Alcohol consumption affects the body in many different ways and in many different stages. Some of the effects of alcohol on the body can be felt right away or during the process of drinking, while some effects might not be known until years later.
The effects of heavy drinking can be minor and short-lived (bad breath) while others can be quite serious and affect a person’s long-term health (liver disease).
How Alcohol Affects The Body
When you drink alcohol, it travels through the mouth and down the esophagus, where about 20% will be absorbed by the stomach and about 80% will be absorbed by the intestines.
Once the alcohol is digested, it enters your bloodstream where any water in the blood will work to dissolve it.
Any alcohol that remains in the blood will travel throughout the body’s bloodstream and tissues, affecting different areas of the body that it reaches.
The body can process and eliminate alcohol at the rate of roughly one standard drink per hour.
A standard drink consists of:
- 12 oz of beer
- 5 oz of wine
- 1.5 oz of liquor
Ways Alcohol Affects The Body
The following is a list of the different ways that alcohol use can affect different areas and organs of the body.
Effects On The Digestive System
Alcohol can affect the digestive system in a number of negative ways. It can reduce the amount of acid that your stomach produces, allowing harmful bacteria to enter your small intestine that would normally have been destroyed.
Alcohol can also impair movement in both the small and large intestine, causing diarrhea in some people and constipation in others.
People who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will likely find their condition worsened.
Decreases Blood Sugar Levels
Because drinking a lot can affect the liver over time, it will affect the body’s ability to produce glucose and your blood sugar levels will drop.
However, because alcohol contains sugar, this is only after an initial spike in blood sugar every time you drink alcohol.
The sudden rising and falling of blood sugar levels when consuming alcohol is particularly dangerous for people who have diabetes.
Affects The Circulatory System
Alcohol affects how the body pumps blood and can cause serious conditions, like heart failure, and even trigger heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).
Heavy drinking over time can also cause high blood pressure, anemia, heart disease, and blood clots to form, putting you at risk for consequences such as heart attack and stroke.
Disrupts Liver Function
Alcohol is filtered through the liver, and can disrupt it from doing its job when there is too much alcohol in a person’s system.
When there is too much alcohol for the liver to filter properly, it instead gets circulated through the bloodstream, causing intoxication.
The more a person abuses alcohol, the more damage is done to the cells of the liver and the worse the destruction of the liver over time.
Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and eventually even cancer of the liver.
Impairs The Central Nervous System
Alcohol is a depressant that slows the central nervous system down, slowing a person’s responses and causing them to struggle to think clearly.
In the short term, this will cause disorientation and confusion, and in the long term could cause permanent brain damage, dementia, psychosis, and depression or anxiety.
You can experience dangerous symptoms from withdrawal if you have used alcohol heavily and try to stop. These can include psychosis, hallucinations, and grand mal seizures.
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Body
How heavily the immediate effects of alcohol are felt will depend on a lot of factors, such as a person’s size, genetics, gender, and level of experience with drinking.
Many of the effects of drinking excessively can be felt right away, or during the process of drinking alcohol, while the person is at a peak level of intoxication.
Effects of alcohol while drinking include:
- dizziness and blurred or double vision
- slurred speech
- bad breath
- slowed reaction times and reflexes
- poor judgment
- loss of inhibitions
- mood swings
- increase in blood pressure
Some of the worst effects of heavy drinking will not be felt until the next day, when the person is coming down from intoxication or when most of the alcohol is already out of their system.
Effects of alcohol the day after drinking include:
- memory loss
- nausea and vomiting
- weakened immune system
You will commonly hear this state referred to as a “hangover” and it is known to be very unpleasant. Fortunately, these effects will be gone by the end of the day.
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Body
The following are some of the ways that heavy alcohol use can affect a person in the long term, after many months or years of alcohol use.
Weight Gain And Appetite Changes
Over time, alcohol can cause weight gain in a person, partly due to its high calorie count and sugar content. It also is an appetite stimulant and people tend to eat more when they are under the influence of alcohol.
On the other hand, very heavy alcohol use can cause weight loss if it has caused the person to become ill or if they have been drinking to the point of feeling full and not eating as a result.
The Alcohol Shakes
The alcohol shakes, also called alcohol tremors, are usually a sign of withdrawal from alcohol in someone who has drank heavily for a long period of time. This symptom usually manifests most heavily in the hands.
These shakes are caused by problems in the area of the brain that control muscle movement and can also be triggered by excessive alcohol use.
Alcohol Rash And Other Effects On Skin
Alcohol can cause some people to experience red or itchy skin, flushing, and rashes when drinking alcohol. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and have a variety of potential causes.
Rashes can be caused by an alcohol allergy or alcohol intolerance and are also found to be genetic and related to interactions with other drugs or medications.
Libido And Sexual Function Changes
Alcohol initially increases sexual desire by raising testosterone and dopamine, but these effects are only temporary.
Over time, it causes a decrease in these hormones which results in depression, anxiety, and a decrease in sexual desire.
Alcohol can also cause both erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness, as well as make it difficult for both sexes to orgasm. It can also cause a person to simply lose interest in sex as well.
Effects On Bone Density
Alcohol interferes with the function of both the pancreas and the liver, which are both involved in the body’s absorption of calcium and vitamin D. Over time, alcohol use can lead to osteoporosis.
Alcohol use has been shown to negatively affect the bones of women more than men.
Weakened Immune System
Drinking a lot over a long period of time can weaken the immune system and make you more likely to get sick or develop infections and other serious health conditions.
Even drinking excessively on a single occasion can weaken your immune system for up to 24 hours after.
Additional Risks Of Alcohol Addiction
Because alcohol passes through so many parts of the body when consumed, it can result in cancers in many parts of the body.
Types of cancer-related to alcohol addiction include:
- liver cancer
- colon cancer
- breast cancer
- oral cancer
- cancer of the esophagus
- cancer of the windpipe
- cancer of the voice box
Excessive alcohol use also poses an immediate risk in the form of alcohol poisoning, which is an overdose in alcohol and can be fatal.
Someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available when it comes to treating alcohol use disorder and addiction.
Treatment options for alcohol abuse include:
- residential treatment
- outpatient treatment
- 12-step programs
- day treatment
- medical detox
- behavioral therapy
- individual, group, and family therapy
- relapse prevention support
Find A Rehab Center For Alcohol Addiction Today
Are you or a loved one currently struggling with alcohol addiction or any other type of substance abuse? At Bedrock Recovery Center, we would love to help.
Our treatment specialists are always ready to answer any questions you have, and at our rehab center, we offer intensive treatment plans for alcohol addiction and misuse.
It is never too early or too late to get started, so give us a call today.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
- Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School https://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohols-effects-on-the-body
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body