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Does Alcohol Shorten a Lifespan?

It is well established that alcohol can negatively impact, and even damage, your physical and mental wellbeing. Excessive drinking can become incredibly toxic, resulting in a range of health issues, the symptoms of which will differ from person to person. However, while it’s common for long-term drinking to cause serious illnesses such as liver damage, depression and anxiety, it is important to recognise the impact these could have on your overall life expectancy. 

 While the impact will vary per person depending on several factors, studies have found that people having more than 25 units of alcohol per week may be shortening their life expectancy by up to five years as a result of developing serious alcohol-related illness

How does Alcohol Use Contribute to Life Expectancy

Most people are aware of the changes in the brain caused by alcohol, specifically the communication pathways which alter moods, behaviours and coordination. However, a lot of people fail to consider the impact of alcohol on the rest of the body’s natural functions. 

Unsurprisingly, the average lifespan of someone suffering from alcoholism is thought to be much shorter than that of someone who drinks moderately or not at all. Drinking heavily on a regular basis can lead to the development of various life-threatening conditions. 

The accidents and medical issues that could potentially contribute to a person’s life expectancy include:

  • Accidents and injury
  • Heart problems
  • Liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Premature ageing
  • Pancreatitis 

Alcohol and Heart Health

Heavy drinking has been linked to several cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy, all of which can be fatal. Over time, hypertension can lead to cardiovascular disease as more and more strain is placed on the heart muscles. This in turn increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Those who drink regularly and consume more than the lower risk guidelines are likely to be advised to cut down or stop drinking completely.

Alcohol and the Liver

One of the most common alcohol-related illnesses is liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver. Many people suffering from alcoholism will develop cirrhosis, and while issues such as fatty liver can be treated, cirrhosis occurs in the later stages of alcoholism and is irreversible. Once you reach this stage of an alcohol use disorder your chance of survival is reduced by over 50 per cent if you continue to drink. 

Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

Prolonged abuse of alcohol can lead to acute pancreatitis, and while most cases of this disease can improve rather rapidly, at least 1 in 5 of these cases are severe enough to result in life-threatening complications, such as multiple organ failure. 

Alcohol and Cancer

Developing certain cancers can also shorten your lifespan. Studies have found that alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, breast, mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, and colon.

Depression and Suicide

Alcohol abuse and addiction increase the risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety or exacerbate any existing mental health issues. Alcohol addiction has also been reported to increase the risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts and behaviours. 

Alcohol and the Immune System

Abusing alcohol long-term can also cause your immune system to weaken, making you more susceptible to contracting other illnesses. Drinking alcohol to excess can make it more difficult for the immune system to fight off infections and disease. For example, binge drinkers have a higher chance of contracting lung diseases such as pneumonia in comparison to those who drink moderately or not at all. 

Alcohol and Ageing

Years of excessive alcohol abuse can damage the body’s vital functions, which may affect your ability to heal from illnesses in future. Sometimes alcoholism can even be misdiagnosed as old age. Even if you’re not experiencing any serious health complications as a result of your drinking, seeking alcohol addiction treatment could add years to your life. 

While drinking alcohol won’t directly result in a shortened lifespan, it can lead to several dangerous and life-threatening diseases, many of which can’t be reversed. These illnesses can directly contribute to early death in some cases.  

How Much can I Drink Safely?

Although many people argue that there are certain benefits to drinking alcohol, the risks far outweigh any of these. There is no evidence to say that one drink, such as red wine or beer, is considered better than another. 

Guidance published in January 2016 by the UK Chief Medical Officers recommends that neither both men and women are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level and that if you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over 3 days or more.

Drinking alcohol to excess can cause other serious health conditions, such as cardiomyopathy (where the heart muscle is damaged and can’t work as efficiently as it used to) and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Some of these conditions can increase your risk of stroke.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is most effectively treated with a combination of detox and psychological therapy. CATCH is an outpatient rehab clinic that treats people who have completed their detox and are ready for the next stage of their recovery journey. Our day rehab offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, trauma therapy, individual and group therapy as well as Telehealth services. Once you have completed a medical detox and are considered fit to continue with treatment, the team at CATCH will take you through the next steps. 

Our clinic is located in the South East of England, however, we admit individuals from all over the UK. If travelling to London is an obstacle for you, then we can offer referrals to other clinics within the UK and Ireland. Similarly, because we don’t provide a medical detox on-site, we are happy to refer you to one of our partner clinics. Our range of services also includes virtual therapy sessions for those who are unable to commit to residential rehab. 

If you’re concerned about your alcohol use and are looking to begin your journey to sobriety, CATCH Recovery is here to help. Our help centre can offer you advice and support when it comes to choosing the facility that’s right for you.