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Alcohol May Have Ruined My Heart. How Much Do You Drink?March 4, 2008

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:02pm

Let us start this blog with a fact.  I, Bob Aronson, am an alcoholic.   I was treated for chemical dependency in 1982 and have had no relapses. My drug of choice was Vodka but in lieu of the Russian national drink, anything would do as long as it had alcohol or any other mind-altering substance in it.  I really liked alcohol; it released me from my inhibitions and demons and made me forget.  For example – I do not remember the entire Carter Administration.  At the time, I was the communications director for a Minnesota Governor and, they tell me, I worked with and met President Carter on several occasions.  I honestly don’t remember much about those years. My behavior during that time was deplorable.  At least I think so, but I can’t really remember a lot of it. 

As far as my body is concerned, the worst thing about my drinking was that the drug combined with my chain cigarette smoking (I dumped that addiction in 1991) was probably responsible for developing cardiomyopathy and then needing a heart transplant.  Imagine a 68-year old man with a history of 3 or more packs a day of cigarette smoking, at least a quart a day of Vodka and currently with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) got a heart transplant on August 21, 2007 at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida.  I remember all of that and every day in my prayers, I promise my donor that I will take very good care of his heart.  The best part of the story is that I was only on the transplant wait list for 13 days and my recovery was comfortable thanks to the compassionate and skilled people at Mayo.  That’s my honest disclosure statement. 

I know I am extremely lucky; you don’t have to tell me that.  I, too, wonder how I got a heart when so many people on the list have been waiting for years and most of them are much younger than I am.  I fully understand all the matching criteria that must be completed prior to a transplant.  I am still amazed, though, amazed and thankful.  I figured that if God decided to keep me around for a while it must be because there was something he wanted me to do.  I hope promoting organ donation is what he wanted because that is what I have chosen to do and I am committed to giving it my best effort until I can no longer type or think. 

So what’s the point of this blog?  I’m writing it to warn people, especially the young, how dangerous alcohol consumption can be.  And — yes, this is about organ donation and transplantation.  If you drink too much or use drugs, you are probably going to damage your precious organs.  That means two things.  1) You may not be able to donate your organs and 2) you become more likely to need a transplant. Right now the organ supply is much less than the demand.  One solution to the problem is to make sure we all lead healthier lives.  If we do that we just might have enough organ donors someday (unless the altruistic approach changes and I hope it does).. 

I understand the effects of alcohol.  Drinking can kill you! I know, I was dead a couple of times because of my drinking.   Even if you don’t think you drink much, each beer or drink causes damage to your body. According to a student study at Bryn Mawr College: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f01/web1/chew.html  

“Due to the irritant action of alcohol, high consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, tongues, and esophagus. There is also the risk of liver diseases such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Heavy drinkers are also at risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.” 

And – there’s this from SAMHSA’s (U>S. Dept of Health & human services National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information) web site.  http://www.samhsa.gov/

“Though alcohol affects every organ of the body, it’s most dramatic impact is upon the liver.  The liver cells normally prefer fatty acids as fuel, and package excess fatty acids as triglycerides, which they then route to other tissues of the body.  However, when alcohol is present, the liver cells are forced to first metabolize the alcohol, letting the fatty acids accumulate, sometimes in huge amounts.  Alcohol metabolism permanently changes liver cell structure, which impairs the liver’s ability to metabolize fats.  This explains why heavy drinkers tend to develop fatty livers. The liver is able to metabolize about ½ ounce of ethanol per hour,,,,”

And, the Women’s Heart Foundation has something to say as well: http://www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartDisease/alcohol_and_heart_dise

“Most people don’t think of alcohol as a drug…but it is. Alcohol abuse has destroyed more lives, broken apart more families, caused more diseases and contributed to more auto fatalities than any other drug. It is the major contributing factor in the growing epidemic of domestic violence.”  

So perhaps this missive has motivated you to ask questions of yourself (in the dictionary missive is defined as a letter from an official – well, I am an official – an official drunk.  I am a drunk now and always will be.  As long as I remember that I won’t use alcohol or drugs).

Back to the motivation.  Hazelden Foundation, one of the premier chemical dependency treatment centers in the world, is near the twin cities in Minnesota.  They not only treat addictions but they also do a lot of research.  You’ve probably seen Hazelden material.  Their website http://www.hazelden.org/  has a great deal of very useful information.  Browse it and you will see what I mean.  One item in particular is a short test to help you understand what your drinking habits mean.  The test is confidential and you can remain anonymous. http://alcoholscreening.org/AS/index.aspx?CID=86

The following excerpts are from the website below.  I urge you to go to Dr. Dunlap’s site and read all of it – twice!  By: Michaele P. Dunlap, Psy.D,  Clinical Psychologist.http://www.oregoncounseling.org/ArticlesPapers/Documents/ETOHBIOFx.htm  The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream. The strength of the drink will have a significant effect on absorption rates, with higher concentrations of alcohol resulting in more rapid absorption.  

BODY SYSTEMS AND EFFECTS

The Liver:hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperuricemia (as in arthritis or gout), fatty liver (which may lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis), and hyperlipemia (build-up of fats sent to the bloodstream; which leads to heart problems).

Central Nervous System: When alcohol acts on the CNS, intoxication occurs, affecting emotional and sensory function, judgment, memory and learning ability. Smell and taste are dulled.

The Bloodcapillaries break, create red eyes in the morning, or the red, blotchy skin seen on the heavy drinker’s face. Blood vessels can also break in the stomach and esophagus leading to hemorrhage, even death.

The Gastrointestinal Tract:: In time, the drinker’s overworked pancreas may stop producing insulin and diabetes can result. Conversely, a person with a family history of diabetes may be more vulnerable to problems with alcohol.

The Muscles: One outcome is cardiomyopathy (sluggish heart) which is common in alcoholics. Another outcome, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), or “holiday heart,” is often treated in emergency wards after several days of party drinking. Muscle aches are a common symptom of excessive-drinking “hangovers.

The Endocrine System: This system controls the body’s hormones and includes the pineal, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and the ovaries or testes. Prolonged use of alcohol can cause infertility in both men and women.

Special Concerns of WomenFemale drinkers reach higher blood alcohol levels (BAL’s) faster because of less water and more fat in the body and because of differences in digestive enzymes. Women develop alcohol-related disorders such as brain damage, cirrhosis and cancers at lower levels of drinking than men.

FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME (FAS) and FETAL ALCOHOL EFFECT (FAE):Women who drink during pregnancy risk the development of both mental and physical defects in their children. Effects on the child can include: growth deficiencies; poorly formed bones and organs, heart abnormalities, cleft palate, retarded intellect, delayed motor development, poor coordination, behavior problems, and learning disabilities.”

And so, my blog.  There are a number of comedians who make fun of people with drinking problems, we all laugh and that is just fine.  I sure don’t mind.  But don’t let the laughter mask the problem.  I ruined a good part of my life, did significant damage to my health and to relationships with my family, friends and the people I worked for not to mention those I offended but can’t remember.  The disease of alcoholism is cunning (the big book) and lethal.  I used to say, “I can quit drinking anytime I want to,” and I would, for maybe two weeks at a time.  Then I would say, “See, I did it” and my car would automatically turn into the parking lot of the nearest liquor store.  All I can say is, “Please watch your consumption of alcohol.  I don’t preach abstinence I preach caution.  Explore some of the sites I have noted here and learn more about the subject.  Parents especially need to be aware.”  All of the sites I mentioned can be extremely helpful.  Ok…it’s time for a drink, “Hon, do we have any cold diet coke?”      

PEACE

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