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The long-term impact of alcohol dependence

While many of the immediate risks of alcohol abuse and addiction are understood, the long-term implications on morbidity are continually researched and investigated. As untreated alcoholism severely impacts the healthy functioning of the body’s systems, understanding mortality and morbidity risks associated with long-term alcohol dependency can motivate vigorous treatment measures.

How alcoholism impacts morbidity

Recent research from the Department of Psychiatry and at the University of Bonn, Germany, analyzed data gathered from various hospitals across Manchester in the United Kingdom to review the mortality of alcohol-dependent patients admitted for treatment. In this long-term observational study, researchers gathered data over a 12-year period from more than 23,000 hospital patients who were admitted with alcohol dependency. Patients with alcohol dependency were compared to a control group of more than 200,000 randomly selected hospital patients without alcohol dependency.

Through data analysis, the researchers discovered that alcoholics who were treated for health complications in general hospitals within Britain died an average of 7.6 years earlier compared to nonalcoholic patients. The researchers also identified that a total of 27 physical illnesses occur more often in patients with alcohol addiction, including health complications involving the liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. During the study’s 12-year observational period, researchers also discovered that 1 out of 5 patients with alcoholism died from physical complications compared to 1 out of 12 patients in the control group. These findings reflect alcoholism’s severe impact on morbidity and mortality, as observed in the acute phase of treatment for physical illnesses.

Early intervention and treatment

The findings of this study prompted Professor Reinhard Heun from the Royal Derby Hospital in England to note: “Through diligent screening and early treatment of concomitant mental and physical illnesses, it should be possible to significantly increase the life expectancy of alcoholic patients.” Given the higher mortality risk in patients with alcohol dependency, researchers also reflected on the need for more comprehensive treatment at earlier stages. For the alcohol-dependent individual who is admitted for treatment in an inpatient setting, acute symptoms are more likely to be addressed, as extensive physical illnesses might not be as apparent.

The findings from this study, however, do reveal the increase in morbidity and mortality risk for individuals who are alcohol dependent or struggling with alcoholism. While an individual might present for treatment at an acute level of care, more intensive treatment is needed to address the long-term physical complications associated with alcoholism.

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