The Long-Term Effects of Untreated Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is one of the most severe health crises in the United States.

According to the NCDAS, around 10% of Americans over 12 years suffer from alcohol abuse disorder. This abuse of alcohol can sometimes be fatal and results in the death of around 141,000 Americans every year. Unfortunately, for the people who survive, untreated alcohol addiction can also result in several long-term effects. Below is a look at these alcohol addiction side effects and possible treatment and recovery solutions.

Alcohol Dependence

One of the top long-term effects of untreated alcohol addiction is the risk of developing alcohol dependence, also known as alcohol use disorder. People who develop the disorder cannot stop drinking alcohol, despite the negative physical, mental, social, and economic effects it produces in their lives. According to the National Institute of Health, 29.5 million people suffer from the disorder as of 2021, including around 894,000 young people between 12 and 17 years old.

The sad part about alcohol use disorder is that it starts with one drink. The pleasurable feeling the alcohol produces and its ability to blunt negative feelings can drive you to continue drinking, which alters the brain chemistry over time, leading to alcohol dependence. However, other factors such as binge drinking, heavy alcohol use, genetic predisposition, mental health disorders, and drinking from an early age can increase the risk of alcohol addiction and dependence.

The good news is that one can recover from alcohol abuse disorder provided they seek the necessary alcohol treatments before the condition becomes fatal. These treatments are usually offered at alcohol rehab clinics and include solutions like therapy (one-on-one, group, and family sessions), cognitive behavioral therapy, and drug intervention. According to Alcohol Rehab Guide, the cost of alcohol dependence treatment can range from $1,400 to $80,000 depending on the mode of treatment (outpatient, inpatient, and residential), length, and luxuriousness of the treatment facility.

Drug Addiction

As already noted, long-term use of alcohol alters brain chemistry, causing an individual to continually consume it to enjoy the pleasurable feeling. However, over time, some people may find that alcohol is insufficient to deliver this euphoric feeling. Therefore, they might experiment with other drugs and substances to heighten their experience. Unfortunately, this can lead to both alcohol and drug dependence, which is another one of the most common and severe long-term effects of untreated alcohol addiction.

Sadly, alcohol and drug addiction is a widespread problem. According to the American Addiction Centers, in 2017, nearly 74% of people suffering from drug and substance abuse addiction also struggled with alcohol abuse disorder. Unfortunately, dual addiction is a serious problem, as using two or more substances together can increase the risk of overdose, injuries, or severe mental and physical health conditions.

Fortunately, an individual suffering from drug and alcohol dependence can recover by undergoing addiction recovery programs at rehab centers. These programs often involve chemical detox, psychotherapy, counseling, and medical treatment. The treatments help the addicted individual in stopping their use of alcohol and drugs, addressing underlying causes of addiction, and coping with daily life stressors that can trigger a relapse. According to, drug & alcohol rehab treatments typically cost between $14,000 and $27,000 for a 30-day program.

Cognitive Decline

Alcohol causes several changes to the body, specifically the brain. For example, in the short term, drinking alcoholic drinks can lead to slurred speech, slowed reflexes and reaction times, slow brain activity, memory loss, etc. Unfortunately, continued use of alcohol, especially for people with untreated alcohol addiction, can cause some of these side effects to become long-term, leading to cognitive decline.

According to the National Institute of Health, alcoholics often exhibit cognitive issues like diminished brain size, lowered intellectual functioning, and changes in brain-cell activity. Other studies have also shown that alcohol use affects the areas of the brain that controls speech, memory, balance, and judgment. In the long term, these effects can become severe and last long after one quits drinking.

Fortunately, the brain is one of the most resilient parts of the body; therefore, an individual can recover from the cognitive decline caused by alcohol addiction. The first step towards recovery is to stop further use of alcohol, which is possible through rehab treatments. On top of that, individual cognitive treatments, for example, speech therapy, can help to treat specific brain impairments. According to the Washington Post, brain stimulation surgery is another potential solution to alcohol and drug addiction, which can help the brain recover and aid the addict in avoiding a relapse.

Mental Health Issues

Untreated alcohol addiction doesn’t just affect the brain, leading to cognitive decline; it can also lead to mental health issues. For example, according to the Mental Health Foundation, people who abuse alcohol usually develop mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. On top of that, the changes in brain chemistry caused by alcohol abuse can lead to mental disorders such as schizophrenia and impulse-control issues.

Unfortunately, sometimes, alcoholics might have undetected underlying mental health conditions, which are made worse by their use of alcohol. And in other cases, individuals are driven to abuse alcohol due to mental health problems. Either way, co-occurring alcohol addiction and mental health disorders can be serious; they can severely affect your mental well-being and quality of life. On top of that, mental health conditions can make a recovery for people with alcohol abuse disorder extremely difficult, thus leading to relapses.

The only way to deal with alcohol addiction and mental health is to treat both conditions simultaneously. Therefore, a person undergoing alcohol treatment should also seek therapy, counseling, and medical treatment for any mental health conditions they have developed. On top of that, they should seek treatment for underlying mental disorders, for example, trauma healing therapy to deal with issues like PTSD, sexual assault, etc. According to GoodTherapy, the cost of therapy treatments for mental health issues ranges between $65 and $250 per session.

Chronic Diseases

According to the CDC, excessive and long-term use of alcohol can lead to severe health problems. These include chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Therefore, untreated alcohol addiction is a serious issue that can lead to long-term pain, suffering, and poor physical health.

Unfortunately, most chronic diseases caused by alcohol addiction will become fatal over time, but timely medical intervention can prevent this. However, for any intervention to work, the addicted individual must stop using alcohol, lest the problem deteriorates. Therefore, the first step in treatment is stopping alcohol abuse through addiction treatment. In some cases, urgent care services may also be needed for safe withdrawal and recovery, especially given how dangerous some chronic conditions are.

After stopping alcohol abuse, the next step is to treat the chronic conditions an individual suffers from. Of course, treatment will vary from one individual to another, but it will usually involve solutions like medication, surgery, and organ transplant (in the case of liver and heart damage). In some cases, a person might suffer from more than one chronic condition, so a lot of drug consulting will be needed between medical professionals to successfully treat all the health problems.

Impaired Vision

According to Medical News Today, excessive consumption of alcohol can cause a range of vision issues, such as blurred vision, rapid eye movement, and blindness. Usually, these effects are temporary, with your body returning to normal once the alcohol is out of your system. However, long-term use of alcohol can cause some of these effects to become permanent. On top of that, untreated alcohol addiction can increase the risk of other vision issues like cataract formation, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and optic atrophy.

Vision issues caused by alcohol addiction can be severe, regardless of whether they are short or long-term. For example, short-term blurred vision can increase your risk of injuries or accidents. On the other hand, long-term vision impairment can significantly affect the quality of your life and potentially lead to a host of mental health issues. Consequently, this can further exacerbate your alcohol abuse disorder problem.

Like with every problem caused by alcohol addiction, the first step toward recovery is to stop alcohol abuse. Therefore, you should first visit a rehab center for alcohol (and, if necessary, mental health disorder) treatment. Then, you should see a vision therapist who can treat the eye damage caused by your use of alcohol. Depending on the vision issues, treatment solutions can include medication, corrective surgery, eyewear, etc.

Oral Health Issues

According to the Oral Health Foundation, several alcoholic beverages are acidic, which can erode the enamel, leading to increased tooth sensitivity and pain. Additionally, alcohol can dehydrate your body, leading to a dry mouth condition that can increase the risk of oral health issues; due to decreased saliva, which is vital for washing away bacteria. Lastly, some alcoholic drinks contain high amounts of sugar, which can increase the risk of cavities.

So, untreated alcohol addiction is a serious issue that could result in long-term oral health problems like cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and more. This can cause you a lot of pain and suffering, not to mention the huge financial burden due to the high cost of dental treatment. On top of that, dental health problems can lead to mental health issues like low self-esteem and isolation, which can lead to more drinking problems, worsening your addiction.

Fortunately, several dental treatments can help fix the oral health damage caused by alcohol abuse. These include dental fillings, gum disease treatment, veneers & crown placement, dental implants, etc. Unfortunately, you must quit drinking completely to effectively fix these dental issues, or they will reappear after a while. Therefore, in addition to oral health treatment, you must visit a rehab clinic for necessary alcohol addiction treatment.

Poor Physical Fitness

Poor physical fitness is another top long-term side effect of untreated alcohol addiction. For example, according to the National Library of Medicine, studies suggest a link between alcohol consumption and obesity. In addition, according to Medical News Today, long-term and excessive use of alcohol can damage the nerves responsible for controlling muscles, limbs, and even sensory organs.

The effect of alcohol addiction on your physical fitness can be widespread. For example, obesity can lead to many health problems and mental health issues that can severely affect your well-being. Likewise, nerve damage can affect your body’s mobility, leading to disability in severe cases. Furthermore, these issues can result in several mental health problems like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and others, which don’t mix well with addiction.

Fortunately, most of these physical fitness issues caused by alcohol dependence can be reversed. For example, according to ScienceDaily, abstaining from alcohol can reverse nerve damage, thus fixing issues like poor gait and balance problems. Likewise, you can restore your physical fitness after undergoing alcohol addiction treatment through proper diet and exercise. Lastly, additional treatments like physical therapy can help to restore your bodily functions and mobility.

Risky Behaviors

Untreated alcohol addiction can also endanger lives by encouraging an individual to engage in risky behaviors. That’s because when under the influence, alcohol lowers inhibitions, making an individual do things they wouldn’t otherwise do when sober. Risky behaviors are even more prevalent among young people (like school-going teens), as this is the stage of life where they usually test the boundaries of acceptable behaviors.

According to the National Institute of Health, some risky behaviors common with alcohol addicts include violence, crime, self-harming, driving under the influence, and risky sexual practices. Over time, these behaviors can result in severe outcomes like getting into accidents, being arrested, suicide, contracting chronic STDs, and death. Furthermore, these behaviors can cause severe mental health issues, worsening alcohol dependence and trapping an individual into a never-ending addiction cycle.

Fortunately, there are several ways to recover from alcohol addiction and the resulting consequences of risky behaviors. Of course, the road to recovery will start with alcohol addiction treatment, followed by life-long abstinence. Secondly, psychotherapy can help treat the affected individual’s mental health issues. Other solutions include alcohol addiction prevention programs, which can be offered, for example, at a local school, thus offering a solution to young people suffering from alcohol dependence.

For most people, the occasional beer, glass of wine, or drink might not seem like much. However, excessive and continued consumption of alcohol can easily lead to alcohol abuse disorder. And unfortunately, untreated alcohol addiction can worsen over time, resulting in a wide range of physical and mental health problems and, potentially, even death. Fortunately, people suffering from alcohol dependence can recover fully using the therapies and solutions above and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

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