Even more importantly than the short-term discomfort of hangovers, drinking heavily and habitually can do long-term damage to many parts of your body. There are a number of ways in which drinking heavily is harmful to you, including your physical health.
The good news is that as you spend more time in sobriety, your body will repair itself so that you can begin to become healthier. Here are just some of the ways that abstaining from alcohol will help you function better, in all areas of your health.
No more short-term risks
Alcohol can lower the brain's ability to make intelligent decisions and fully think through the consequences of behavior. An end to drunkenness makes you significantly less likely to engage in risky behavior that can lead to injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and alcohol poisoning.
A lowered risk of cancer and disease
While the exact causes of cancer are still unknown and unpredictable, research from the National Cancer Institute has identified six different cancers that heavy drinking increases your risks for: mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast. The reasons for this are still unknown, but could be related to the harmful toxins released by alcohol that permanently damage cells.
Abstaining for alcohol can protect you from these risks. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that after 20 years of abstinence, formerly heavy drinkers are at the same risks for head and neck cancers as people who never drank.
Alcohol also suppresses our immune systems, making us more vulnerable to attacks from bacteria and viruses, so stopping drinking can significantly reduce your risk of illness.
A high level of alcohol pumping through your bloodstream puts great strain on your heart. This can lead to higher blood pressure, increasing risks for heart disease and strokes, and leading to a flushed look in your skin, caused by broken capillaries.
With enough time alcohol-free, the heart can slowly repair. By not having to worry about the extra strain of alcohol, your heart can operate as it was intended, at levels that can better support good activity.
Healthier gastrointestinal systems
The pancreas creates enzymes for the small intestine digest food and turns it into nutrients that allow the body to function. Regular excessive alcohol consumption interferes with this ability.
People with chronic pancreatitis, in which the pancreas inflamed, should stop drinking immediately. Sobriety can stop this serious downward slope, but repairing the pancreas will require a low-fat diet and further medical treatment.
As the organ responsible for eliminating toxins from the body, the liver is the organ most likely to be affected by consuming alcohol. Many people who drink heavily over many years experience severe liver disease, where the liver is no longer able to function, leaving the body more vulnerable to poisoning and disease. Sobriety prevents further injury and can allow a reversal of this deadly trend, although a liver transplant may be necessary if the liver is especially damaged or fatty.
Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol habitually makes brain cells smaller, harming your ability to perform a variety of tasks, including coordination, managing moods, and learn or remember new skills and information. Within a year of full sobriety, your brain can self-correct to the point that these skills can be partially regained.
Many heavy drinkers have a number of habits that are harmful to their health, including a lack of physical activity and poor diet. The abundance of calories in alcoholic drinks can decrease the motivation to eat healthy foods.
Combined with the way alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, this can lead to fatigue feelings and a lack of exercise. Sobriety frees up your time and energy to devote to these habits of taking better care of yourself, setting up routines that will help you feel better and give you more energy for the life you truly want.