A High Price to Pay For a Drink: The Long & Short Term Effects of Alcohol On the Body

effects of alcohol on the body

How often do you binge drink alcohol? Have you become addicted to alcoholic substances? Can you still live your life without alcohol?

It’s more common than you’d think. In 2015, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 15.1 million adults suffered alcohol use disorder in the US alone.

You may not know that the effects of alcohol on the body can become severe after a long time of alcohol abuse. Even within a few years, if you’re a heavy binge drinker, your body can fail. It’s important to know what alcohol addiction will do to you.

Below, we have a list of the effects of alcohol abuse on the human body. We also included its psychological effects and the diseases you could gain from it. Read on below for measures you can take to stop alcoholism:

1. Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

From the first sip, alcohol affects the body immediately. When you consume alcohol, your blood absorbs 33% of it through the stomach lining.

When you consume more than you can handle, your blood alcohol level rises. Depending on how fast it rises, its effects also vary. Factors like general health and the presence of other drugs change these effects on a person.

Depending on how much alcohol you consumed, the short-term effects of alcohol differ. On low doses, you can feel its relaxing effect take over you. It reduces the tension in your body but it also lowers inhibitions.

Even on a low dose, you may experience poor concentration and reduced coordination. You get slowed reflexes and reaction times due to slower brain activity. Some sensations and perceptions may feel less clear to you.

In medium doses, alcohol produces slurred speech, altered emotions, and poor vision. You may also feel sleepiness but your sleeping patterns will have disruptions. This is also the time when you keep going to the bathroom to urinate.

Your blood flows to the skin surface more, resulting in red cheeks. At this point, you also have a lower core body temperature.

When you take high doses of alcohol, the following effects take place:

  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrolled urination
  • Uncontrolled defecation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Unconsciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Coma
  • Possible death

These short-term effects depend on the quantity and speed of consumption. Other factors come into play like weight, gender, and body fat percentage. When you drink with a meal, the absorption rate is slower, which results in fewer side effects.

It’s good to stage an intervention early on before a person drinks too much alcohol. From the list, the worst-case scenario is falling into a coma or death. The human body can only take so much alcohol before it gives.

2. Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it diffuses into every biological tissue in the body. It affects every system in the body, which causes health problems throughout the body.

Brain

Alcohol shoots right to the head from the first sip. Heavy drinking for a long time can affect your brain size. Prolonged binge drinking can shrink your brain.

Blackouts are a sign of damaged brain functions. Keep drinking until you black out and you can get the Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). The WKS won’t let you form new memories and you will start to mumble and twitch without voluntary effort.

Liver

The liver is our largest internal organ and the body’s major detoxifier. This is why many heavy drinkers suffer from liver problems.

When you drink too much alcohol in a short period of time, it overwhelms the metabolism process. This leads to fatty liver disease, a chronic condition of the buildup of bad fats in the liver. This leads to obesity, liver failure, and type 2 diabetes.

Long-term effects lead to serious liver complications like hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is when liver cells cannot regenerate because of the damage. If a person continues to drink after cirrhosis occurs, he may get liver failure and liver cancer.

Stomach

Your stomach produces a certain amount of acid but alcohol makes it produce more than usual. Because of the alcohol buildup and acid in your stomach, you start throwing up. This may lead to gastritis and ulcers.

Stomach acid also keeps you from feeling hungry. When you drink for a long time, you will not feel hungry enough or you may feel full right away. This will lead to you not being able to get the nutrients your body needs to recover.

Alcohol creates inflammation in the stomach lining, which can lead to anemia. If you feel stomach pain after drinking alcohol, you may have chronic cholecystitis. This is a condition of the gallbladder.

Pancreas

Even occasional drinking can lead to the inflammation of the pancreas. You can get diabetes or permanent organ damage from arising complications of pancreatitis. For fatal complications, you may need surgery to be able to survive.

Heart

They say that moderate amounts of alcohol can improve the heart. Yet, the heart is very susceptible to the effects of heavy consumption. Heart-related complications can occur from both short-term and long-term drinking.

Long-term effects of alcohol consumption are a heart attack and heart failure. Heart disease is the number one cause of deaths in the US. Even so, the number of American alcohol consumers grows less than 1% every year.

Breasts

For both men and women, alcohol consumption raises the risk of breast cancer. Estrogen levels rise when you consume alcohol. This increased estrogen level gives you a risk factor for developing breast cancer.

Colon

The consumption of alcohol causes adenomas in the colon. This occurs in long-term, excessive alcohol use, or both. These adenomas are tiny benign tumors but they can develop into cancerous polyps in time.

Bones and Muscles

With the loss of appetite, you don’t get the nutrients that build new bones. Your calcium levels get thrown off and you get thinner, more fragile bones. This puts you at risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

Alcohol also limits blood flow to your muscles. The proteins that build up your muscles won’t be able to get to them. Over time, your muscle mass will decrease and so will your strength.

Central Nervous System

Recall the short-term effects of alcohol. A couple of them are the loss of coordination and slurred speech. They are short-term effects on the central nervous system.

In the long term, a person may feel pain, numbness, or odd sensations in his hands or feet. This is because of chronic changes in the CNS pathways from the alcohol. This is neuropathy.

The eyes may also get damaged over time.

Immune System

Alcohol consumption has a drastic effect on your immune system. It stops your body from making enough white blood cells to fight germs and thus lowers your natural defenses. This opens your body to a variety of illnesses and viruses, from common to very serious.

In long-term consumption, heavy drinkers may catch pneumonia or tuberculosis.

3. Effects of Alcohol on your Mental Health

Since alcohol alters your brain chemistry, the chemicals your brain produce come out of balance. One of the effects of alcoholism is mental illness. This includes anxiety, depression, and psychosis.

If you remember, alcohol is a depressant.

Drinking alcohol can worsen the mental illnesses of drinkers who already have them. For those without mental illnesses, alcohol can trigger them instead. For example, heavy drinkers are likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Did you know that alcohol can increase anxiety and stress? Rather than relax your body, in the long run, alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain that we use to deal with stress. So, instead of having a few glasses of wine after a long hard day, look for another means of relaxation.

4. Effects of Alcohol on Your Lifestyle

Other than your health, alcoholism will affect many factors of your life. This includes your personal and social relationships and work. It can even affect your to-be descendants.

Alcohol may end up taking control of your life. Your relationships with close family and friends fall apart due to your addiction. Your mood and attitude towards others may change due to alcohol’s effect on brain functions.

You may not be able to focus on work. When you come in late or with a hangover, you could lose your job. This affects your financial situation.

Alcoholism could leave you broke in the long run. Your body changes from the genes. The genes of binge drinkers change through a process called methylation.

5. Alcohol Poisoning and Other Alcohol-Related Diseases

Alcohol Poisoning

While it may seem cool to younger adults to challenge each other to drinking contests, it’s not safe. Binge drinking is when you consume more than 5 alcoholic drinks in two hours. When you go binge drinking, you are putting yourself up for alcohol poisoning.

Five alcoholic beverages in two hours bring your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08. With a BAC of 0.08 or higher, you cannot operate a motor vehicle by law. If you drink more, you could start showing signs of alcohol poisoning.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Low body temperature or hypothermia
  • Cyanosis or a blueish tint to the skin from oxygen deprivation
  • Unconsciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures

At a BAC of 0.20, the drinker has a high risk of aspiration injury due to suppressed gag reflex and vomiting. At 0.30 BAC, you will find it difficult to rouse someone from consciousness. A BAC of 0.40 will lead to coma and/or death.

Each day, 6 people die on average from alcohol poisoning in the US. Stop someone from drinking further when they start showing signs of alcohol poisoning. Call 911 to give them emergency medical attention to help them survive.

Cancer

The more you drink over time, the higher the chance that you could develop alcohol-associated cancer. There are many types of cancer that may emerge from prolonged alcohol consumption. These are:

  • Liver cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Pharyngeal cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon and rectal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Stomach cancer

As you can see, there are a lot of cancer types you can get from drinking alcohol. Long-term drinkers have a big chance of developing one or more of these cancers. Stay sober to avoid cancer.

Weight Gain

When you drink alcohol in moderation, you don’t gain significant weight or obesity. It’s heavy drinking of alcohol and weight gain that have a connection. Alcohol is high in calories after all.

It can also alter the metabolism and cognitive processes. With an altered metabolism, your processes for macronutrients decrease. With your cognitive processes altered, you make poor nutritional choices.

6. What You Can Do to Avoid These Effects

Quitting your alcohol addiction doesn’t happen in a day. Your body will have to undergo several changes as it undoes the changes it made to adapt to the alcohol in your systems. There is also the issue of alcohol dependency.

After a night of drinking, allow your body 24 hours of recovery time. If you’d gone binge drinking, give your body 48 hours of rest. Should you experience withdrawal within these hours, seek professional help for advice.

It’s not recommended to quit drinking cold turkey. Your body will undergo withdrawal symptoms, some of which may be life-threatening. Proper alcohol withdrawal has a timeline.

The key is to set your goals and follow through with them. It will be a difficult road but it will be worth it in the end. You can also look into the different alcohol treatment options to see which will fit you best.

Always Drink with Moderation

Those are the harmful effects of alcohol on the body, both short-term and long-term.

Remember that it’s okay to drink every now and then. If you know you are the type of person who might develop alcohol dependency, don’t pick up the bottle. Alcohol abuse is not healthy for anybody.

Are you looking to reach out for help to stop your alcohol dependency? Do you know someone you want to help out of alcohol addiction? Feel free to contact us.

If you’re in Stuart, Florida, give our rehab facility a visit. We are open 24/7 and our staff is always ready to accept anyone. Let us help you set you free from your addiction.

Article Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.