We all know what alcohol abuse can do to your liver and kidneys. But what does it do to your heart?

“Over time, it makes the heart muscles weak so it becomes difficult to regulate your blood pressure and heart rate,” said Dr. Jaren R. Trost, MD, MBA, and a practicing rheumatologist. “The heart doesn’t pump as well. Over time, that can cause an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, which can result in blood clots and other consequences.”

The stomach doesn’t fare well over a period of time, either. “Alcohol can cause gastritis which means you could have chest pains presenting like a cardiac event,” he said.

Dr. Trost’s best advice is to call your healthcare provider right away if you experience any symptoms or if you want to drink less alcohol or stop altogether. But the most important thing he wants you to know: asking for help is the first step you must take. After that, your health care provider will do the rest.

“We get to the cause, not just deal with the symptoms,” he said. “What makes you drink? Anxiety and depression? Trauma from the past? Your primary care provider is your resource. You are less likely to crave alcohol if you know how it can make you sick.”

It’s more than just the liver, kidneys, heart and stomach. “Alcohol abuse can make the immune system less effective and lead to serious problems, including its effects on the brain, learning and memory. It can also lead to more risky and violent behavior,” Dr. Trost said. Cognitive behavioral therapy and/or family therapy can help, too.

And of course, there’s the potentially devastating aspect of drunk driving. New Mexico ranks as the fifth highest state in drunk driving fatalities, with 5.25 deaths caused by drunk driving to every 100,000 people.

It’s never too early to teach children about the dangers of drinking alcohol. “The sooner, the better. Studies show that children as young as age 9 can understand the dangers and be influenced by the facts,” he said. According to the CDC, school programs that teach teens not to drive with impaired people are effective here.

Dr. Trost is passionate about health-care literacy. The more you know about your own body, the better your decisions will be when it comes to your health. “DUI’s affect society,” he said. “We’re really trying to get to the heart of this problem. It all starts with the individual who can change.”