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  • Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows brain functioning. Short-term effects of alcohol use include slurred speech, loss of coordination, and lowered inhibitions. 

    Alcohol abuse, including binge drinking and excessive alcohol use, can lead to dependency and alcoholism (alcohol use disorder). Frequent and heavy drinking associated with alcohol abuse and alcoholism increases the risk of disease, cancer, and other long-term effects on your body. 

    Here are ten effects of alcohol on the body:

    1. Alcohol Withdrawal

    Frequent and heavy drinking can cause alcohol dependence. This means you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous but an addiction treatment program can help monitor and treat symptoms. 

    Examples of physical side effects of alcohol withdrawal can include:

    • sweating
    • nausea/vomiting
    • increased heart rate
    • tremors and shaking of the limbs and hands
    • headache
    • seizures

    2. Alcohol Poisoning

    Even a single session of heavy drinking can cause alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency that can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, and hypothermia. Someone with alcohol poisoning may seem confused, have blue-tinged skin, and have slow breath. 

    If you suspect someone of having alcohol poisoning, call for emergency help immediately.

    3. Brain Damage

    Alcohol affects several parts of the body, including the brain, leading to impaired coordination, judgment, and memory loss. This is why some people experience blackouts when they drink heavily. 

    Drinking alcohol over many months or years can cause permanent damage to this area of the brain. This can make it challenging to learn and form new memories. 

    4. Heart Disease

    Heavy alcohol intake can have significant effects on the heart. Immediately after drinking, alcohol causes a temporary increase in blood pressure and heart rate. 

    Long-term alcohol use can cause a weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), high blood pressure, and stroke. 

    5. Liver Disease

    The liver is an important organ that prioritizes metabolizing alcohol when you drink. Alcohol abuse can overwhelm your liver and can cause severe health problems. 

    Initially, chronic alcohol misuse can lead to fatty liver. Over time, heavy drinkers increase their risk of alcohol-induced hepatitis and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver is a severe condition that can lead to liver failure. 

    6. Pancreatitis

    The pancreas aids the body in regulating blood sugar and digestion. Heavy or frequent alcohol use can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances. This can lead to pancreatitis, a potentially fatal condition that causes inflammation and enlarged blood vessels in the pancreas. 

    Read more about Pancreatitis & Heavy Alcohol Use

    7. Cancer

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol consumption is a carcinogen. 

    Heavy drinking can damage your digestive system, including your mouth, throat, esophagus, and intestines. Excessive alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of cancer in these areas of the body. 

    Research has also found an association between excessive drinking and breast cancer. One study found that women who consumed more than three drinks per day were 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who drank less. 

    8. Weakened Immune System

    Heavy drinking can weaken your immune system, which impairs your body’s ability to fight infections. You may experience more frequent colds, flu, and pneumonia compared to people who don’t drink heavily. 

    9. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

    GERD is a chronic digestive disorder that can cause heartburn and acid reflux. Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal system and may be a risk factor for GERD. Alcohol can worsen symptoms in people who already suffer from GERD. 

    Most people are able to maintain and control symptoms with alcohol abstinence and a proper diet. 

    10. Birth Defects

    Alcohol consumption during pregnancy comes with a greater risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome. This condition can cause permanent defects, brain damage, and growth problems. 

    Alcohol addiction is a complex disease and can be difficult to overcome without treatment. If you’re pregnant and struggling with alcoholism, ask a healthcare professional for help. Early diagnosis can reduce the risk of behavioral and learning difficulties. 

    If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, please contact us today to learn about our treatment programs.

    FAQs On How Alcohol Effects The Body

    Can You Be Allergic To Alcohol?

    Yes, you can be allergic to alcohol in rare cases. Alcohol allergies can cause skin rashes, trouble breathing, and shock. It is more common to be allergic to ingredients in alcoholic drinks, such as wheat, gluten, and histamines.

    Learn more about Alcohol Allergies

    Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Problems?

    Alcohol use can cause lots of problems for the kidneys including acute kidney injury, kidney stones, and chronic kidney disease.

    To learn more, read Potential Causes Of Kidney Pain After Drinking Alcohol

    Does Alcohol Consumption Increase The Risk Of Gout?

    Yes, drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing gout. Alcohol contains high levels of uric acid which can lead to gout attacks and cause painful inflammation. To avoid gout, it is recommended to avoid drinking in large quantities, including beer and hard liquor. 

    Learn more about The Relationship Between Alcohol & Gout

    Is There A Connection Between Alcohol & Hair Loss?

    There are a variety of connections between alcohol use and hair loss. Most notably, those who drink excessively or in large quantities may lose crucial nutrients in their body. 

    Due to alcohol-related malnourishment or nutritional deficiencies, your hair growth cycle can be interrupted. You may experience brittle hair or even hair loss.

    Learn more about Alcohol & Hair Loss

    Can Alcohol Cause Restless Leg Syndrome?

    Alcohol does not cause restless leg syndrome (RLS), but it can make symptoms of this disease worse. 

    For instance, excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to a weakened immune system, a loss of nutrients, and bad sleeping habits. These can all exacerbate RLS and make symptoms more frequent and severe.

    Learn more about Alcohol Abuse & Restless Leg Syndrome

    Can Alcohol Cause Osteoporosis?

    While alcohol may not directly cause osteoporosis, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to decreased bone health. 

    Heavy drinking can cause problems with nutrients, hormone deficiencies, and increases your risk of developing fractures. Those diagnosed with osteoporosis should not drink alcohol.

    Learn more about Alcohol & Osteoporosis

    Does Alcohol Affect COPD?

    Although alcohol does not cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), drinking in large quantities can worsen symptoms and cause a number of issues. 

    For instance, alcohol can weaken your immune system, cause cardiovascular issues, and even lead to pneumonia. This is why those diagnosed with COPD should avoid excessive alcohol intake.

    Learn more about Alcohol And COPD

    Can You Still Lose Weight While Drinking Alcohol?

    If you’re eating healthy foods and drinking in moderation, weight loss is still possible. But if you’re taking in too many calories from alcohol while eating enough food to give your body energy, you may end up gaining weight instead.

    Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

    Alcohol can cause dehydration because it increases urination, which leads to a loss of fluids. Drinking water is one way to replace the fluids you lose due to alcohol, while beverages containing electrolytes like sports drinks can also help.

    How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Your Mouth?

    Alcohol abuse is a known risk factor for many negative oral health problems, including dry mouth, cavities, teeth staining, gum infections, sores, and oral cancers.

    Learn more about Alcohol & Oral Health

    Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Fertility Rates?

    Alcohol use, especially in large quantities, can affect fertility rates. Drinking heavily can reduce the chances of conceiving in both women and men.

    Can Alcohol Abuse Lead To Lung Infections?

    Alcohol abuse is linked to an increased risk of lung infections, types of lung disease, and lung injury. Recent studies have pointed to alcohol’s effects on white blood cells, antioxidants, and natural immune responses as possible causes.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use and Your Health
    Mayo Clinic - Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
    National Institute Of Health (NIH) - Mini-Review - Is Alcohol Consumption Associated With Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
    National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol's Effects on the Body
    Office Of Addiction Services And Supports - How Alcohol Affects The Brain

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
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