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The Physical & Psychological Effects Of Being An Alcoholic

Published on July 19, 2021
Effects Of Being An Alcoholic | Physical & Psychological Effects

Alcohol is a widely used substance in many parts of the world. Its ability to cause relaxation and lower inhibitions are often praised. However, alcohol consumption is also linked to a variety of physical and mental health effects.

Alcohol can be enjoyable to drink, especially in moderation. However, even moderate drinking can put your health at risk, and the risks only increase with excessive alcohol use.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant that slows down activity in your central nervous system. Immediately after drinking alcohol, you have a chance of experiencing well-known effects like:

  • impairment (reduced reaction time, concentration, control of your movements, etc.)
  • flushed skin
  • relaxed mood
  • reduced appetite

Short-Term Risks Of Alcohol

Even in the short term, drinking alcohol can cause health issues. Binge drinking is an especially risky form of short-term drinking, where you have more than 4 or 5 drinks in one sitting.

After drinking alcohol, you may be at a higher risk of:

  • alcohol poisoning
  • blackouts
  • vomiting
  • increased risk of falls, injuries, and drunk driving accidents
  • hangovers

These health issues may cause anything from mild discomfort to severe injury, and even death.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol

If you drink alcohol over a long period of time, it can put your health at risk. Heavy drinking is a dangerous form of chronic alcohol use, where one consistently drinks more than 8 (for women) to 15 (for men) drinks per week.

Certain risk factors, such as genetics, gender, and substance abuse can increase your chances of developing any or all of these long-term health risks.

Long-Term Physical Effects

Health conditions caused by long-term alcohol consumption can include:

  • cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, heart disease)
  • a weakened immune system
  • brain damage
  • pancreatitis (inflammation and swelling of blood vessels in the pancreas)
  • increased risk of developing esophagus, liver, breasts, and colon cancer
  • fetal alcohol syndrome (for pregnant or nursing mothers)

Long-term alcohol abuse is highly linked to liver damage because alcohol is mostly broken down in the liver. Forms of liver damage caused by drinking too much alcohol include fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation), liver cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

Chronic alcohol abuse can also cause physical alcohol dependence, where your body needs alcohol to work properly. Dependency can lead to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which have dangerous side effects like seizures, insomnia, and delirium tremens (DTs).

Long-Term Mental Effects

Alcohol’s addictive properties can make it dangerous to your mental health.

Alcohol addiction happens when a person cannot quit drinking. 

Addiction is a mental health problem, not a physical one, but it is often accompanied by physical symptoms like dependence. Any combination of alcohol addiction and dependence is likely diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol can cause brain damage in the long term, leading to memory loss. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, as their brains are still developing. Alcohol can change how a teenager’s brain works permanently.

Alcohol Treatment Programs

Despite its popularity, alcohol affects many people negatively. This is especially true for people who cannot control the amount of alcohol they drink, even at the cost of their job, their health, and their relationships.

Many people who struggle with the short- and long-term effects of alcohol abuse could benefit from treatment. Alcohol treatment programs can help you stop drinking, improve your mental health, and teach you ways to stay sober long-term.

To find the best alcohol treatment program for yourself or a loved one, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

Effects Of Being An Alcoholic FAQs

What Is Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver caused by excessive drinking. Your liver has enzymes that break down alcohol into useful metabolites, but it can only handle so much. 

Too much alcohol leads to high levels of toxins in the liver. Your liver may respond by creating scar tissue in an attempt to repair itself. An excess of scar tissue (cirrhosis) makes it impossible for the liver to function properly. 

Alcoholic liver disease can also result in infection, inflammation, cancer, and liver failure. The condition may be life-threatening, and the risk of fatality is higher if you keep drinking. 

Learn more about Alcoholic Liver Disease

What Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is a disorder caused by heavy alcohol use and occurs when the ketones in the bloodstream build up due to a lack of insulin. It can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and rapid breathing.

Learn more about Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

What Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy? 

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a kind of heart disease caused by chronic alcohol abuse. It’s a type of dilated cardiomyopathy, which means the left ventricle of your heart becomes so enlarged that it cannot pump blood effectively.

Learn more about Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

What Is Alcoholic Neuropathy? 

Alcoholic neuropathy and polyneuropathy describe a condition in which chronic alcohol misuse causes peripheral nerve damage. 

This damage can lead to a variety of symptoms ranging from prickling, tingling, or burning sensations in the arms or legs to incontinence, bladder control issues, and difficulty speaking or swallowing.

Learn more about Alcoholic Neuropathy

What Is Alcoholic Myopathy?

Alcoholic myopathy is a condition where heavy alcohol use leads to a breakdown in muscles, muscle weakness, and abnormal muscle function. The symptoms and damage can usually be reversed by stopping all alcohol use.

Learn more about Alcoholic Myopathy

Can Alcoholism Change Your Personality?

Yes. Alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, makes it difficult to think of anything besides alcohol. Thus, it can cause personality changes like loss of motivation, social withdrawal, and manipulativeness. 

In addition, even if you don’t have alcohol use disorder, drinking alcohol can cause brain changes that make you feel depressed, anxious, paranoid, aggressive, or not in control of your actions. 

Learn more about How Alcohol Changes Personality & Behavior

What Is Alcoholic Pancreatitis?

Alcoholic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas is inflamed or damaged by excessive alcohol use. It can present as either acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis. 

Alcohol-induced pancreatitis can happen quickly for those who binge drink or consume large quantities of alcohol. Too much alcohol can damage and scar the pancreas, which can then lead to pancreatitis.

Learn more about Alcoholic Pancreatitis

What Is Alcoholic Gastritis?

Alcoholic gastritis is a disorder where heavy drinking causes inflammation and irritation to the lining of the stomach. This disorder can be acute or chronic and may require treatment for both gastritis and alcohol addiction.

Learn more about Alcoholic Gastritis

Can Alcoholism Cause Lung Disease?

Alcoholism can cause lung disease. Heavy alcohol use can damage the lungs, heighten the risk of bacteria in the mouth and lungs, and lead to alcoholic lung disease or a serious lung disorder.

Learn more about Alcoholic Lung Disease

Why Does Your Face Turn Red When You Drink A Lot?

Your face could be turning red for a number of reasons. Alcohol can turn the face red because of an enzyme deficiency, rosacea, or alcohol sensitivity. 

Learn more about Red Face From Drinking Alcohol

Can Alcoholism Cause Swollen Feet?

Yes, heavy alcohol use or alcoholism can cause swollen feet. Because alcohol dehydrates the body, the body reacts to that by storing excess fluid. Although it’s more common for swelling to occur in the stomach, swelling can extend to other areas of the body like the limbs and feet.

To learn more, read Can Alcoholism Cause Swollen Feet?

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Eyes?

Consuming large amounts of alcohol can affect your eyes over time in numerous ways. You may develop blurred vision, tunnel vision, or double vision that can pose immediate threats to your perception.

In addition to this, heavy alcohol use can also cause optic nerve damage that may lead to partial blindness or permanent loss of vision. 

Learn more about How Alcohol Abuse Affects Your Eyes

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Drinking too much alcohol can be bad for your health. Learn the facts
​Harvard School of Public Health - Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol's Effects on the Body

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