Effects of Alcohol Use and Abuse on the Body

Published On 03-December-2019
By Tim Wood

alcohol effects on the body article cover photo

Many people use alcohol recreationally without ever thinking through the impact it could have on their bodies and the rest of their lives.

Other people take alcohol use a step further, drinking on a regular basis and drinking to excess just as regularly.

Alcohol addiction can ruin families and ruin lives--and it can also change your body forever, often in ways that you don't realize at the time.

Using Alcohol: The Short-Term Effects

As soon as you start drinking, alcohol begins to impact your body.

Immediately, alcohol has a number of effects, including:

  • Impaired social judgment: You may lose your ability to recognize what other people think is acceptable and what they don't, causing you to act in ways that normally, social pressure would prevent you from engaging in. You might push too hard when interacting with members of the opposite sex or tell off-colour jokes that you would never tell in a sober state
  • Impaired motor skills and coordination: You already know that drinking and driving can significantly increase accident risk and raise the severity of accidents. Nevertheless, drinking and driving kill more than 10,000 people every year [1]. Even if you do not get behind the wheel of a car, as you continue to consume alcohol, you may notice severe impacts on your ability to walk, talk clearly, and engage in normal activities. You may stumble, struggle to judge the fullness of a cup as you pour your drinks, or find it difficult to walk up a flight of stairs
  • Loss of judgment: The more you drink, the worse your judgment becomes. When you drink excessively, you might, for example, think that jumping off the roof is a great idea or that setting something on fire will not result in any damage. Unfortunately, this lack of judgment can also significantly impair your ability to interact with people, leading to substantial harm to your relationships
  • Trouble with emotional regulation: When you drink, you may notice that you have trouble controlling your emotions. Your moods may swing quickly out of control, making your behaviour unpredictable. You may also struggle to react normally to perceived slights or other circumstances
  • Physical effects: When you drink, your blood pressure often increases. You may notice changes in your sensory perception, including blurred vision or difficulty hearing. Your core body temperature may rise. In some cases, you may feel nauseous or vomit, both while you are drinking and after the fact, when you deal with the hangover
  • The day after: The day after drinking, many people suffer continued effects from alcohol use. The hangover from overindulging in alcohol may leave you with a headache, dry mouth, and ongoing nausea. Some people note symptoms of dehydration the day after drinking. Others are significantly more irritable as the alcohol wears off and they have to go back to everyday life

Continuing to Use Alcohol: The Long-Term Effects

Using alcohol short-term has an immediate effect on your mind and body that wears off as the alcohol works its way out of your system.

Using alcohol long-term, however, can have ongoing effects that stay with you long-term, including impacts that can continue to make themselves known after you make the decision to stop drinking.

In many cases, however, you can reverse the health-related impacts by changing your alcohol consumption habits.

  • Ongoing high blood pressure: After many years of drinking, your blood pressure might not come back down to normal after drinking. Moderate consumption of alcohol does not usually increase blood pressure long-term; however, chronic over-consumption of alcohol, including frequent binge drinking, can lead to hypertension, coronary artery disease, and other impacts of high blood pressure [2]
  • Increased risk of stroke: Even one drink can raise the risk of stroke. Drinking regularly, studies show, can increase the risk of stroke even more [3]. Cutting back on drinking, on the other hand, can go a long way toward decreasing stroke risk, leading to a longer, healthier life
  • Increased risk of pancreatitis, liver disease, and cancer: Many people who drink long-term have increased health effects as a result of that consumption. The body is not designed to process high quantities of alcohol on a regular basis. As consumption continues, it can make it harder for patients' bodies to return to normal. Some damage to the liver and pancreas may be permanent
  • Increased instance of depression: Alcohol naturally acts as a depressant. While many alcoholics choose to drink to escape their feelings, alcohol-induced depression can create a vicious cycle that is incredibly difficult to break back out of
  • Decreased sexual function: Short-term, excess consumption of alcohol can make sexual function difficult, leading to erectile dysfunction or difficulty achieving orgasm. For chronic over-drinkers, alcohol can have even more severe effects: many alcoholics note decreased sexual function and sensation over time

Alcohol Over-Use: Mental Health Effects

You know that alcohol has a number of immediate effects on your mood and processing ability.

What many people do not recognize, however, is that alcohol also has a substantial impact on your mood even when you are not drinking.

Prolonged alcohol use can lead to changes in your brain chemistry, which can, in turn:

  • Create increased symptoms of anxiety: As your brain chemistry changes, you may grow increasingly anxious. You may notice yourself avoiding activities that once did not bother you or even brought you pleasure. You may find that, overall, you react more anxiously when you get bad news or find yourself waiting for a response from someone else
  • Enhance or create symptoms of depression: When you drink, you may naturally feel "down" or sleepy. Prolonged alcohol use, however, can worsen overall symptoms of depression. You may feel down, discouraged, and unwilling to engage in activities that you once enjoyed. You may lose interest in things that you once cared about. Engaging with your spouse, children, or other family members may become increasingly difficult

Choosing to stop drinking can create a marked improvement in symptoms of anxiety or depression.

You may, however, notice other changes, including hallucinations, if you try to stop drinking abruptly.

Consult with a medical professional if you notice negative side effects or detox effects when you stop drinking.

Your Nervous System on Alcohol

You might not think much about your nerves when you're drinking, but they play an integral role in your daily functions, including balance, pain sensation, and memory.

Over time, as you continue to drink, you may notice increased difficulty walking or with muscle memory even when you aren't drunk. Impaired coordination may worsen with time.

Worse, you may start to lose your memories: not just memories of the times when you were drunk, but memories of other events.

You may struggle with short-term memory issues or find yourself unable to call to mind information that you know you should remember.

You may also develop conditions like:

  • Wernicke's encephalopathy: Symptoms include problems moving the eyes, problems with visual coordination, and problems with overall physical coordination
  • Korsakoff's psychosis: If symptoms of Wernicke's encephalopathy go untreated, it can develop into Korsakoff's psychosis, which results in memory deterioration. People with these symptoms may struggle to remember information or to write new memories

Alcohol's Impact on Your Liver

Your liver bears the bulk of the responsibility for processing alcohol as it moves through your system. Breaking down alcohol creates hazardous chemicals.

When you have only a minor number of those chemicals in your body, they will move out naturally with time.

Chronic drinking, on the other hand, can cause those chemicals to build up in your system, leading to serious damage to your liver.

Alcohol-related liver disease may cause few symptoms in its early days.

As time goes by, however, you will notice increasing symptoms, including:

  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • General feelings of being "unwell"
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Surprising weight loss, especially without "trying" or changes in diet and exercise
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowing skin
  • Yellow color in the whites of the eyes
  • Hair loss
  • Swelling in abdomen and legs
  • Redness on the palms of the hands
  • Increased bleeding when you are injured
  • Bruising more easily
  • Confusion
  • Memory difficulties
  • Smaller testicles in men
  • Irregular periods in women

Choosing to stop drinking in the early stages of developing liver disease can allow your liver to heal over time.

Continuing to drink, on the other hand, can cause more permanent damage. When you progress to full-blown liver disease as a result of alcohol consumption, the damage may be irreversible.

Choosing to stop drinking can, however, reduce the odds of further damage to your liver.

Changes Alcohol Makes to Your Heart and Circulation

Your heart pumps all the blood throughout your body throughout your lifetime, carrying the oxygen and vital nutrients your body needs throughout it.

Unfortunately, when you choose to engage in excessive alcohol consumption, it can create a number of changes in your heart and circulatory system. These may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Damage to the heart muscle, which can make the heart less efficient
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Some studies suggest that drinking moderately can actually improve heart health [4].

Drinking to excess, however, can cause substantial damage to your heart. As your heart pumps less efficiently, your body is less able to get the vital nutrients it needs to function efficiently.

You may notice yourself growing out of breath more easily or struggling to engage in normal activities, much less athletic pursuits.

With heart damage, you may grow tired more easily and struggle to keep up with your family members as they pursue their usual activities.

Alcohol's Increased Contribution to Cancer

Cancer can cause catastrophic changes to your life, including both your finances and your body.

Alcohol consumption, even minor alcohol consumption, can, according to recent studies, increase your risks of several types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth, throat, bowels, and liver as well as breast cancer [5].

The more alcohol you consume, the higher your risk of developing these types of cancer. By reducing alcohol consumption, you can also reduce your risk of these cancers.

Alcohol: How It Hits Your Digestive System

It doesn't take long for the effects of alcohol on your digestive system to become visible. As soon as you start drinking, alcohol may irritate the lining of your stomach.

Some people experience symptoms of reflux or gastritis as soon as they start drinking. Others may experience nausea and vomiting with any consumption of alcohol, even minor consumption.

Over time, that irritation of the stomach and digestive system increases. Some people, with excess alcohol consumption, develop symptoms of chronic pancreatitis.

As alcohol consumption increases, the stomach lining may experience substantial damage, making it more difficult for your body to properly absorb many of the nutrients it needs in order to remain healthy.

Alcohol consumption can also interfere with the body's ability to efficiently transport those nutrients, preventing the various areas of your body from getting what they need even if you otherwise choose to eat a healthy diet.

Alcohol consumption may also decrease the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach, leading to a higher instance of food sensitivities or making it difficult for you to properly eliminate waste [6].

How Alcohol Impacts Fertility

Most people assume that women simply cannot drink while pregnant due to the potential impact on the developing fetus. If you're trying to get pregnant--or plan to get pregnant in the future--you may want to check your drinking. A

lcohol can have a number of damaging impacts on both male and female fertility--and because fertility is such a delicate balance to begin with, doing damage to your fertility now could make it difficult or impossible to conceive a child in the future.

Consider:

  • Drinking can decrease sexual desire: Drinking even moderately can put a damper on your plans for the evening, making it impossible for men to maintain an erection or to reach orgasm. Without sexual activity, neither men nor women can conceive
  • Women may have more trouble conceiving while drinking: Many women struggle to conceive when still drinking regularly. Alcohol consumption can also make fertility treatments less likely to succeed, which means that women should not drink while undergoing fertility treatments [7]
  • Alcohol can decrease sperm count and the quality of sperm: When it comes to conceiving a healthy baby, both quality and quantity are important! When you drink, however, your body may decrease sperm production. Sperm that is produced may be lower-quality. Low quality sperm may not survive the acidic environment inside a woman's body, making it impossible for her to conceive. When you drink, you may also create more damaged sperm, which could result in miscarriage or birth defects

The Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Mind

Over time, abusing alcohol can cause more than just physical impact: it can also have a substantial impact on your mind.

Many people have seen the effect of alcohol on once-brilliant individuals, watching them make increasingly poorer choices.

Mental impacts of alcohol can change your life permanently, including:

The psychological effects of addiction. Addicted individuals will do anything and forego anything for their next fix. Alcohol addiction may cause the individual to focus solely on when they can get drunk again.

They may spend their days planning around the next time they can drink or choose to drink in situations where it would normally be considered inappropriate.

  • Sleep disorders: Chronic alcohol consumption can make it incredibly difficult for people to fall asleep. Alcohol naturally disrupts sleep, making you more likely to wake during the night and less likely to get the deep sleep your body needs in order to heal, dream, and function at peak efficiency the next day. While alcohol can help put people to sleep to begin with, it's usually shallow sleep, which is not as restorative as deep sleep. Over time, alcoholics may show symptoms of sleep deprivation
  • Alcohol-induced psychiatric disorders: Alcohol use can induce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder as well as psychosis. When the person stops drinking, the symptoms of these disorders often resolve, as well. Disordered behavior may also show up during alcohol withdrawal, but will typically resolve once the person has fully detoxified

Many people use alcohol to self-medicate for a variety of existing mental conditions. People with existing mental conditions may struggle more with dependence on alcohol or become addicted more easily.

In some cases, mental disorders may develop as a product of alcohol use; in other cases, the disorders may predate the alcohol use and abuse.

If you're struggling with alcohol use or overuse, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

You can reverse many of the negative effects of alcohol on your body and mind, but the sooner you decrease consumption, the easier you will find it to resolve those symptoms.

Most people consume alcohol in moderation at some point in their lives. When it starts to impact your health and your relationships, however, it's time to find a different solution.

References

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4038773/

[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/does-drinking-alcohol-raise-the-risk-of-stroke

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/facts-about-alcohol-and-heart-health

[5] https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-4/263-270.htm

[6] https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504800/


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