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Published August 05, 2012, 11:33 PM

InDepth: Alcoholism’s short- and long-term effects on health

FARGO – Chris Herrick’s father was 43 when he was diagnosed with liver and kidney failure. Curt, an alcoholic, was hospitalized for three months, during which time his family was told on two occasions to prepare for hospice care.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO – Chris Herrick’s father was 43 when he was diagnosed with liver and kidney failure.

Curt, an alcoholic, was hospitalized for three months, during which time his family was told on two occasions to prepare for hospice care.

“He was ready to accept the fact that he was going to die soon, which was tough for me to accept, as we didn’t get along with each other during my teenage years,” says Chris, 32, of Fargo.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he improved enough to be transferred to a nursing home, where he stayed for a year.

“He wasn’t able to walk, hardly could hear, talk or understand anyone because of medicine he had to take,” Chris says.

In May 2006, Curt received a new liver and kidney, but he says he relapsed when a relationship ended.

“I went as far as to tell him I wished he wouldn’t have received his transplant and stressed that someone else deserved it much more than him,” Chris said.

Curt says his need for the transplant may or may not have been caused by his drinking problem, as he also has a rare genetic blood disorder that affects the liver, kidneys, heart and joints.

“So I might have needed a transplant anyway, but about the two years or so prior to getting sick, I was just a pathetic drunk,” he says. “My guess is I was drinking about a liter and a half of alcohol a day.”

The liver and kidney are only two of the vital organs affected by short- term and long-term alcohol abuse.

“To varying degrees, it can affect just about anything,” says Mike Kaspari, director of First Step Recovery in Fargo.

He says alcoholism can cause “primary problems” but more commonly worsens pre-existing conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

“You see a lot of physicians trying to manage a patient’s blood pressure, and they’re kind of failing miserably, and the reason they’re failing miserably is because I’m not telling him that I’m drinking 15 beers a day,” he says.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol shrinks and disturbs brain tissue and can slow the pace of communication between neurotransmitters.

“Basically, alcohol is a poor, slow-acting anesthesia that gradually puts your brain to sleep,” Kaspari says.

Inhibitions are the first to go, then fine motor skills. Emotions become skewed.

“All of those things that are normally kept in check by your higher brain functions aren’t because that part of your brain’s asleep now,” he says.

Over time, drinking can cause significant cognitive impairment, but Kaspari says some cognitive functioning can come back with sobriety.

“Their memory returns, their ability to process returns,” he says.

Chris says his father, now 52 and living in Jamestown, is doing much better. He’s sober, he’s in decent shape, and he follows a proper diet.

“We get along pretty well now, with setbacks here and there, but I have to accept how he is now to be able to keep a relationship with him,” he says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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