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The (Sometimes Surprising) Health Benefits of Long-Term Sobriety

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When I was in active alcoholism, I couldn’t be in a room with an animal without needing an inhaler. Now, I have a cat.

Alcohol was exacerbating my once-mild allergies. Starting six months into being sober, I was able to be around animals and have no noticeable symptoms. For years now, I’ve been able to co-exist with animals comfortably and happily.

People are often surprised when I tell them this. The connection between alcohol and allergies is not widely discussed. But studies have shown that the link is strong.

A 2008 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that having more than two glasses of wine a day almost doubles the risk of experiencing allergy symptoms. This was true even for participants who began the study with no allergies. Drinking alcohol doesn’t only exacerbate allergies; it can create them.

A group of studies published in Frontiers in Bioscience found that levels of IgE — antibodies produced by the immune system in response to allergies — are elevated in alcoholics. The studies also found that IgE levels went down after a period of abstinence.

During alcohol’s fermentation process, yeast and bacteria produce histamine. Histamine is the chemical that causes allergic reactions; it’s created by your immune system in response to perceived threats. Alcohol also contains sulfites, another set of compounds that can set off allergy-adjacent symptoms like asthma.

Despite regularly circulated articles about a glass of red wine a night being good for you, it’s not news that alcohol abuse has health risks.

Alcohol-Induced Liver Problems

Excessive alcohol use can cause liver issues. (via theAwkwardYeti.com)

There’s a reason there are so many t-shirts, mugs and hoodies with cheesy alcohol jokes like “S.L.I.F. (Sorry, Liver. It’s Friday).” One of your liver’s roles is to flush out toxins. Chronic alcohol abuse causes destruction of liver cells called cirrhosis, the final stage of liver disease. Drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time can also cause alcoholic hepatitis and liver cancer.

 

 

Alcohol’s Health Risks on the Cardiovascular System

Heavy drinking leads to a higher risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart failure. Alcohol abuse can also cause cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle.

Alcoholism and Cancer Risks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol abuse raises the risk of getting certain types of cancer, including:

-Mouth and throat

-Colon and rectum

-Liver

-Breast

Your body breaks down alcohol into the chemical acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing that damage—making it more likely for a cell to grow into a malignant tumor.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Central Nervous System

Alcohol affects the brain in numerous ways. The more years of sobriety I gain, the sharper my mind feels. This is because consistent binge drinking contracts brain tissue, destroys brain cells, and depresses the central nervous system—causing serious cognitive issues.

Alcohol-Induced Anemia

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the health effects of binge drinking on the blood cells are both direct and indirect. Alcohol abuse has a direct negative effect on the bone marrow, blood cell precursors, mature red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The indirect effect is that of malnutrition. Excessive alcohol consumption makes it difficult for the body to absorb some nutrients, especially B12 and folic acid. This affects the production of red blood cells.

All these alcohol-induced problems can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, abnormal heartbeats, decreased mental capacity and other health issues. Poor liver functioning can also affect how the body manages red blood cells, increasing the risk of anemia.

Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health

Often, people with addiction have a co-occuring disorder. People struggling with their mental health may turn to alcohol for temporary relief, but alcohol has a negative long-term effect. For instance, alcohol can exacerbate anxiety disorders, depression and other mental health issues. Long-term alcohol abuse decreases serotonin in the brain, creating a vicious cycle where people drink to relieve symptoms, only to experience those symptoms again.

The above are some of the well-documented negative effects of alcohol on health. But as I learned from my allergies subsiding, there can be surprising health benefits to quitting drinking.

The first time I went to the eye doctor after getting sober, my eyesight had gotten better for the first time in my life. Since then, the natural decline that happens to everyone’s eyesight has been slower. This might be because alcohol abuse affects the liver’s intake of vitamins necessary for eye health.

Since getting sober, all aspects of my health—including my emotional and mental health—have improved in ways I could never have imagined. But certain physical benefits, including the above-mentioned things, surprised me even more. If you are thinking of quitting drinking, you have a lot to look forward to.

If you are struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder—or if you are feeling sick all the time from alcohol or substance use—there is help and hope.

At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we offer detox, residential, partial hospitalization, mental health residential, intensive outpatient, outpatient and community housing treatment programs, for whatever stage of recovery you are in. We will set you up with a community that includes support groups for long-term recovery, and find a treatment plan to help get you back on the road to health.