Special Report

Excessive Drinking Is Less Than You Think: 23 Ways a Drinking Habit Can Harm You

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1. Brain shrinkage

While the brain naturally shrinks as we age, heavy alcohol users are at higher risk of brain shrinkage. Long-term exposure to alcohol can contribute to the brain cells getting smaller faster. Research is less consistent about moderate alcohol users and brain shrinkage. Brain shrinkage can have a major effect on important functions, including memory, learning ability, and decreased blood flow to the brain.

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2. Cancer

Chronic heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing certain cancers, specifically of the liver, throat, and the esophagus. Back in 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is sufficient evidence it can cause cancer in humans.

Alcohol also increases the risk of breast cancer in women. The increased risk of breast cancer may be due to the fact that alcohol — in addition to damaging DNA in cells — increases estrogen levels in the body, and breast cancer cells feed on estrogen.

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3. Change in menstrual cycle

Over a period of time, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may cause irregular menstrual cycles, their cessation, or menstrual cycles without ovulation. Alcohol increases the level of estrogen, which may affect normal hormonal fluctuations necessary for ovulation.

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4. Change in speech

Slurred speech is often one of the first symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption. Short-term speech slurring indicates drunknesses, or a person with a blood alcohol concentration of around 0.1%, above the federal limit of 0.08% allowed for driving.

Difficulty saying words is called dysarthria, and while being drunk may cause temporary dysarthria, chronic alcohol use can cause this condition to become permanent.

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5. Chronic pancreatitis

Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of chronic pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that gets worse over time and cannot be treated. The swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas as a result of the condition can prevent proper digestion. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include constant pain in the upper stomach, vomiting, and weight loss.

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