Does Long Term Alcohol Use Affect Your Recovery Journey

Does Long-Term Alcohol Use Affect Your Recovery Journey?

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In the United States, 28.8 million people 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder.[1] Dealing with an addiction is difficult for everyone, but for many who have experienced long-term alcohol use, getting sober can seem impossible. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.

If you’ve been struggling with long-term or excessive alcohol use, getting help is always an option. By knowing what you can expect from the process, you have the chance to face the challenges of recovery and obtain lasting sobriety.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Does Long Term Alcohol Use Affect Your Recovery Journey

When you drink alcohol regularly, whether you engage in moderate drinking or heavy drinking, it causes a series of effects on your body. These effects could impact your overall health.

Liver Disease

Most people know about short-term effects like hangovers, but consuming alcohol steadily for a long time puts you at risk of much more severe issues, like liver disease. Alcohol is a toxin to the cells in the liver. Continuous consumption could lead to inflammation, which causes scarring. The type of scarring that issues like liver cirrhosis cause is permanent.[2]


Anemia is another of the most common effects of alcohol in someone who drinks regularly. This specifically refers to having low red blood cells in the blood. Alcohol causes a decrease in red blood cells, potentially leading you to feel symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.


Another effect that long-term alcohol use has on the body is the development of gout. Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when an excess of uric acid builds up in your joints. Most alcoholic beverages contain purines, which break down into uric acid. This means that the more you drink, the more it can accumulate.

High Blood Pressure

When you drink alcohol, your blood pressure goes up because alcohol affects the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls the constriction and dilation of blood vessels. Heavy drinking or long-term drinking can lead to chronic high blood pressure, which puts you at risk of health issues like cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney damage, and much more.[3]


The organ most people associate with alcohol issues is the liver, but the pancreas can also be heavily impacted by long-term alcohol use. Pancreatitis is a severe condition of the pancreas in which specific enzymes that usually activate once they reach the small intestine start sooner because of toxins in alcohol, damaging the organ. This causes inflammation, which further damages the pancreas.


Long-term alcohol use is also one of the most crucial risk factors in certain types of cancers, including throat, colon, mouth, and esophageal cancers.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Alcohol abuse, especially if you’ve been suffering from this condition for a long time, can wreak havoc on your brain. It can lead to severe mental health concerns like depression. Depending on the amount of alcohol you consume and how long you’ve been drinking it, long-term use can even lead to dementia.

Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of long-term alcohol use, however, is the structural changes it can make to your brain. Chronic heavy drinking disrupts functions in the prefrontal cortical areas that control executive function, decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. These disruptions make it harder to withstand the urge to continue drinking.[4]

Alcohol can even cause an alteration in brain volume. It can also alter the balance of neurotransmitters, making the brain less responsive to stimuli. Alcohol is also able to disrupt the creation of new neurons, especially in the hippocampus, which can impact memory and learning.

Long-Term Alcohol Use and the Recovery Process

Long-Term Alcohol Use and the Recovery Process

There’s no question that recovering from a long-term addiction to alcohol is more challenging than recovering from a problem that has just begun. The main reason for this is the changes that alcohol use has on the brain. In some cases, the damage to areas like the prefrontal cortex can persist despite months and even years of sobriety.

This doesn’t mean that recovery is impossible.

What you have to understand is that in the same way that brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change, helps in the development of an addiction, it can also help you recover from it. A growing number of studies show that many of the structural changes that occur because of addiction, as well as changes in feeling, thinking, and behaving, can improve with abstinence.[5]

For the majority of people, a combination of medications to help them stabilize, as well as behavioral healthcare, is essential. Because of the damage alcohol causes to your body, medication can prevent some of the worst withdrawal symptoms. You may also have to receive treatment for any of the health conditions that long-term use of alcohol causes.

If you’ve been engaged in long-term alcohol addiction, you likely have trouble regulating the urge to drink, especially when dealing with stress. Alcohol only makes this worse since it directly damages the brain circuits in charge of helping you manage those types of urges.

Behavioral health interventions, however, help normalize the activity levels in those areas of the brain. Therapeutic options that teach coping and mindfulness skills, for example, can help you learn to tolerate the urge to drink.

By combining these therapeutic options with other evidence-based interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and more, it’s possible to achieve and maintain sobriety despite long-term addiction.

Getting Help at Desert Cove Recovery

If you’ve been struggling with alcohol addiction for years or even decades, getting help may not seem like an option any longer. However, you must know that getting and staying sober is always possible. No matter how much damage alcohol has done, with the right treatments and the right motivation, you can break free from the grip of addiction.

At Desert Cove Recovery, we offer several treatment programs to help you address your challenges. With the chance to also get dual diagnosis treatments, you can receive assistance with any co-occurring mental health conditions that could be preventing you from healing.

It’s never too late to begin. Contact us at Desert Cove Recovery today.