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Chronic Heavy Drinking | Overview, Health Risks, & Treatment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that heavy drinking is the equivalent of women having 8 or more alcoholic drinks per week and men having 15 or more drinks a week.

This type of alcohol intake can create a number of serious health risks and is considered excessive drinking according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Overview Of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Although there is a difference between heavy drinking and binge drinking, they are both considered excessive drinking. Heavy drinking, however, is not considered short-term use, as it occurs over a long period of time.

Chronic, or constantly recurring, heaving drinking can ultimately lead to alcohol dependence and serious life-threatening concerns such as alcohol poisoning or even blackouts which can cause brain damage, drownings, or motor vehicle crashes.

Effects Of Heavy Drinking

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, and some of the side effects of alcohol include sedation, feelings of drowsiness, and released inhibitions.

Heavy drinking can cause alcohol to metabolize and store in the body, which can increase blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and lead to serious health concerns.

The impairment one experiences from heavy drinking may depend on a number of factors including the number of alcoholic beverages a person drinks, if the person is an adult or adolescent, or if the person is partaking in another form of substance use.

Health Risks Of Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking can lead to a number of health concerns, including a weakened immune system. Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to ulcers or damage to your esophagus and voice box.

In addition to this, heavy drinking can cause a number of other, more serious health risks.

Cardiovascular Problems

Those with a family history of heart disease should avoid drinking alcohol, as alcohol can exacerbate or create cardiovascular health problems when abused. Alcohol misuse can result in high blood pressure and may cause one to have a higher risk of developing heart disease.

Liver Disease

In addition to cardiovascular problems that can arise with those drinking large amounts of alcohol, other health conditions such as alcoholic fatty liver disease can occur.

Heavy drinking may increase the fatty liver (hepatitis steatosis) in your body. Alcoholic fatty liver disease can occur when long-term, or chronic, alcohol abuse has taken place. Alcohol use can also cause scarring on your liver, or cirrhosis.


Those who participate in heavy drinking may have an increased risk of developing pancreatitis due to the buildup of digestive enzymes in the pancreas caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a risk factor for chronic pancreatitis.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Women who are pregnant should avoid alcohol, as it can pass from mother to child. In fact, a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome can occur, a condition in which birth defects can be caused due to drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Those who try to stop drinking abruptly may experience a number of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of these include:

  • cravings for alcohol
  • sweating
  • irritability
  • tremors
  • headaches
  • insomnia

Alcohol Poisoning

It is possible to overdose on alcohol for those who partake in heavy alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol poisoning can cause a number of life-threatening side effects that may include:

  • mental confusion20
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • low body temperature
  • slow heart rate
  • trouble breathing
  • clammy skin
  • loss of consciousness

The CDC states that an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning each day.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

For those struggling to stop drinking, consider finding a treatment center for your alcohol addiction. Alcohol treatment consists of a wide range of options to better assist those who struggle with chronic heavy drinking.


Depending on the severity of your heavy alcohol use, detox may be an important first step in the treatment process. Stopping excessive alcohol use abruptly can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms such as seizures.

To help prevent serious and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, detoxification is recommended. Throughout the withdrawal process, you will be medically supervised by a health professional.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medications such as naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia), acamprosate (Campral), or disulfiram (Antabuse) may be used as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. These medications can help reduce urges to drink and ease cravings for alcohol.

Support Groups

In addition to other treatment options, those who struggle with excessive drinking may find assistance with support groups.

For instance, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step program that has helped countless individuals recover from AUD by supporting and learning from one another.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction or another form of drug abuse, contact Recovering Champions today to learn about our treatment options.

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Recovering Champions Is an accredited drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, that believes addiction treatment should not just address “how to stay sober” but needs to transform the life of the addict and empower him or her to create a more meaningful and positive life. We are dedicated to transforming the despair of addiction into a purposeful life of confidence, self-respect and happiness. We want to give recovering addicts the tools to return to the outside world completely substance-free and successful.

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