anemia in several ways.
Alcohol contributes to anemia by interfering with the production of red blood cells. Alcohol in the bloodstream interferes with the healthy nutrition needed to produce red blood cells. One of the breakdown products of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde, is believed to interfere with the ability to utilize iron, an essential part of red blood cells ability to distribute oxygen throughout the body.
Alcohol can result in defective red blood cells.
Many people are familiar with the way doses of alcohol can result in infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol, and its breakdown products, poison and deform growing cells. Deformed red blood cells can’t do their job. Some alcoholic beverages contain lead or other heavy metals further damaging blood cells.
Alcohol damages white blood cells.
White blood cells are an essential part of your immune system, your body’s defense against infection. Chronic alcohol use affects white cells. Just how much alcohol, spread out over how what amount of time, it takes to damage white blood cells is hard to estimate.
Once white cells are damaged or destroyed, they can no longer fight infections. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of severe infections, especially in the respiratory tract. Alcohol reduces the effectiveness of white cells both by reducing their number and interfering with their ability to adhere to bacteria. When you drink, your white cells get intoxicated and can’t do their job.
Alcohol damages platelets and increases bleeding.
Platelets are an important part of your blood clotting system. As alcohol consumption increases, the likelihood of developing bleeding problem increases. People with severe alcohol use disorders are likely to bleed in the intestinal tract, these gums, the nose, and many other places. Heavy drinkers are likely to bruise easily. Alcohol interferes with the production of platelets.
Alcohol interferes with the livers metabolism disrupting blood clotting factors.
Alcohol the bloodstream interferes with the production of blood clotting factors. Not only can it reduce the ability for the blood to clot where needed, but it can also result in clots forming where they shouldn’t be created.
Alcohol damages the immune system in several ways.
The body has two separate immune systems alcohol interferes with the functioning of both. Excessive alcohol consumption has been found to increase both the severity and the progression of HIV/AIDS.
Much of the damage alcohol does to the hematological system is reversible with abstinence. The primary connection between alcohol and its effect on the hematological system is because of alcohol’s impact on the liver. Heavy Alcohol consumption is well-known to cause cirrhosis of the liver. But alcohol consumption is connected to four separate liver ailments. Some of these liver impairments can be by as little as one or two binge drinking episodes.
Once alcohol consumption has damaged the liver damage to other systems in the body may not be reversible.
Who’s most likely to have alcohol caused hematological problems?
Not everyone who consumes alcohol will develop permanent damage to the body. Two groups are at exceptionally high risk. 20% of the US population consumes 80% of all the alcohol drunk in America, these heavy drinkers are highly likely to develop alcohol-related issues as they age and the liver function declines.
The second high-risk group for alcohol-related problems is those people who may not drink on a regular basis but when they do drink and up intoxicated. The damage alcohol does to the body on anyone drinking occasion is related to how high the blood alcohol content goes on that occasion. In addition to the well-known problems connected to getting drunk, like DUI’s and violence, binge drinking can also result in damage to the body and an increased risk of being infected if you are exposed to bacteria or virus.
Want to know more?
Many of the students in my substance abuse counseling classes are surprised at the many ways alcohol can affect the body, emotions, relationships, and society. If you’re interested in more information on this topic you might want to take a look at the book we use for that class; Loosening the Grip. A Handbook of Alcohol Information, 11th edition, Jean Kinney, MSW.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.