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Dual Diagnosis: Alcohol-Related Death

    Dual Diagnosis: Alcohol-Related Death

    Alcohol is a toxic substance, capable of influencing the body in extreme ways. It is considered to have a very high abuse risk, and those who use it excessively are likely to cause themselves serious harm.

    The more an individual consumes alcohol, the more it is able to damage and influence the functionality of their body. It can alter their chemistry balance and force the body to become dependent upon alcohol. It can also damage and limit the effectiveness of vital organs.

    The threats posed by alcohol can also be much more serious. With frequent use, the substance can cause fatal effects, ranging from organ failure to alcohol-induced accidents.

    Death as a result of alcohol is an increasingly prevalent occurrence, but it can be avoided. Those who struggle with alcohol abuse are the most vulnerable, and preventative measures largely involve assisting them in stopping their alcohol use altogether.

    How can alcohol kill?

    Despite its popular use, alcohol is one of the most dangerous recreational substances. It can harm the body in many ways, and it is one of the notable substances which pose a genuine threat to the lives of those who frequently consume it.

    What adds to the threat of alcohol is the several ways in which it can potentially cause such damage.

    1. Organ failure

    As it enters the body, alcohol comes into contact with several of the body’s primary organs, including both the heart and liver. Within the bloodstream, it circulates the system while the body processes and filters it.

    Normally, the liver – the body’s primary filtration system – is able to process alcohol without a problem. When the substance is used excessively, however, it begins to falter.

    When alcohol is drunk daily or in high quantities over a short period of time, it begins to accumulate in the body. The liver cannot process it quick enough, and so alcohol remains in high concentrations within the blood.

    This can cause several problems. Firstly, high alcohol concentrations can scar liver tissue, killing off cells and reducing the organ’s ability to work. While the liver is able to regenerate cells, those with an alcohol addiction consume too much for this to take place.

    The constant reduction of liver cells than cause the organ to fail, and this can trigger the failure of other organs, putting an individual’s life at risk.

    High concentrations of alcohol in the blood can also affect the heart. Its presence can increase blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest or stroke as a result.

    2. Alcohol Poisoning

    The body is able to withstand a certain amount of alcohol before it becomes overwhelming. As mentioned above, the primary organs can only cope with so much of the substance before they begin to fail.

    When an individual consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time – otherwise referred to as binge drinking – the alcohol content can quickly rise to toxic levels, subjecting an individual to alcohol poisoning.

    Unlike liver damage, this can occur just from one session of excessive drinking. When an individual becomes poisoned, they can slip into a coma, have difficulty breathing, or suffer a sudden, life-threatening seizure.

    3. Accidents

    Under the influence of alcohol, an individual can behave in very irrational ways. They may become overly confident, take more risks, or lose their social inhibitions.

    In many cases, this is harmless, however, this effect of alcohol can also pose many risks. When drunk, a person is much more likely to do something dangerous, possibly posing a risk to either their own or someone else’s life.

    This might involve having a nasty fall, walking into something, or being in a car accident. Alcohol is also known to increase an individual’s aggression, which can lead to fights and resulting injuries.

    4. Cancers

    As well as damaging internal organs, alcohol can also cause more indirect long-term effects.

    Alcohol is a carcinogen, a material known to increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer, and those who consume excessive quantities of the substance repeatedly increase this risk.

    An addicted individual is, for example, much more likely to develop cancers of the throat, oesophagus, liver, mouth, and stomach, all of which have the potential to kill.

    How common is alcohol-related death?

    In the UK, alcohol-related deaths have been gradually increasing over recent years. In 2019, just under 8,000 deaths were recorded to have been directly caused by alcohol use, the highest rate since records began in 2001 [1].

    There has also been a gradual increase in the amount of alcohol-related hospital admissions over the past decade, accounting for the increase in instances where alcohol consumption has caused a serious threat to life.

    Who is most vulnerable?

    Alcohol can become a deadly substance when it is consumed regularly and in excessive quantities. Those who develop an addiction to it, therefore, are much more likely to suffer from the life-threatening consequences of drinking.

    However, there are some individuals who are more likely to become dependent on the substance in the first place. For example, men are more likely to drink excessive amounts of alcohol – thanks to their greater tolerance – and are therefore more likely to develop alcoholism.

    Young people who drink at an early age are also more vulnerable. If a child or teenager learns to see alcohol as a normal part of life, either by seeing other adults drinking excessively or through peer pressure, then they will be more likely to adopt the same behaviour in later life.

    Furthermore, alcoholism and its dangers are more likely to impact those who come under intense psychological distress. Alcohol is a sedative, and those who frequently seek to calm their minds may develop a dependency on it.

    This group might include those who struggle with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety; those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who worry about securing financial stability; and those who have suffered from great trauma, for example as a result of an accident or military experiences [2].

    Prevention

    While alcohol-related death is so common, it is incredibly preventable. The damage done by the substance can be severe, but in many cases, it can be improved, reducing the potential for death.

    The main way to prevent alcohol-related death is to discontinue alcohol use, but this can be a difficult task in spite of its simplicity. An addicted individual will likely experience extremely uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, and so medical assistance will be required.

    Alcohol is one of the few substances which can kill an individual if withdrawal is not handled properly. With the help of doctors, an individual’s health can be monitored, withdrawal symptoms can be eased with prescription medications, and psychological therapies can be provided.

    With alcohol absent from the system, the risk of alcohol-induced accidents is eliminated, organs are able to heal, and the ingestion of carcinogens is stopped.

    How to get more information

    If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, either consuming it frequently or excessively within short periods of time, then it is important to seek medical help.

    Speak to your GP or an alcohol support charity to discuss the details of your situation and learn about what possible treatment methods are available.

    References

    [1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/alcoholrelateddeathsintheunitedkingdom/registeredin2019

    [2] https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh284/252-257.htm

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