Many drink alcohol for the short-term effects it has. The warm buzz may seem fun and harmless at the time, but there are many potential long-term effects of alcohol on the body.
Alcohol takes the lives of more than any other drug, contributing to as many as 88,000 deaths every year in the United States. Abusing alcohol increases the risk of accidents and can have many long-term effects on your physical and mental health, especially if consumed excessively.
How much alcohol can I have until it starts to affect my health?
What are the potential health risks?
Whether someone is a social drinker or an alcoholic, drinking any amount of alcohol may impose potentially unwanted health consequences. Here is all you need to know about the potential long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
You’ve probably heard before that drinking alcohol is hard on your liver. This is because it’s your liver’s job is to break down toxins like alcohol and filter them out of your body. However, if you drink too much too fast your liver won’t be able to keep up with the job.
Over time, heavy drinking can make the liver fatty by allowing thick tissue to build up causing a decrease in blood flow and liver cells to die. Alcoholism can lead to many different liver diseases such as cirrhosis, fibrosis, alcoholic hepatitis, or steatosis (also known as fatty liver disease).
Alcohol is acidic, meaning that it is caustic and burns the stomach lining. If enough acid builds up in the stomach you may experience heartburn, and nausea, and over time can result in ulcers, and chronic inflammation of the stomach (gastritis), esophagus, and gut.
Drinking alcohol can also throw off the speed at which our body processes food. This makes it harder for your intestines to digest important nutrients such as b12 and thiamine, which can cause diarrhea or weight gain.
Alcohol can also cause a buildup of digestive enzymes in the pancreas. This can lead to a condition called pancreatitis, which affects how much insulin your body makes and increases the risk of diabetes.
Research has found that there is a strong relationship between alcoholism and cancer. Alcohol can cause damage to the cells in your mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus, and has been found to enhance cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco. Alcohol consumption has been found to increase the risk of cancers in the liver, breast, intestines, head, neck, esophageal, and colorectal cancer.
The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services even qualifies the consumption of alcohol as a human carcinogen. They found that the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher risk they have of developing alcohol-related cancer.
Based on a study done by the National Cancer Institute done in 2009, approximately 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States were alcohol-related. For more information on alcohol and cancer risk, please visit the National Cancer Institute’s website here.
Brain and Nervous System Problems
The more alcohol you drink the harder it is for you to think, speak, remember, make decisions, and move your body. This is because drinking alcohol affects the brain’s communication pathways. Heavy drinking has also been linked to different mental health issues like depression, anxiety, nerve damage, epilepsy, and dementia.
Alcohol increases the level of fats and cholesterol in the body. It has been found that heavy drinking over time can also make it harder for the body to pump blood to the heart. This increases the risk of blood clots, high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of the heart muscle).
Once you drink alcohol, it passes through the stomach and is absorbed into the bloodstream. Kidneys are responsible for flushing harmful substances out of the blood. If an alcoholic develops high blood pressure or liver disease, it can cause the kidneys to be overworked and often can lead to kidney disease or failure.
This form of arthritis results from the buildup of acid in the joints. Gout is often caused by eating too much food that is high in purines, which are chemicals that can be found in foods such as red meat, shellfish, and – you guessed it – alcohol.
When drinking people are more likely to skip meals, which decreases the level of iron in your body and increases the potential of anemia. This means that the body has a deficiency of iron and doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen through the body. Anemia can cause ulcers, inflammation, and other health problems.
Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, also referred to as a “relaxant” or “downer”. This is why you may become sleepy after a few drinks, causing many to believe that having a “nightcap” helps you sleep. However, it has been found that alcohol lowers the quality of sleep.
Once the sedative effect of alcohol wears off, it lowers the quality of rest your body experiences during sleep. It can make it harder to stay asleep, increase snoring and sleep apnea, and can cause insomnia for those dependent on it to sleep.
Drinking too much alcohol can weaken your immune system. Even after a single occasion of heavy drinking, your body’s ability to fight unwanted infections decreases for up to 24 hours. Meaning that the more often you drink, the easier target to disease your body becomes.
How to Get Help
The long-term effects of alcoholism can have devastating consequences. If you are concerned about how alcohol may be affecting the health of you or someone you love and think treatment may be the answer, Healthy Life Recovery is here to help. Don’t wait until health problems start to surface, contact us today!
“Alcohol and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet.
“Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body.
“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm.
“How Alcohol Affects Your Body.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/ss/slideshow-alcohol-body-effects.
Slivinski, Natalie. “Health Risks of Alcohol: Problems Caused by Chronic Heavy Drinking.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/addiction-heavy-drinking.