You’ve probably heard of “alcohol abuse,” “alcohol dependence,” or “alcoholism.” Maybe you know the new term doctors use, “alcohol use disorder.”
Alcohol use disorder is a potentially fatal disease, characterized by cravings, tolerance (needing more), physical dependence, and loss of control over consuming alcohol. Alcohol intoxication may or may not be obvious to observers. Even in highly functional alcoholics, chronic alcoholism can lead to physical problems. Most common is damage to your liver, which over time can lead to cirrhosis (scarred liver). Other risks include depression, stomach bleeds, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, heart failure, numbness and tingling in your feet and changes in your brain. Alcoholism can also increase your risk for infections including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and chronic gastritis.
Alcoholism can also lead to impotence in men, damage to the fetus in pregnant women, and an elevated risk of cancer of the larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, stomach, pancreas, and upper gastrointestinal tract. Because heavy drinkers seldom have adequate diets, they may have nutritional deficiencies. Heavy drinkers typically have impaired liver function, and up to one in five develops cirrhosis.