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Alcohol’s effect on thyroid functions and its connection to other conditions

Alcohol suppresses the thyroid functions by blunting thyrotropin-releasing hormone response. This causes a decrease of peripheral thyroid hormones during chronic alcohol consumption, as well as during withdrawal of alcohol. Studies show that the hypothalamo-pituitary axis is linked with the development and continuation of dependence of all chemical substances. (Koob, LeMoal 2001)

Alcohol also depletes zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and b-complex levels within the human body. Its ability to stimulate and energize the brain and body results in an addiction to the substance for many people. A person who is a heavy drinker is also low in necessary levels of nutrients and hormones due to the effects of alcohol on the pituitary gland.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet have studied how alcohol ingestion decreases the blood glucose concentration to dangerously low levels. Furthermore, many alcoholics have health issues such as cirrhosis of the liver, or malnourishment, which can also result in the body being unable to produce gluconeogenic responses to hypoglycemia. (Sjoholm 2008)

An alcoholic can go a long time without eating or resting and relies on alcohol as the only source of sustenance. The glucose and sugar in the alcohol is essentially what is being craved due to the depleted nutrients and insufficient hormone levels that would usually sustain the alcoholic with proper amounts of energy.

A number of different medical professionals have studied the link between hypoglycemia and alcoholism. Alcohol interferes with hepatic gluconeogenesis and thus induces hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, otherwise known as adrenal fatigue, is a condition where blood sugar levels are low and often occurs when people are suffering from hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. According to researchers and medical doctors, hypoglycemia is a condition that is very common among substance abusers, most notably among alcoholics. (Wilson 2014) This condition is often characterized by the presence of nervousness, irritability, drowsiness, constant worry or anxiety and other psychological symptoms. These other symptoms can include:

  • Confusion
  • Lack of concentration
  • Incoordination
  • Nervous breakdowns
  • Suicidal intent

Thyroid deficiencies

Studies suggest that there is a link between substance abuse and emotional disturbances resulting from thyroid deficiencies. Thyroid deficiencies such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism both result in similar symptoms such as sleep disturbances and anxiety. These symptoms can also cause depression. According to the American Thyroid Association, 20 million Americans suffer from a thyroid illness. Studies suggest that women are more likely than men to have a thyroid issue. One out of eight women in the United States will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. (ATA 2015) Thyroid deficiencies can lead to various health difficulties such as hypoglycemia, cancer or emotional disturbances such as depression. (NIMH 2015)

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. It can accelerate the body’s metabolism, cause sudden weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, nervousness and irritability. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the metabolic rate at which the body burns through food for energy. Hyperthyroidism is characterized by the presence of issues such as anxiety, irritability, fatigue, increased heart rate, depression, muscle weakness etc.

Contrastingly, clinical hypothyroidism is identified by abnormally high levels of TSH and abnormally low levels of thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism occurs when a thyroid is underactive. When a person has hypothyroidism, the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue and the thyroid becomes enlarged. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include difficulty concentrating, increased sleep and fatigue, depression, a reduced sex drive, high blood pressure, lowered heart rate and intellectual deterioration.

If you would like more information on how to find treatment for alcohol abuse or drug addiction, you can call the Recovery Hotline at 855-441-4405 to speak to a member of our team and start the journey to recovery today.

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