How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Your Weight?

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Abusing drugs or alcohol can disrupt proper nutritional levels in the body, depleting essential vitamins and minerals.

It can cause a person to eat more or less and to consume foods that have little nutritional value, Today’s Dietician reports. When someone drinks alcohol, it can make the body feel “full,” and this may prompt a person to eat less and make poor choices related to food. In addition, alcohol consumption can lead to impaired willpower and increased cravings, often for foods that are high in fats and sugars and low in nutritional value. The calories consumed in the form of alcohol are considered “empty” calories.

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Almost 18 million people suffer from alcohol addiction, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) publishes. Millions more engage in episodes of problematic drinking.

Alcohol dependence can cause a person to become inactive, as well as lead them to make poor food choices, and alcohol may begin to replace meals. Alcohol consumption can therefore lead to weight gain in the trunk of the body and the appearance of a “beer belly.”

Alcohol dependence and perpetuated high rates of alcohol abuse over a long period of time can interfere with normal digestion and metabolism, decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, and damage internal organs. Malnutrition often results from alcohol addiction, which can cause the body to lose weight rapidly with dangerous consequences. Excessive alcohol abuse can contribute both to weight gain and obesity. Conversely, it can also contribute to unhealthy weight loss and a wide range of digestive issues and damage to the body and brain.

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Alcohol and Digestion

Alcohol is metabolized differently than food as it travels straight down the esophagus to the stomach and small intestine. Over time, alcohol can damage the intestinal tract, thus impairing the body’s ability to utilize and absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from foods that are eaten.

Alcohol interferes with the body’s uptake of essential amino acids that are obtained by food intake, leading to vitamin and protein deficiencies, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) publishes. Vitamin levels can be significantly impacted as well due to alcohol abuse, and levels of vitamin A (retinol), B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), C (ascorbic acid), calcium, and folic acid may all be deficient in those who regularly consume high amounts of alcohol.

Alcohol consumption can irritate the digestive tract and cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which further deplete the body of nutrients. After developing a dependence on alcohol, alcohol withdrawal can also decrease appetite and cause stomach pain and nausea, which can further contribute to weight loss.

Alcohol cannot be stored in the body and is therefore quickly broken down by the liver. The liver’s function is to filter toxins out of the body. Both the manner in which alcohol is metabolized and malnutrition can have a variety of negative effects on the liver, including cirrhosis, fatty liver, liver damage, and liver disease. A malfunctioning liver and liver disease can lead to jaundice, fatigue, liver cancer, intestinal bleeding, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. The liver stores excess glucose as well, which is used to provide energy. The presence of alcohol can inhibit the release of glucose for energy, and the liver can swell up. Alcohol therefore can increase blood sugar levels and increase potential for cardiovascular complications as well as metabolic issues and the risk for developing diabetes, the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research publishes. Pancreatitis and obesity due to alcohol consumption can also contribute to the onset of diabetes and difficulties regulating insulin and blood glucose levels.

Dangerous weight changes are often the result of alcohol abuse and addiction, which can have long-term and often irreversible effects on a person’s health, in addition to the ones discussed above. These include:

  • Increased rate of heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Higher risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Eating disorders
  • Tooth decay
  • Skin appearing to droop or fall off of body
  • Increased risk for some types of cancer (e.g., liver, breast, esophagus, throat, larynx, and mouth)
  • Osteoporosis and joint problems
  • Seizures
  • Loss of muscle mass and muscle weakness
  • Depression and mood disorders
  • Kidney, liver, heart, brain, pancreas, and other internal organ damage or disease
  • Extreme malnutrition, which can cause dementia in the form of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Memory loss and other neurological deficits
  • Heightened risk for Type II diabetes
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulties concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Death