How Can Alcoholism Kill You?


Published On: September 20, 2023

Although society often views alcohol as a way to escape from the stresses of life, it can cause more problems than it solves.

Alcohol can be deadly.

It may not be a pleasant topic to discuss, but understanding how alcoholism can kill you may push more people towards seeking a diagnosis and professional treatment.

What is Alcoholism?

A group of people saying cheers with various drinks

Alcoholism is broadly known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol addiction.

It is a condition that causes someone to continue drinking alcohol even when experiencing physical and mental health conditions directly related to this behaviour. [1]

Someone with an alcohol addiction may want to stop drinking alcohol but are unable to cut it down, despite the desire to recover.

Alcohol addiction is a disease, not a choice. It is an extremely dangerous condition that medical professionals need to treat as quickly as possible.

Can Alcoholism Kill You?

MAN POURING WINE INTO A GLASS

It’s easy to forget just how dangerous alcohol is, as this substance is so commonly consumed all around the world.

But as well as severely reducing your quality of life, an alcohol addiction can kill you.

In 2021 alone, 9,461 people died due to alcohol-related causes in the UK – an increase of 7.4%. [2]

Even someone who has not been drinking alcohol for long can suffer the fatal effects of this substance, so a person with alcohol addiction is at an even greater risk of premature death.

How Can Alcoholism Kill You?

Dummy humans with internal organs displayed on a counter

Now that we’ve established that alcoholism can kill you, it’s important to understand which conditions and risks can arise due to drinking too much alcohol.

1. Liver Disease

Alcohol can severely damage your liver, and this can lead to liver disease.

The liver is responsible for filtering your blood and removing toxins, so it needs to work much harder when you drink a lot of alcohol, particularly when you drink large amounts regularly.

Over time it can become severely scarred, and this is known as cirrhosis which can shorten your life by several years.

2. Withdrawals

Some withdrawal symptoms can be deadly, and if you do not detox under medical supervision, it is possible to die during this process.

You may experience seizures, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, or become unconscious, and this puts you at greater risk of injury or harming yourself.

It’s possible to hit your head during a seizure or take dangerous risks due to hallucinations, and if you are not properly monitored, then these actions can be fatal.

3. Cancer

Did you know that alcohol can cause cancer?

This is because it damages the cells in your body and prevents them from healing properly. It also increases the amount of cancer-causing chemicals absorbed by certain parts of the body as well as causing hormonal and chemical imbalances.

Alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, bowel cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer and liver cancer.

4. Accidents

Alcohol addiction can put you at risk of suffering a serious accident or injury, which could potentially lead to death.

This may include a drunk driving accident, head injury, serious fall or injuries sustained during a violent altercation.

As alcohol weakens your immune system, it can also make it more difficult for your body to recover from these accidents, which can increase the chances of infection and serious illness.

5. Alcohol Poisoning

If you drink too much alcohol in a short space of time, your body may not be able to process it. This can cause alcohol poisoning, which in some cases can be fatal.

Alcohol poisoning can result in unconsciousness and also vomiting. If you vomit while unconscious, there is a high risk that you may choke to death.

It can also cause brain damage, dehydration, seizures and respiratory failure.

6. Heart Disease

Drinking alcohol increases your blood pressure, which can put an extra strain on your heart.

Over time this can cause a heart attack, stroke or even heart failure, all of which can be fatal.

If you have an inherited heart condition, alcohol can be even more dangerous, and it is recommended that you avoid this substance altogether.

The Stages of Alcoholism

OPENING BEER BOTTLE BEHIND STEERING WHEEL

Most of us will try alcohol at some point during our lives.

For many people, it does not progress further than the occasional drink with friends, particularly as an adult who has grown out of the ‘party phase’ that is commonly associated with young people.

But alcohol consumption can quickly spiral out of control, and this can be seen in the three stages of alcoholism.

Stage 1: Social drinking

During this stage, you may be experimenting with alcohol while still generally drinking in moderation.

You will typically consume alcohol with others in social situations rather than alone, such as at a party or after-work drinks with colleagues.

Stage 2: Binge drinking

The binge drinking stage involves frequently exceeding the recommended limit of alcohol. You may be drinking to get drunk rather than simply enjoying the taste and experience.

This stage often still involves other people, but you may find yourself drinking alone to stave off boredom or unpleasant emotions.

Stage 3: Heavy drinking

As a heavy drinker, you will consume large amounts of alcohol regularly. You may have fallen into a pattern of using alcohol to cope with stress or simply feel that you need it to function.

Most people in this stage have developed a dependence on alcohol or an alcohol addiction.

What is End-Stage Alcoholism?

Beer

For someone with end-stage alcoholism, alcohol has completely taken over their life.

Their career, health, relationships, and finances will have all been affected by alcohol in some way, and they will be in the grips of a powerful addiction.

They are likely to experience a range of physical and mental health conditions related to alcohol consumption, which can limit or potentially end their life.

Effects of end-stage alcoholism include:

  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Bloating and fluid retention
  • Itchy skin
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Anaemia
  • Malnutrition
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Someone with end-stage alcoholism needs professional help as soon as possible.

They will require support to manage and heal the alcohol addiction as well as the other physical conditions that have arisen due to this substance.

If left untreated, end-stage alcoholism can result in death.

How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Kill You?

Person looking sad

With binge drinking and alcohol addiction becoming even more common in recent years, you may be wondering just how much alcohol it takes to kill a human being.

The answer may be less than you think.

A blood alcohol level of around 0.60% to 0.80% is generally considered to be a fatal dosage. [3] Your body will not be able to process this much alcohol, and it could lead to your death.

Of course, each person is different. If you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time, you will likely have built up a tolerance and will be able to drink more than someone who rarely consumes alcohol.

How Long Does it Take for Alcoholism to Kill You?

Alcohol addiction

It’s difficult to predict just how long it can take for alcoholism to kill you, as each person and their circumstances are different.

It can depend on your physical and mental health, living environment and support.

One study found that a person with an alcohol addiction is predicted to live for 24-28 years less than someone without an addiction. [4]

Some people pass away at a young age due to complications or a sudden alcohol-related accident. Others can live for many years, although their quality of life will likely be extremely diminished.

There is no way to know for sure just how you will be affected by alcoholism, and it is not something that you want to take a gamble on.

How Do I Know if I’m Drinking Too Much Alcohol?

A mocktail with a slice of orange and straw

The idea of developing an alcohol addiction and potentially dying from it is a scary thought. So how can you tell if you are already drinking too much alcohol?

There are several ways to spot the warning signs in yourself or someone else, allowing you to seek help as early as possible for the best chance of long-term recovery.

You may be drinking too much alcohol if:

  • You find yourself thinking about alcohol extremely frequently
  • Other people have spoken to you about their concerns regarding your drinking
  • You often drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol
  • You find it difficult to have an alcohol-free day
  • Many of your activities and social events revolve around alcohol
  • You crave alcohol when you are not drinking it
  • You have started to use alcohol to cope with stress
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you are not drinking alcohol
  • You often hide your drinking from others
  • You drink at inappropriate times
  • You have been unable to cut down on your alcohol consumption

If you recognise some of these signs in yourself, speak to your doctor or call Rehab 4 Alcoholism on 0800 111 4108 for free and confidential advice.

What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Alcoholism?

pulse trace and silhouette of person with glowing circle around heart

Certain risk factors can make you more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than someone who does not have any of these factors.

Remember, even if you have one or more of the below factors, it does not necessarily mean that you will develop an alcohol addiction.

However, you will need to stay alert and mindful of your potential predisposition.

1. Genetics

Some studies indicate that certain genes can predispose you to addiction, and these genes can be passed down through generations of family members.

2. Trauma

Some people who have experienced trauma turn to alcohol as a way to cope with the distressing memories and negative emotions associated with the event, and over time this can lead to alcohol addiction.

3. Stress

Someone with a lot of stress in their life is more likely to develop an alcohol addiction, particularly if they use alcohol as a way to cope with this stress.

4. Childhood

If it was normal for you to witness high alcohol consumption as a child, you are more likely to adopt these behaviours in your adult life and risk becoming addicted to this substance.

Binge drinking

Drinking lots of alcohol in a short amount of time is known as binge drinking, and over time it can lead to alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction.

5. Low self-esteem

Studies have found that people with low self-esteem are more susceptible to alcohol addiction, potentially because they have little faith in their ability to deal with problems without the help of alcohol.

6. Mental health

If you have a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, you may be at risk of developing an alcohol addiction, as some people use alcohol to cope with the symptoms of these disorders.

How Can I Drink Alcohol Safely?

MAN SAT IN LIVING ROOM WITH HIS DRINKS

If you have an alcohol addiction, it is recommended that you completely abstain from alcohol.

This is because alcohol can cause physical changes in the brain and body that make you more susceptible to addiction, so continuing to drink may only worsen your condition.

However, if you do not have an addiction and simply wish to learn more about drinking alcohol safely, see below for our tips.

How to drink alcohol safely

  • Stick to the recommended alcohol limits every time you drink – this is no more than 14 units of alcohol spread across at least three days [5]
  • Make sure to have at least two or three alcohol-free days each week
  • Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink
  • Avoid drinking games and binge drinking in general
  • Line your stomach with food before you drink
  • Be mindful of your behaviours around alcohol and be honest with yourself about what needs to change
  • Avoid using alcohol to cope with stress, sadness or other emotions
  • Develop hobbies and activities that you enjoy which do not involve alcohol
  • Do not drink if you are taking certain medications, pregnant, breastfeeding, under the age of 18 or have a medical condition that can make drinking alcohol dangerous

References

[1] https://www.apa.org/topics/substance-use-abuse-addiction/alcohol-disorders

[2] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/alcoholspecificdeathsintheuk/2021registrations

[3] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4402015/

[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/

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