The Effect of Alcohol on Lungs, Brains and Babies


While it might not occur to you that the lungs suffer stress from drinking alcohol, they do. Evidence has emerged that shows that alcohol can create changes in even a young person’s lungs that damage his health, long before other organ damage like hepatitis shows up. Recent studies show that chronic alcohol consumption results in a three- to four-fold increase in acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition that has a 40% to 50% death rate.

If a person is unlucky enough to suffer a traffic accident or fall after drinking, the likelihood of damage to his lungs is much higher than usual.

A person who is unconscious from an overdose of alcohol may vomit and then inhale the vomited material into the lungs. The aspirated material often causes pneumonia. For a chronic drinker, pneumonia is more often a deadly disease. His (or her) lungs are less able to fight an infection like pneumonia, therefore the mortality rate is higher among alcoholics. Mortality can occur within 24 hours of admission to a hospital.

Alcohol abuse and the brain


While anyone who drinks knows that alcohol has an immediate effect on one’s mood and emotions, they may not realize the lasting effects that the drug has on one’s mental capability. The damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the brain and the mind are extensive and many are lasting.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about half of the 20 million alcoholics in the US suffer from impairments in their ability to learn, think, understand and solve problems. At the most severe end of the scale is an alcohol-induced amnesia and dementia that requires full-time care. On the less severe end of the scale, alcohol-induced damage can take these forms:

  • Premature aging
  • Brain atrophy and shrinkage accompanied by memory and cognitive losses
  • Lack of response to environmental or emotional stimuli
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty solving problems or planning
  • Ataxia - difficulty walking and keeping one’s balance
  • Numbness or pins and needles in the extremities

Emotional or behavior damage from alcohol-related brain damage include:

  • Aggression
  • Moodiness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor emotional control

Damage is particularly severe for young people whose brains have not yet finished developing (25 and under).

When a person suffers from alcohol-related liver disease, that condition can cause a potentially fatal brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy. This condition changes a person’s personality, can cause anxiety, depression, flapping or shaking of hands, and even a coma which can be fatal.

When brain damage is not too far advanced, stopping drinking and living a healthier lifestyle may reverse some or many of the problems.

ultrasound image of unborn child


Babies absorb alcohol that is drunk by the mother but they are unable to process it in their livers. They will have the same blood alcohol concentration as the mother.

Alcohol is so well known for causing birth defects that the condition of babies deformed by the drug has its own name: FAS or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies born with FAS are markedly smaller than other babies, have abnormal facial features and their brains may be smaller. When older, they often have behavior and learning problems. Their motor skills are impaired - they may lack muscle tone and have poor coordination. Heart defects are also likely. The condition can be mild or severe.

Pregnant women who drink also have more miscarriages and stillbirths than normal and are at higher risk for premature birth.

If you care for someone who is drinking heavily, you can now see that the problems go far deeper than just their drunkenness or bad behavior while drunk. There is real, physical harm being suffered that gets worse every day more alcohol is poured into the system.

Unfortunately, an alcoholic typically refuses to see his (or her) own problem and rejects offers of help. You now have the motivation to push past this refusal and get your loved one into rehab to end the heavy drinking.

If you are a parent of a young person who is drinking heavily, even occasionally, you are now armed with plenty of information to provide an education that can help bring this substance abuse to an end.

If you need more information on drug or alcohol abuse or help with alcohol rehabilitation, contact Narconon International.


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