It’s not just excessive drinking that may lead to health risks. Casual alcohol consumption, even within the recommended limits, can be a cause for concern.
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 14.4 million Americans ages 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year.1 However, only an estimated 1.1 million Americans ages 12 and older with a diagnosable AUD in the past year received substance use treatment in the past year.2
Regardless of whether you consider yourself a social drinker or have a diagnosed AUD, there are both short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences to over-drinking, including alcohol use disorder (alcoholism).
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol on the Body
Although a person may not be abusing alcohol regularly, they can still experience its short-term effects on the mind and body. The liver can metabolize about one standard drink of alcohol per hour.3 However, this can vary depending on a number of factors, including the individual’s age, weight, liver function, and gender.9 Typically, consuming more than one beverage per hour can lead to intoxication, raising an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) with each drink.3
The effects of alcohol can range from mild, such as skin flushing, to more severe symptoms such as passing out or vomiting.
Other short-term effects of alcohol can include: 3,4,13
- Lowered inhibitions, leading to poor social judgment.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Loss of coordination.
- Loss of critical judgements.
- Dulled perception, especially vision.
- Mood swings.
- Reduced core body temperature.
- Raised blood pressure.
- Passing out.
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol on the Body
Drinking too much over time can cause chronic physical and mental health issues. Heavy drinking can cause or contribute to liver damage, cardiovascular disease, andmultiple types of cancer.5,7,13
Long-term effects of excessive drinking may include: 5,11,13,16
- Diminished gray matter and white matter in the brain.
- Memory loss.
- Loss of attention span.
- Trouble learning.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Liver fibrosis.
- Steatosis (i.e., fatty liver disease).
- Throat, mouth, larynx, breast, liver, colorectal, or esophageal cancer.
- High blood pressure.
- Irregular heart beat.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a dangerous practice that can cause physical harm. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) classifies binge drinking as a drinking pattern that leads to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 g/dL and above.6 For adult women, that’s typically around 4 drinks (5 for adult men) within a couple of hours of each other.6
Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body has consumed more alcohol in a short period of time than it can process. The toxic effects of alcohol overwhelm the body and can lead to impairment and some even more serious medical side effects, including death in severe cases.
Signs of alcohol poisoning include:18
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Slowed or irregular breathing.
- Cyanosis, or a blue-tinted skin.
- Pale skin.
- Low body temperature, or hypothermia.
It is extremely important to call 911 if you feel a person is experiencing alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and even death. A person’s BAC can keep rising after they stop drinking and even after they pass out.18
Effects of Alcoholism on the Body
Alcoholism and chronic heavy drinking are associated with many serious health problems.5 Below are some of the ways alcohol may affect the body:
- Liver health risks:One of the possible severe medical consequences of chronic alcohol abuse is liver disease. Over time, with consistent alcohol abuse, the liver may become inflamed and/or scarred. Conditions such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis may develop. A person may also develop liver cancer. 5,7,8
- Digestive system risks: Alcohol can wear down the lining of the stomach and increase the production of stomach acid, which can contribute to ulcers.24 Alcohol may also alter nutrient breakdown, absorption, transportation, storage, and excretion, leading to nutrient deficiencies and/or trouble fully using nutrients. For example, thiamine deficiency is common and can lead to serious neurological issues. Alcohol can also impair blood sugar control.10
- Pancreatic health risks: Alcohol prompts pancreatic production of harmful substances, which can lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that impairs digestion.5
- Brain health risks: Thiamine, or vitamin B1, deficiency associated with chronic heavy drinking can lead to Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome or ‘Wet Brain’. Symptoms may include confusion, impaired coordination, learning problems, and memory difficulties. Liver disease can also harm the brain, resulting in symptoms such as sleep changes, alterations in mood, personality changes, depression, anxiety, impaired concentration, and incoordination. Too much alcohol may also hinder new brain cell growth.16
- Cardiovascular health risks: Drinking alcohol has complicated impacts on cardiovascular health. In 2016, alcohol-related CV diseases caused an estimated 593,000 deaths globally.12 Consuming too much alcohol is linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, trouble pumping blood through the body,blood clots, stroke, cardiomyopathy (sagging, stretched heart muscle),or heart attack.5,13Excessive alcohol use, both directly and through malnutrition, can also lead to anemia.19
- Reproductive health risks:Consuming too much alcohol can lead to reproductive problems, including erectile dysfunction and irregular menstruation.20 Both men and women may have reduced fertility with long-term, heavy drinking.21 Women who drink while pregnant are at increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or having a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).14
- Musculoskeletal health risks: Alcohol abuse can cause a calcium imbalance in the body, which is an important nutrient to maintain healthy bones. Consuming too much alcohol can also cause a disruption to the production of vitamin D, which is needed for calcium absorption. Lack of calcium increases the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures, which can cause serious pain and disability.15
Psychological Effects of Alcohol
When it comes to the brain, alcohol acts as a depressant to the CNS. However, it can have inconsistent effects, exciting users under some conditions and sedating users under other conditions. Excitement, typically at lower doses, may be due to alcohol suppressing the inhibitory parts of the brain. Functions such as breathing, speech, thought, memory, and movement can be impacted by consuming alcohol. Mental effects may include mood changes, decreased inhibitions, relaxation, impaired judgment, slowed reaction times, difficulty remembering, confusion, and loss of consciousness.3 Chronic use of alcohol can lead to changes in the brain, as described in previous sections.
Excessive alcohol use, even if not chronic, can lead to alcohol-induced psychiatric syndromes, such as alcohol-induced depressive disorder, alcohol-induced bipolar disorder, alcohol-induced sleep disorder, alcohol-induced psychotic disorder, and more.17,22 These disorders are temporary and can occur after significant intoxication and/or withdrawal.22
Alcohol use disorder is also linked to several mental illnesses which can develop separately from the disorder and may even predate it, such as major depression, some anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and others.17 These disorders may increase the likelihood of alcohol-related issues, possibly due, in part, to using alcohol as a self-medicating substance.17,23 There also may be common underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood of both substance use disorders and mental illnesses.23
Finding Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorders, or alcoholism, occur on a spectrum, and each person is unique. If you or someone you know is ready to discuss treatment, our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to speak with you today at. The type of treatment that will be most suitable for you will likely be influenced by your alcohol history, other substance use history, previous attempts at treatment, anyco-occurring medical and/or mental health conditions,and your current situation.
For further information on treatment during the pandemic, we’ve put together a guide that answers some of our most frequently asked questions:
As the leader in addiction treatment American Addiction Centers specializes in helping people recover from alcohol addiction. If you are looking for more information about alcohol addiction, find some useful information for those seeking guidance; or you can learn more about insurance coverage and instantly verify insurance with an AAC facility:
More Articles on the Effects of Alcohol
- The Term Beer Goggles
- Kindling from Withdrawal
- Effects On Your Memory
- Sexual Assaults On Campus
- Kidney Disease
- Fatty Liver Disease
- Slurred speech.
- Poor vision.
- Fluctuating emotions.
- Passing out.
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Alcohol induced psychosis.
- Cancer in at least seven sites of the body, including mouth, throat, liver, bowel and breast.
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Liver disease.
- Alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence.
- Mental health problems.
Effects on the digestive system
This can cause bloating, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and even intestinal bleeding. Long-term, heavy, and repeated alcohol use can cause acid reflux and ulcers and increase the risk for several types of cancers, including esophageal, intestinal, and stomach cancer.
The short-term effects of alcohol on the body are nausea, vomiting, dehydration, loss of judgement and self-control, reduced reaction time, poor vision, memory loss, blackout, coma, and death.What is the short term effect? ›
Listen to pronunciation. (... eh-FEKT) A problem that is caused by treatment of a disease but usually goes away after treatment ends.What are 3 long term effects of alcohol on the brain? ›
Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.What are 10 negative effects of alcohol? ›
- high blood pressure.
- liver disease.
- liver cancer.
- mouth cancer.
- head and neck cancer.
- breast cancer.
Long-term alcohol abuse may harm the brain, liver, heart, digestive system, and can damage your baby if pregnant. A medical condition in which body deformation or facial development or mental ability of a fetus is impaired because the mother drank alcohol while pregnant.What organ is most affected by alcohol in the long term? ›
Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including: Steatosis, or fatty liver.What are 5 short term effects that alcohol has on the body or mind? ›
- lowered inhibitions.
- interpersonal conflict.
- falls and accidents.
- altered behaviour – including risky or violent behaviour.
- alcohol poisoning.
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.What are the three main effects of alcohol? ›
brain damage and brain-related conditions such as stroke and dementia. heart issues such as high blood pressure, heart damage and heart attacks. cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.What is the short and long term? ›
Short-term usually involves processes that show results within a year. Companies aim medium-term plans at results that take several years to achieve. Long-term plans include the overall goals of the company set four or five years in the future and usually are based on reaching the medium-term targets.What is a short term and long term? ›
Long-term is generally considered to be 10 years or more, while short-term is generally three years or less.What is the difference between a short term and long term effect? ›
Short-term effects take place soon after an event, but long-term effects build up over time. Evaluating long-term effects is often helpful in understanding the present and anticipating the future.What are 4 short term effects of alcohol on the brain? ›
Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops.Does alcohol have long term effects on memory? ›
Alcohol primarily disrupts the ability to form new long–term memories; it causes less disruption of recall of previously established long–term memories or of the ability to keep new information active in short–term memory for a few seconds or more.What are the 4 long term effects alcohol has on the brain? ›
Cognitive effects of alcohol use may include memory loss, problems with learning, dementia, and severely hindered mental functioning in most severe cases.What are the 7 effects of alcohol? ›
Alcohol is also known to cause:
- Salivary gland damage.
- Gum disease and tooth decay.
- Esophageal ulcers.
- Acid reflux and heartburn.
- Stomach ulcers and gastritis.
- Internal bleeding.
Alcohol affects the part of your brain that controls inhibition, so you may feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident after a drink. But these effects quickly wear off. The chemical changes in your brain can soon lead to more negative feelings, such as anger, depression or anxiety, regardless of your mood.
Long-term, excessive alcohol use has been linked to a higher risk of many cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, esophagus, colon and breast cancers. Even moderate drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.Which two body organs are most likely to be damaged in an alcoholic? ›
- The brain – Alcohol affects the brain because it has a way of interfering with the communication pathways in the brain. ...
- The liver – This organ is responsible for breaking down fats in the body and making healthy proteins it needs to function.
It passes quickly into your bloodstream and travels to every part of your body. Alcohol affects your brain first, then your kidneys, lungs and liver.Which organ is most responsible for the breakdown of alcohol? ›
Alcohol is metabolized in the body mainly by the liver. The brain, pancreas, and stomach also metabolize alcohol. Many heavy drinkers do not develop cancer, and some people who drink only moderately do develop alcohol-related cancers.What are short and long term effects of alcohol on the brain? ›
Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. Long-term heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.What is a short term effect of alcohol on the nervous system? ›
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Unfortunately, drinking too heavily or too rapidly can result in several adverse mental effects, such as confusion, impaired motor coordination, and declined decision-making ability.
Specifically, both acute alcohol exposure and hippocampal damage impair the ability to form new long–term, explicit memories but do not affect short–term memory storage or, in general, the recall of information from long–term storage.What are the long term effects of alcohol on the kidneys? ›
In addition, alcohol can disrupt the hormonal control mechanisms that govern kidney function. By promoting liver disease, chronic drinking has further detrimental effects on the kidneys, including impaired sodium and fluid handling and even acute kidney failure.What are the long term effects of alcohol on the liver? ›
fatty liver (steatosis) inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis) acute alcoholic hepatitis. scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)