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Health and safety impacts of AUD: What to know

While the effects of alcohol can feel good in the short term, in the long term it can cause problems for our health and wellbeing. Drinking alcohol is linked to a range of mental health issues like depression and memory loss; and can cause damage to your heart, liver, and increase risk of cancer. It can also impact judgment and reaction time.

What to know about your Mental Health

Mental Health

Ever since the pandemic, mental health needs have spiked nationwide. There was a 500% increase from 2019 to 2021 in people taking mental health screenings online. Many of us have turned to alcohol to manage the anxiety and stress that have come as a result of increasing worries in our lives over the last few years.

However, regular, heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. So while we might feel relaxed after a drink, in the long run, alcohol can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, and make stress harder to deal with. Alcohol use disorder is also associated with suicidal behaviors.

What to know about your Brain

Brain

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Alcohol can even shrink the brain. This condition, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WK Syndrome), used to be referred to as “wet brain.” In heavy drinkers, poor nutrition decreases the body’s ability to absorb thiamine from food and increases the chance of developing WK syndrome. Without treatment this can lead to permanent memory loss, and be life-threatening.

What to know about your Heart

Heart

Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy ‒ Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias ‒ Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
What to know about your Liver

Liver

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations, including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis
What to know about your Pancreas

Pancreas

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

What to know about Cancer

Cancer

Alcohol drinking can cause or increase your chances of getting cancer, including:

  • Head and neck cancer, including oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx cancers
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer