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Published on June 10, 2016

Binge and chronic drinking takes a toll on your healthBinge and chronic drinking takes a toll on your health

Most of us know that binge drinking can be hard on the body. The same can be true of chronic alcohol use. But a recent study showed that combining the two can do more damage to the liver than doctors previously thought.

Lead author Shivendra Shukla, Ph.D., a professor of medical pharmacology and physiology at the Missouri University School of Medicine wanted to study the effects of different forms of alcohol use and abuse.

“Shukla’s team studied mice to examine the extent of liver injury caused by chronic alcohol use, repeat binge episodes and a combination of both,” according to a press release issued by the university. “During a four-week period, the team found that mice exposed to chronic alcohol use and repeated binge consumption exhibited the highest levels of liver damage.”

Shukla’s findings were reported in the journal Biomolecules.

“Either chronic alcohol use or acute repeat binge episodes caused moderate liver damage when compared to the control group not exposed to alcohol,” Shukla said. “This outcome came as no surprise. However, in the mice exposed to both chronic use and repeat binge episodes, liver damage increased tremendously. Even more shocking was the extent of fatty deposits in the livers of those exposed to chronic plus binge alcohol. It was approximately 13 times higher than the control group.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about one in six adults binge drinks about once a week.

“Heavy binge drinking by those who habitually consume alcohol is the most common cause of liver damage in chronic alcoholic liver disease,” said Shukla. “We know that this behavior causes large fatty deposits in the liver that ultimately impair the organ’s ability to function properly. However, we wanted to understand the mechanism that causes this damage and the extent of the harm.”

The harm from binge drinking and chronic drinking can go far beyond the liver, according to Margaret Shapiro, BSN, RN, chief nursing officer and director of inpatient services at Gosnold on Cape Cod.

“Alcohol is so toxic to the body,” she said. “It’s pretty much a poison and it can affect every system.

“It starts right in the mouth. Chronic drinkers have a much higher risk of mouth cancer and tongue cancer. They have a much higher risk of ulcers and they end up with a higher incidence of stomach cancer.

“The pancreas gets affected, and people end up with pancreatitis and a lot of them go on to pancreatic cancer. Neurologically they can develop numbness in their legs and hands, which is called neuropathy.”

One of the bodily systems most affected by alcohol is the liver.

“You try to break the alcohol down and then the toxins have to get out of there, too,” said Shapiro. “They can cause some of the cells in the liver to be affected and it becomes what’s called fatty liver or steatosis.

“It’s a risk factor for cirrhosis. People with fatty livers tend to go on to having death of the cells, which ends up being cirrhosis.

Shapiro said that social drinkers are defined as people who can take it or leave it.

“What happens with people who become chronic users is that some of that choice gets taken away from them after a while,” she said.

If someone has a concern about their own alcohol use or that of a family member, Shapiro encourages them to contact Gosnold at 800-444-1544.

“People can get assessed and see what level of help they need. We have support groups and outpatient clinicians, as well as inpatient rehabilitation programs.”

Gosnold also has a prevention division that includes outreach in local schools and a training program for parents called “Guiding Good Choices” that helps parents talk to their children about addictive illnesses.