Alcoholism and pregnancy
Signs and Symptoms
Who's Most At Risk?
What to Expect at Your Health Provider's Office
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Nutrition (Western Medicine)
Traditional Medicine Herbs & Diet
ANNEX 1 - 'Alcohol worse for female brains'
ANNEX 2 - Mortality: Alcoholic liver disease
Bibliography and links
Alcoholism is a chronic, often progressive condition marked by a dependence on ethanol (ethyl alcohol) in which a person continues to crave alcohol and drink despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job, or getting into trouble with the law. This dependence can be physiological, psychological, or a combination of the two.
Alcoholism affects 10 to 20 percent of men and 3 to 10 percent of women. Nearly 14 million people in the United States-1 in every 13 adults-abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. This disease contributes to over 50 percent of car and industrial fatalities, drownings, and child or domestic abuse.
As far as the body is concerned, alcohol is a poison. Some of the effects of chronic alcohol consumption include damage to the brain (women may be more vulnerable to chronic alcohol consumption - See Annex 1, liver, pancreas, duodenum, and central nervous system. Alcoholism causes metabolic damage to every cell in the body and depresses the immune system. It may take years before the consequences of excessive drinking become evident, but if an alcoholic continues to drink, his or her life span may be shortened by ten to fifteen years or more.
Alcohol is broken down in the liver. The repeated consumption of alcohol inhibits the liver's production of enzymes, impairing the body's ability to absorb proteins, fats, and the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), as well as B-complex vitamins (especially thiamine and folic acid) and other water-soluble vitamins. Many essential nutrients are not retained for use by the body; they are rapidly eliminated through the urine. The toxic effect of alcohol on the liver is very serious. First, excessive amounts of fat accumulate in the liver, a result of alcohol's effect on the body's ability to digest fats properly. Next, the alcoholic may develop hepatitis, a condition in which liver cells become inflamed and may die. The final, usually fatal, stage of alcoholic liver damage is cirrhosis of the liver, a disease characterized by inflammation, hardening, and scarring of the liver This prevents the normal passage of blood through the liver, inhibiting the organ's ability to filter out toxins and foreign substances.
The liver is one of the most robust organs of the body. It is the only organ that has the ability to regenerate itself after certain types of damage. Up to 25 percent of the liver can be removed, and within a short period of time, it will grow back to its original shape and size. It continually takes abuse, but if cared for properly, it will function more than adequately for decades. Alcohol is one of the toxins that the liver doesn't handle as well as others. The liver cannot regenerate after being severely damaged by alcohol. (see statistics - mortality given by alcoholic liver diseses).
There are many other health consequences of alcoholism as well. Alcoholics often experience damage to their peripheral nervous systems. This damage may show up initially as a loss of sensation in the hands or feet, with an accompanying difficulty in walking. Chronic drinking also causes inflammation of the pancreas. This further hampers the body's ability to digest fats and other nutrients, and can lead to diabetes.
Alcoholics face an in creased risk of mouth and throat cancer due to the direct toxicity of the alcohol. They may also experience high blood pressure, reduced testosterone production, visible dilation of blood vessels just beneath the skin's surface, and pathological enlargement of the heart that can progress to congestive heart failure.
The social consequences of alcoholism can be very destructive as well. Alcohol abuse takes a tremendous toll on society through traffic and other accidents, poor job performance, and emotional damage to entire families.
Alcoholism and pregnancy
Drinking during pregnancy is particularly dangerous. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects and increases the chance of miscarriage. Alcohol passes through the mother's placenta and into the fetal circulation. This toxic substance depresses the central nervous system of the fetus. Further, the fetal liver must try to metabolize the alcohol, but since the fetus's liver is not fully developed, the alcohol remains in the fetal circulation. Women who drink during pregnancy generally give birth to babies with lower birth weights. Their growth may be retarded or stunted; their brains may be smaller than normal, and there may be mental retardation as well. Limbs, joints, fingers, and facial features may be deformed. Heart and kidney defects may occur. Some children exposed to alcohol in uterus become hyperactive at adolescence and exhibit learning disabilities. Every drink a pregnant woman consumes increases her child's risk of being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and also increases her chances of miscarriage. Even moderate amounts of alcohol may be harmful, especially in the first three to four months of pregnancy.