Alcohol abuse can have several impacts on one’s health, but some of the most harmful can happen at the microbiological level, where we can’t even see it. Studies have shown that long-term alcohol abuse impacts the blood, including red and white blood cells alike, as well as blood cell production in the bone marrow. When these problems continue for an extended period, they can have a severe negative impact on overall health.
Alcohol Affects Bone Marrow and Red Blood Cell Production
One area of the body that long-term alcohol abuse starts to affect is the bone marrow, where red blood cell precursor cells form. Vacuoles start to develop in these precursor cells, which are responsible for stimulating the development of complete red blood cells.
Often, such vacuoles are a key indicator of alcoholism in blood tests, though the complete extent of these vacuoles on red blood cell development is still unknown. However, the impact of alcohol consumption can lead to two major forms of anemia: sideroblastic and megaloblastic.
Sideroblastic anemia occurs when there are complications in the development of red blood cells related to iron and hemoglobin levels in the cell. When iron doesn’t properly incorporate into hemoglobin, the cell becomes a sideroblast, which cannot form into a proper blood cell, reducing the level of red blood cells in the body.
Alcohol abuse can interfere with hemoglobin formation, leading to this type of anemia, while abstinence from alcohol can reverse the effect.
In a similar process, a lack of folic acid and B vitamins can cause complications when precursor cells try to reproduce – and instead produce non-functional megaloblastic cells. With a reduced number of functional precursor cells, the body’s production of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, is reduce. This leads to symptoms of anemia.
Many who struggle with alcohol abuse also have a hard time maintaining a healthy diet, which can lead to a deficiency in folic acid. Furthermore, alcohol can alter the absorption of folic acid from food, potentially exacerbating an existing deficiency.
Alcohol Leading to Red Blood Cell Disorders
Past the development of blood cells in the bone marrow, alcohol abuse can also cause many other complications in red blood cells. With issues in these cells, the human body can experience complications in providing oxygen where it’s needed.
Macrocytosis is a health complication that involves red blood cells enlargement. Unlike other conditions with enlarged red blood cells, those found in macrocytosis are uniformly round. While macrocytosis does not cause harmful effects on its own, it can be an indicator of other serious health complications aside from alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse can lead to the development of two forms of hemolysis:
- Stomatocyte hemolysis occurs when there are increased levels of misshapen red blood cells, which the spleen subsequently traps and destroys.
- Spur-cell hemolysis also involves misshapen blood cells, which the spleen destroys, too. In all cases, the destroyed cells contribute to anemia.
Alcohol’s Impact on White Blood Cells
Alcohol can also impact white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections and other intruders in the body. Thus, negatively affected white blood cells contribute to the increased likelihood of bacterial and other infections in those struggling with alcohol abuse.
Neutrophils are one type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections. In someone who does not drink large amounts of alcohol, these cells increase in number during severe bacterial infections.
Alcohol abuse influences the development of neutrophils, leading to reduced numbers in the bloodstream. Alcohol also can impact neutrophils’ ability to arrive at the scene of the infection. This makes the task of fighting off the infection difficult.
Monocytes and Macrophages
Like neutrophils, monocytes and macrophages play a major role in defending the body against any incoming infection. Alcohol can also affect the development and function of these types of cells, throwing the monocyte-macrophage system out of balance. With an impaired monocyte-macrophage system, the body is more susceptible to microorganisms before and during infections.
Alcohol Holds Back the Blood-Clotting System
The body’s blood-clotting system is responsible for closing damage to blood vessels. This process prevents excess loss of blood and helps scabs form. When the blood-clotting system doesn’t function to its full capacity, the body remains open to potential infections and serious levels of blood loss. Alcohol can affect several different parts of this system, putting people at risk.
Thrombocytopenia occurs when someone experiences a reduced level of platelets in the bloodstream. When it comes to clotting blood, platelets are the ones that secrete proteins, triggering the rest of the process.
With lower levels of platelets, there can be a reduced blood-clotting effect. Thrombocytopenia is an especially high-risk condition for those who regularly drink large quantities of alcohol. However, abstinence can help reverse the effects.
Aside from reducing the number of platelets in the bloodstream, long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to impaired function of existing platelets. This leads to many of the same difficulties as in thrombocytopenia. Those with thrombocytopathy are at risk of negative reactions to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as painkillers like ibuprofen.
Fibrinolysis Process Gets Impacted
When clotting blood, the body forms fibrin, a protein that forms the mesh that helps catch blood cells and prevents excessive blood flow outside the vascular system. Once the wound has healed, fibrinolysis occurs, breaking down the fibrin mesh and restoring regular blood flow.
While studies show mixed conclusions, ingesting large portions of alcohol may run the risk of hindering the fibrinolysis process. This would put individuals at risk for thrombosis, a condition where clots block blood cells from circulating properly.
When there are problems in the blood-clotting and fibrinolytic systems, there is a high risk for medical consequences. Long-term alcohol abuse can contribute to these complications, thereby increasing the chances of suffering a stroke.
Two potential types of stroke are likely:
- Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a ruptured blood vessel leads to bleeding in the brain.
- Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel.
Alcohol’s Role in the Cardiovascular System
Aside from these specific impact alcohol has on the blood, alcohol abuse can lead to many other changes in the cardiovascular system, such as:
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Tone of heart muscles
- Viscosity of the blood
In addition to increasing the risk of a stroke, these effects on the cardiovascular system can also contribute to numerous other health complications.
Preventing Alcoholic Blood Disorders
These alcoholic blood disorders can have a serious impact on your life and overall health. Fortunately, abstinence from alcohol can help to reverse many of these effects as the body begins to regulate itself. However, for those struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, cutting oneself off from drinking can be a difficult task.
Reflections Recovery Center’s extended care inpatient programs can help clients overcome their alcohol addiction, which will help reduce the risk of alcohol complications and get their lives back on track. With ongoing support from medical professionals and other people facing similar challenges, the active and structured lifestyle of Reflections Recovery Center can help move your life away from alcohol abuse and toward better health.
For more information on how alcohol impacts your health, read about the connection between alcohol and low blood sugar: