Alcohol: Psychological Consequences of Chronic Abuse

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Alcohol: Psychological Consequences of Chronic Abuse

Chronic alcohol abuse—heavy drinking over a long period—can seriously damage a person's well-being, not only physically but mentally. A chronic drinker may lose the ability to pay attention and concentrate. He or she may become anxious and depressed, and behave in ways that pose risks to health and safety.

Long-term heavy drinking can also lead to impaired cognitive abilities. This means that the long-term heavy drinker of alcohol may not be able to think clearly about complex issues or concentrate in order to solve problems. These impairments include:

  • Visual-spatial deficits: difficulties with recognizing actual distances between objects or with depth perception
  • Language (verbal) impairments: confusing or mispronouncing previously known words, or having difficulty expressing ideas
  • Memory impairments (alcoholic amnestic syndrome): the inability to recall words, names, or previously familiar basic ideas. Also a reduced capacity to take in and retain new information
  • Alcoholic dementia (in a small fraction of chronic alcohol abusers): syndrome in which the alcoholic suffers problems in almost every area of thinking, feeling, remembering, and behaving

These impairments may come about because of the harmful lifestyle of alcoholics. For example, the poor eating habits of alcoholics lead to vitamin deficiencies, which can affect mental functioning. Heavy drinkers often suffer from head trauma caused by accidents, falls, and fights. Head injuries can also damage the brain's ability to function normally.

Chronic heavy drinking often results in poor performance in work or school and inappropriate social behavior. Heavy drinkers often lose the support of family and friends, some of whom may be moderate drinkers. As conflict and disapproval increases at home and at work, many heavy drinkers, especially women, feel like they are losing control over their lives. This loss of control often expresses itself as depression . To get relief from depression, the person may drink even more. Unfortunately, since this "cure" usually has little success, the person falls into a vicious cycle of drinking. Research on suicide suggests that chronic alcohol abuse is involved in 20 to 36 percent of reported cases.

Researchers are not certain if the chronic drinking results in depression, or if the depression already existed and is made worse by drinking. However, for most alcoholics who undergo detoxification (ending all alcohol consumption), depressive symptoms improve within weeks. This suggests that, for many, the toxic effects of alcohol led to the depressive symptoms.

A common problem among men who abuse alcohol is aggression . Young men who are chronic alcohol abusers may already have a tendency to act aggressively or violently. The toxic effects of alcohol appear to increase that behavior.

see also Accidents and Injuries from Alcohol; Alcohol: Complications of Problem Drinking; Research; Violence and Drug and Alcohol Use.

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Alcohol: Psychological Consequences of Chronic Abuse

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