Effects of alcohol on our body

The effects of being an alcoholic on our body


Effects of Alcohol on the body
Short Term Effects
Long Term Effects
Women and Alcohol
Sensible Drinking
Stop Drinking



Alcoholism; Effects of Alcohol on the body; Short Term Effects of Alcohol; Long Term Effects of Alcohol; Women and Alcohol; Sensible Drinking; Stop Drinking; Effect on judgement; Nausea ; vomiting  


The effects of being an alcoholic on our body


Alcohol in drinks such as beer, wine and spirits affects the human body and its organs in different ways. A wide range of health problems are associated with the intake of alcohol, and most of them can be extremely harmful, especially if alcohol is taken in excessive amounts. This post discusses some of the major health concerns associated with alcohol consumption and the effects it has on the human body.


Alcohol is a depressant drug and slows down the activity of the central nervous system. Alcohol directly affects the brain and its action on the central nervous system affects concentration and coordination.

Alcohol in drinks, such as beer, wine and spirits can be used as a source of energy (29KJ per g) or converted to fat. However, it is not a desirable food source because it lacks other nutrients and has adverse effects on the body.

Effects of Alcohol on the body; Watch:

The effects of alcohol vary from person to person just like any other drug. Some of these factors include age, sex, weight, and general health of the person. The amount of alcohol consumed and whether alcohol was consumed with any other drugs are also other factors. It also depends whether the person is used to drinking or not.

Short Term Effects of alcohol

The effects of alcohol consumption may be short term, or long term, depending on how regularly you drink and the amount of alcohol you take. Since alcohol is a depressant, a few drinks cause people to become relaxed and lower their inhibition. Some of the immediate and short-term effects of alcohol intake are listed below:

(A) Feeling of relaxation – Small amounts of alcohol help to relax the body and make you feel less anxious. They give a feeling of well-being, followed by reduced concentration and slower reflexes.

(B) Effect on judgement – Increasing amounts of alcohol increase confidence levels, and suppress the part of the brain which controls judgement, resulting in reduced muscle coordination and fewer inhibitions. Reduced inhibitions help people to overcome shyness and nervous tension.

Impaired judgement is followed by slurred speech and intense moods, like sadness or happiness. Lack of judgement results in a fall-off in performance of any activity requiring skill and concentration. It is due to the misleading sense of confidence which makes the drunken driver usually think that he is driving extremely well. In 1974, 35 percent of drivers killed in accidents had been drinking alcohol. [1]

(C) Vaso-dilation - Alcohol causes vaso-dilation of the skin. The blood vessels in the skin dilate and allow more blood to flow near the surface. This makes you feel warm but in fact leads to a more rapid loss of heat from the body.

(D) Lack of physical coordination – Continued intake of alcohol causes confusion, blurred vision and increased reaction time. It also causes poor muscle control and lack of balance.

(E) Nausea and vomiting – Very high levels of alcohol in the body cause a feeling of nausea which leads to vomiting.

(F) Unconsciousness, possible coma and even death – Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at one time is known as ‘binge drinking’. A concentration of 500 mg of alcohol in 100 cm3 of blood results in unconsciousness and can lead to coma. More than this will cause death because it stops the breathing centre in the brain, known as asphyxiation or suffocation.

Alcohol taken in moderation seems to have little harmful effect, except in pregnant women, but taken in excess can lead to irrational and anti-social behaviour. Excessive use of alcohol for prolonged periods leads to addiction, commonly known as alcoholism.


Some people build up a tolerance to alcohol and this may lead to both emotional and physical dependence, also called alcoholism. Alcoholism is characterized by extremely strong craving, loss of control along with withdrawal symptoms. Excessive drinking over time causes harmful effects on the human body, most of them being irreversible.

Long Term Effects of alcohol

Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications and can cause permanent physical damage to the body organs, which increases the risk of getting diseases. The long-term effects of alcohol intake are given below:

Cirrhosis of the Liver and Hepatitis

Cirrhosis of the Liver and Hepatitis

Alcoholic liver disease is caused after years of excessive drinking. Increased consumption of alcohol over a period of several years increases the possibility of developing liver disease. Both cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis can be life threatening as they directly affect the functioning of the liver.

Excessive intake of alcohol provides empty calories to the body, which causes a fall in appetite. This leads to malnutrition, as the body does not receive the essential vitamins and minerals required for proper functioning. Malnutrition and high levels of ethanol both contribute to alcoholic liver disease. They cause the liver to develop inflammation, which leads to a fatty liver, and finally cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease, and causes irreversible damage to the liver tissues.

The symptoms of alcoholic liver disease develop at an advanced stage, when most of the damage has been done to the liver. The most obvious symptoms of chronic liver disease include the following:

·                     Nausea and vomiting

·                     Loss of appetite

·                     Jaundice and paleness

·                     Pain and tenderness in the abdomen region

·                     Fever

·                     Fluid retention in the body and abdomen

·                     Dry Mouth

·                     Excessive Thirst

·                     Fatigue

In the final stages of chronic liver disease, the following extreme symptoms are visible:

·                     Blood vomiting

·                     Melena, which is dark black and bloody bowel movements

·                     Lack of concentration

·                     Extremely dark or light skin colour

·                     Increased heart rate

·                     Mood Fluctuations

·                     Hallucinations and Confusion

Liver cirrhosis is one of the leading causes of death among alcoholics.


Alcohol intake affects the gastrointestinal tracts, which includes the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, as well as the pancreas. Alcohol increases the level of acid in the stomach which causes inflammation of the stomach lining, as well as of the intestinal lining, leading to gastritis, or ulcer of the stomach and intestines.


Pancreas is also affected by the intake of alcohol. Increased amounts of alcohol cause a rise in the blood sugar level. The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone secreted to control the blood sugar levels from rising drastically. Excessive alcohol consumption causes a rise in the amount of sugar in the blood, which causes the pancreas to produce and secrete large amounts of insulin to the blood stream. Insulin causes a drop in the blood sugar level which causes hypoglycaemia, commonly known as low blood sugar.

Long term effects of alcohol cause hypoglycaemia and chronic low blood sugar, and according to a study, 70% - 90% of alcoholics suffer from low blood sugar level and hypoglycaemia to some extent. Hypoglycemia causes dizziness, headaches, lack of concentration, depression, anxiety, tremors and loss of coordination, cold sweats, light-headedness, heart palpitations and upset stomach.

Excessive intake of alcohol causes the pancreas to become over worked and with time, they may stop producing insulin and lead to diabetes. Alcoholics with a family history of diabetes are more prone to developing diabetes from alcohol consumption.

Effects on the Heart of alcohol

Effects on the Heart of alcohol

Alcohol intake can have different effects on the heart. In some cases, moderate intake of alcohol can provide protection against heart disease. Some researchers point to the puzzling fact that in France, the incidence of heart disease is much lower than in the rest of Europe, even though the French eat a high-cholesterol diet. Their habit of drinking wine with meals is cited by some researchers as the protective factor. [2]

Alcohol is said to increase the levels of protective HDLs (high-density lipoproteins) in the blood, which actively remove cholesterol from the body. The less cholesterol there is in the blood, the less chance there is of the arteries clogging up with fatty deposits and bringing on a heart attack.

However, excessive intake of alcohol can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease.

High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Several studies show that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can raise the blood pressure levels. High Blood Pressure can damage the heart, a condition known as cardiomyopathy, and can lead to heart failure or stroke.

People who already have a history of heart disease and hypertension are even more prone to heart related problems with alcohol intake. People with a history of heart failure, stroke, and irregular heart rhythm should avoid alcohol intake as it can lead to serious health concerns.

Cancers of the mouth, throat and body organs

Long term intake of alcohol is linked to a higher risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, colon and also the liver. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of developing breast cancer in women. Out of these, the strongest link between alcohol and cancer involves the upper digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, pharynx and larynx. Links between liver, breast and colon cancer are less consistent.

Prolonged intake of alcohol is said to induce cancer-causing agents known as carcinogens. This causes the cancer cells to reproduce and develop around the tissue boundaries of the infected organ.

Brain Damage and Neurological Problems

Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, and long term intake of alcohol directly affects the nervous system, including the spinal cord, and major parts of the brain including cerebellum and cerebral cortex. Brain damage is even more common in young alcoholics, as compared to excessive old drinkers. Long term consumption of alcohol is found to impair activity in the brain receptors which are responsible for memory and learning. This leads to memory loss in alcoholics over time.

Chronic drinking can cause severe neurological problems which include the following:

·                     Reduction in the over all brain size

·                     Damage to the frontal lobes of the brain, including the cerebellum and cerebral cortex

·                     Memory Loss

·                     Widespread disease of the brain

Some of the effects on the brain are caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the body due to alcoholism. These deficiencies are discussed below.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk of suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is mainly due to the fact that the digestive system is unable to absorb these minerals and vitamins.

Alcoholism hinders the absorption of Vitamin B1 or Thiamine which leads to the development of a syndrome known as "Wernicke's Encephalopathy". This causes lack of coordination, confusion and impaired memory. Lack of Thiamine also leads to "Korsakoff's Syndrome", which is characterized by disorientation, amnesia and apathy.

Excessive alcohol intake also leads to calcium deficiency in the body, leading to weak and brittle bones. Due to this reason, alcoholics tend to suffer from osteoporosis, especially women.

Psychological Effects

Since alcohol acts as a depressant drug, the long term effects of alcoholism can lead to increased anxiety and depression. These problems lead to other psychological problems like problems with sleeping, mood-swings, violence and in some cases, suicide and murder.

Alcoholism can also lead to adverse social effects such as domestic abuse and divorce.


Excessive intake of alcohol can lead to obesity and an increase in the Body Mass Index (BMI). Weight related problems due to alcohol intake depend on the quantity of alcohol taken, and the frequency by which it is consumed.

Alcohol provides significant amount of calories which is why long-term and frequent drinkers gain weight over time. Continued intake of alcohol leads to significant weight gain and obesity. Moreover, the physiologic effects of alcohol intake fail to trigger the feeling of fullness when eating, which results in over eating, again contributing to obesity and weight gain.

Sexual Problems caused by alcohol

Alcohol intake has both short and long term effects on sexual activity. These short term effects are common for both men and women. Small quantities of alcohol intake have a dis-inhibiting effect which can make you feel comfortable and ready to initiate sex. Short term effect of alcohol intake also leads to an increase in the confidence level, which facilitates sexual arousal and activity.

Increasing the amount of alcohol intake leads to risky sexual behaviour and makes sex difficult for the drunk. Continued rise of alcohol in the blood causes a reduction in sexual arousal. Men have difficulty getting erections and both men and women face problems in reaching an orgasm.

Excessive and prolonged alcohol intake negatively affects both men and women sexually. In men, alcohol abuse can cause ED (Erectile Dysfunction), which is the inability to maintain an erection for sexual activity. In women, alcohol intake can interrupt menstruation, which can lead to infertility. Both men and women experience loss of sexual desire, and difficulty in experiencing orgasm as a long term effect of alcohol intake.

Muscle Disease

Heavy drinking damages the red muscle fibres which help in endurance. It also affects the white fibres of the muscles which help in sprinting and jumping.

Skin Problems

Alcohol affects the body in several different ways, and some of them combine together and give rise to certain skin problems. High levels of alcohol in the blood destroy the body supply of Vitamin A. This lowers the resistance of the skin against bacteria and other infections and leads to the build up of harmful radicals on the skin. Lack of Vitamin A stops the production of collagen and new skin cells are not produced to replace the dead ones. The skin appears to become wrinkled and the bacteria and infections cause several skin problems.

There may be several more long term effects of alcoholism on the body, aside from the ones listed above. However, the most important ones have already been discussed. The diagram below (  1) explains the different long-term effects associated with alcohol consumption on the human body.

Women and Alcohol

Alcoholic women, in general, are at a greater risk from alcoholism as compared to men. Women are physically smaller than men and their bodies contain more fat, in which alcohol will not dissolve. Also, women have less water in their bodies than men, therefore their alcohol intakes do not become as dilute, when compared with men. If a woman drinks the same amount of alcohol as a man, a higher concentration will appear in her blood than in that of a man of the same weight. This makes women more prone to liver disease and other problems associated with alcohol intake. Alcoholic women are at a greater risk to develop the following serious illnesses:

·                     Breast Cancer

·                     Ulcers

·                     Liver Disease, including alcoholic cirrhosis and hepatitis

·                     Hypertension

·                     Heart Disease

·                     Menstrual Disorders

·                     Reproductive Problems and Infertility

·                     Osteoporosis

·                     Pancreatitis

·                     Memory Loss

·                     Anemia

·                     Malnutrition

Alcoholism is not only harmful for women, but can be extremely harmful for developing babies in pregnant women.

Drinking during Pregnancy

There is evidence to show that pregnant women who take as little as one alcoholic drink a day have a greater risk of spontaneous abortion and are more likely to produce babies suffering from FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome).

There is also evidence that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a higher rate of miscarriage and in many cases, may damage the developing brain of the foetus.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol in the blood is carried to the baby’s bloodstream and can cause foetal alcohol syndrome. This was first identified in the mid 1970s by researchers at the University of Washington, who studied birth defects and growth abnormalities among babies of women who drank heavily.

FAS birth effects are irreversible and can lead to the baby being born with several defects. These conditions include:

·                     Below average birth weight

·                     Small Head

·                     Undeveloped Pinna, or outer ear

·                     Short Nose

·                     Hare Lip

·                     Thin Lips

·                     Missing groove above lip

·                     Cleft Palate

·                     Flattened Face

·                     Pointed, small chin

·                     Small eye openings

·                     Heart Defects

·                     Deformed Limbs

·                     Mental Retardation

Such babies are prone to disease and also tend to suffer growth retardation and poor muscle function.

It is claimed that as little as one drink a day during pregnancy can cause low birth weight in babies. Doctors advice women not to drink while they are trying to conceive and also during pregnancy.

Moderation of alcohol


The operative term is ‘moderation’. Experts emphasise that the window of opportunity for deriving positive effects from alcohol is quite narrow – up to four dinks a day for men and no more than two for women. A ‘drink’ here means approximately 120 ml of wine. More than that and the bad effects start to outweigh the good ones. It is always good to follow some tips when drinking alcohol.

Sensible Drinking of alcohol

Drinking alcohol may help you relax, but too much can affect your nervous system. These tips can help you remain in control when drinking:


·                     Sip your drinks slowly and develop the habit of putting your glass down between sips.

·                     Drink water and wine alternately.

·                     Know your limit and stick to it.

·                     Give yourself two to three alcohol-free days per week.


·                     Become involved in drinking ‘rounds’.

·                     Mix your drinks.

·                     Drink Alcohol to quench your thirst. Take water for that.

·                     Instinctively refill your glass when it is empty.

Make sure you have something to eat before you have a drink and also while you drink.

Stop Drinking alcohol

In certain cases, reducing the amount of alcohol intake is not enough. Professional help and support should be taken from organisations striving to help people adopt a drinking free healthy lifestyle.


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