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Many of us return home from work eager to wind down for the evening, and the most popular way of relaxing is with a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage of our choice.
Millions of people in The UK partake in this daily ritual, but with recent health studies and more information available than ever, many are now asking: “what are the effects of drinking alcohol every day?”.
With this often comes the secondary question of “how much alcohol is too much?” in terms of long-term health impacts. While it was previously accepted in the medical community that 1 drink per day was a harmless level, this has been challenged by recent studies.
The official NHS guideline states that we should keep our alcohol consumption below 14 units per week, and spread this intake over at least 3 days to incorporate alcohol-free periods.
However, drinking less than the weekly limit but not leaving yourself any alcohol-free days is also harmful. This is because moderate drinkers can still increase their risk of developing a range of health problems.
As such, the NHS has called drinking less than 14 units per week “low risk” rather than safe, because no drinking level is considered entirely without danger and the risk of negative health impacts.
With this in mind, it’s first important to distinguish the short-term effects of drinking alcohol every day from the longer-term impacts.
As many will already be aware, alcohol has several short-term effects on both the body and brain, many of which are pleasant and part of the desired outcome.
While you’re unlikely to feel any of these effects by drinking the occasional beer, those drinking 2 or more drinks every day will feel some immediate effects: and not all of them are good.
It can take just 30 minutes for someone drinking at a moderate pace to start feeling the short-term effects of alcohol. Initially, these are felt in the brain due to various chemical changes.
Alcohol is a depressant that affects the part of our brain controlling inhibitions. This means after a drink or two, we feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident. However, these chemical alterations can soon lead to more negative feelings to develop: such as anger, depression, or anxiety.
These unwanted feelings are more likely to arise in someone who drinks every day, and can even lead to them drinking more to self-medicate.
Another way that alcohol affects our brains in the short term is by slowing down how we process information. Our compromised reaction times make it more difficult to work out what we’re feeling, and foresee the possible consequences of our actions.
As a result, many people make decisions that they wouldn’t normally consider even after just a couple of their daily drinks. This might include getting behind the wheel while their inhibitions are compromised or starting an argument with a loved one that they later regret.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol will also interfere with our physical functions. Especially among binge drinkers, alcohol will cause muscle weakness and impair motor functions. This makes us more likely to stumble when we walk and heightens the risk of tripping or falling.
Moreover, just one or two drinks per day can affect the quality of our sleep, recent studies have found. While a little alcohol might make us feel sleepy and drift off easier each night, experts have stated that we shouldn’t be fooled by this apparent benefit of alcohol in moderation.
Alcohol suppresses the Central Nervous System (CNS) which affects sleep in many ways: exacerbating sleeping problems and disturbing the sleep cycle. The sedative effects of alcohol may make us fall asleep initially, but after this, it increases the amount of deep sleep while decreasing the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
REM is considered perhaps the most important stage of sleep for both physical and mental restoration. Unfortunately, alcohol has been shown to delay the first REM sleep episode and then reduce the overall amount of REM sleep.
This can have detrimental consequences for cognitive processes like memory consolidation, not to mention making us feel worse the next day.
While some effects of consuming alcohol are felt immediately, others accumulate over time and may have serious mental and physical health risks further down the line.
These problems may be largely symptomless for a while, but they can eventually cause a huge amount of distress for the affected individual and their families.
How much harm daily drinking causes someone’s body and/or mind depends on how much they consume, their body size, age, how long they’ve been drinking, and genetic predispositions. An individual’s nutritional status, genetic cancer risk, and mental health will also play a part.
Nonetheless, statistics show a worrying trend in particular alcohol-related illnesses among the UK population.
Rates of admission to hospitals for alcoholic liver disease in the year 2021 were the highest (45.5 per 100,000 population, a count of 24,544 admissions) they have been since the year ending 2011. They are also significantly higher than in the year 2020.
The Local Alcohol Profiles For England and Wales revealed that in 2020, there were 318,000 hospital admission episodes for alcohol-specific conditions.
The same year saw a worrying 814,945 admissions for alcohol-related diseases: including brain, heart, and liver damage.
Perhaps the most obvious choice to start with is the liver: an important component in how the body deals with alcohol consumption.
Due to its ability to regenerate itself, many people believe that the liver is essentially invincible. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth.
The liver breaks down toxins at a consistent rate: making metabolic enzymes that digest between 90-98% of the alcohol that we consume.
Our liver cells convert this alcohol into the chemical acetaldehyde, which is swiftly turned into acetate and used as a source of energy.
However, if the liver is constantly exposed to alcohol through daily drinking, it’s under increased pressure to process the toxins in addition to other metabolic activities. Being put under this constant pressure can cause the liver to reach its limits of regeneration.
Instead of regenerating, the organ’s tissue will begin to scar, which over time can cause fibrosis. Liver Fibrosis is the first stage of scarring and is a key driver of chronic liver injury. It represents the stepping stone towards liver cirrhosis: a degenerative disease eventually resulting in complete liver failure.
While this is a worst-case scenario, daily drinkers are at risk of developing other conditions that can occur together and worsen the outcome. After drinking daily for many years, the possibility of developing alcoholic hepatitis increases: which is an inflammation of the liver.
This can occur alongside a build-up of fat cells in the liver: a phenomenon that may eventually lead to an alcoholic fatty liver disease called hepatic steatosis. This is more common among heavy drinkers, as excessive alcohol use prevents the liver from breaking down fat cells as well as it would ordinarily.
Another organ that many people associate with the damaging effects of alcohol is the kidneys. While heavy drinking regularly has been found to double the risk of kidney disease, drinking smaller amounts daily can harm how the organ functions.
One of the kidney’s many jobs is to keep the right amount of water in the body at all times: a process made more difficult when we introduce alcoholic beverages.
As a diuretic, alcohol causes the body to lose fluids – either by increasing the amount of urine produced by the kidneys. or making cells in our muscles, fat, and skin retain water.
As a result, our blood has a lower concentration of water and the kidneys must filter a more concentrated solution. While doing this, they are exposed to harmful toxins. This is exacerbated by the way alcohol dehydrates the body: a drying effect that impacts how well the kidneys and other organs can function.
In addition to the direct impacts daily drinking has on the kidneys, there are many indirect effects brought on when alcohol damages other parts of the body. People who drink regularly are likely to have high blood pressure, which is another cause of kidney disease.
Moreover, liver damage caused by long-term drinking will disrupt the kidney’s process of filtering the blood. This is because liver disease impairs the rate of blood flow to the kidneys needed for them to effectively function.
As such, many individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) have both liver disease and kidney dysfunction.
After popular science publications claimed having one glass of wine per day could benefit the heart, many people rushed to include that beverage in their daily routines. However, long-term, exposure to alcohol such as daily drinking can have a worrying impact on the heart and its various mechanisms.
When functioning normally, the heart’s four chambers enlarge and inflate in tandem with one another. This changes when alcohol is introduced, as when we drink, the heart’s chambers dilate unevenly.
Over time, daily drinkers can develop arrhythmia: a condition characterised by an abnormal heartbeat. This will increase someone’s risk of developing heart disease as the electrical signals coordinating the heart’s rhythm continues to be disrupted.
Drinking regularly over sustained periods can also lead to cardiomyopathy: a condition affecting the heart’s muscles. This damage occurs because long-term alcohol use puts strain on the heart’s muscles: causing them to stretch and enlarge.
In turn, this affects the heart’s ability to pump blood as well as it should. In time, this inability to pump the required amount of blood around the body disrupts other bodily functions and can lead to heart failure or cardiovascular disease.
While this is a worst-case scenario, it’s important to note that regular, daily drinking increases the risk of cardiomyopathy and other related conditions.
Another cause for concern when it comes to the impact of daily drinking on cardiac function is the increased presence of Acetaldehyde. This chemical is produced naturally when our bodies break down alcohol but can damage the heart as it accumulates there through regular drinking.
Alcohol can wreak havoc in every organ of the digestive system: a complex group involving the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver and gallbladder. This system works overtime to eliminate alcohol from the body, which is an elaborate process put under strain by regular drinking habits.
The first organ that comes into long-term contact with alcohol is the stomach and is the first to have its processes disrupted. Alcohol disturbs the stomach’s process of breaking down food and storing nutrients by diminishing its acid production.
This can reduce the organ’s ability to destroy bacteria that enter the stomach and prevent them from reaching other parts of the body. As a result, harmful bacteria that would normally be destroyed by stomach acid can enter the mall intestine.
Furthermore, daily alcohol consumption can irritate and even erode the lining of the stomach. Mucous cells in this lining protect the stomach wall from being damaged by acid and digestive enzymes, but just one episode of heavy drinking can damage these cells.
This increases the risk of inflammation and lesions, leaving the stomach vulnerable to the acid it produces. When this occurs, you are more likely to develop gastritis: a condition characterised by the inflammation of the stomach lining. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.
If the stomach is continuously irritated by ongoing alcohol consumption, the risk of developing ulcers also increases. Peptic ulcers develop when a type of bacteria called H.pylori overwhelm healthy gut bacteria and disrupts the gut biome: leading to open lesions in the stomach wall.
Once alcohol is passed through the stomach, it can continue causing problems in other areas of the digestive system: such as the large intestine and the first part of the small bowel.
As alcohol comes into contact with the bowel through the bloodstream, it can increase the risk of someone developing bowel cancer. It can also delay gastric emptying, whereby the muscle movements in the entire bowel are impaired.
While many people are familiar with the physical toll alcohol can take on their health, the mental ramifications are less noted despite the harm it can cause. Just as alcohol affects our other organs, it impacts the brain by disrupting the balance of neurotransmitters: influencing our feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Contributing to the problem is the fact that many people drink alcohol every day to take the edge off pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, this temporary sense of calm is often replaced by worsening symptoms once the alcohol has left the body or its effects are diminished.
Being a depressant means that alcohol interferes with the brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine, aka our “happy hormones”. This means that we can wake up after an alcoholic drink feeling deflated emotionally, or more anxious than usual.
These effects are exacerbated by daily binge drinking or excessive drinking. This type of chronic drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for men, and 4 or more per day for women. Binge drinkers will experience post-alcohol anxiety or depression and may risk developing serious mental health problems in the long term.
Even if you don’t suffer from pre-existing mental health conditions, sustained alcohol use can eventually lead to the development of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and even memory loss. Over time, alcohol affects the nerve-chemical systems which regulate our mood, alongside depleting levels of serotonin.
Harrowingly, this long-term chemical disruption causes many individuals to feel the symptoms of depression: one of the more isolating mental disorders. With the worsening of these symptoms, they are more likely to drink more each day in an attempt to ease mental discomfort: thereby creating a cycle of alcohol dependence.
In addition to increased feelings of depression and anxiety, daily drinking in the long term can cause permanent changes to the brain.
This is referred to as alcohol-related brain damage and often manifests as problems with understanding, remembering, and thinking logically.
Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) is a disorder caused by someone regularly drinking too much alcohol, or binge drinking, over several years. As such, it usually occurs among adults aged between 40-50 who have been drinking every day for many years.
Some individuals diagnosed with ARBD will only have small changes to their thinking and memory, which is referred to as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This happens because, over time, drinking can cause brain cells to die and brain tissue to shrink: meaning there are fewer cells to carry messages to different parts of the brain.
A regular pattern of drinking while not immediately life-threatening can result in serious health issues both mentally and physically. If you’re concerned about the impact your daily drinking habit could be having on your body, or are worried about a loved one’s alcohol intake now is the time to reach out.
Here at Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we’ve gathered a team of non-judgemental experts, many of whom have been through recovery themselves, to help kickstart your alcohol-free life.
Whether it’s helping you find appropriate alcohol rehab in your local area, or simply guiding you in what steps to take next, we’re here to help on every step of your journey.
Our network of over 100 treatment providers spans both the UK and abroad: including alcohol rehabs, outpatient providers, private counsellors and council-funded rehabs.
To access your free phone consultation, simply dial 0800 111 4108 to speak with one of our trained professionals. We’re open 24/7, and all calls are completely confidential.
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 Alcoholics Anonymous https://www.aa.org/
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 Adult Substance Misuse Treatment Statistics Adult substance misuse treatment statistics 2019 to 2020: report – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
 Alcohol And Your Kidneys Alcohol and Your Kidneys | National Kidney Foundation
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 Liver disease profiles, January 2022 update Liver disease profiles, January 2022 update – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
 Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? | Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk)