How does alcohol affect the body?

Old couple with a drink

Alcohol is the world's most common drug and many of us drink to relax and socialise. But alcohol has a variety of effects on the body depending on how much and how often it is consumed. But what exactly does alcohol do to your physical health? In this post, we'll explore how drinking affects different parts of your body, from your brain and heart to digestion and sleep.

When you drink alcohol, it enters the bloodstream and affects the body's functions. Different amounts of alcohol have different effects on your body.

The effects of alcohol vary from person to person, but one thing is certain: the more you drink, the greater your risk of developing alcohol-related problems.

Can drinking alcohol be healthy?

Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults generally means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

There is some evidence to suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits. For example

  • May reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
  • Social drinking can directly impact our emotional wellbeing and stress levels.

How alcohol affects your body in the short term

Alcohol is a widely consumed substance, but it can create many short-term effects on those who consume it. Some of these are:

  • Impairment of judgment, coordination, and reaction time: Alcohol can affect your ability to think clearly and make good decisions, as well as your physical coordination. This can increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Slurred speech: Alcohol can make it difficult to speak clearly, leading to slurred speech.
  • Drowsiness and fatigue: Alcohol can cause drowsiness and fatigue, making it difficult to stay awake and alert.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some people may experience nausea and vomiting after drinking alcohol, especially if they drink heavily.
  • Headaches: Alcohol can cause headaches, especially in people who are not used to drinking or who drink heavily.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol can cause dehydration, which can lead to symptoms such as thirst, dry mouth, and fatigue.
  • Hangovers: A hangover is a group of symptoms that can occur after drinking alcohol, including headache, nausea, fatigue, and dehydration. Hangovers can be caused by the alcohol itself, as well as by the congeners (impurities) found in some types of alcohol.
  • Alcohol poisoning: Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, confusion, seizures, and slow or irregular breathing.

How alcohol affects your body in the long term

The long-term effects of alcohol can have devastating consequences on an individual's physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. This is particularly true if someone has an alcohol use disorder. Some of the potential long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Liver damage: Chronic heavy drinking can lead to a variety of liver diseases, including fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Heart problems: Alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and a number of other heart-related problems.
  • Pancreatitis: Alcohol abuse can cause inflammation of the pancreas, leading to abdominal pain and other symptoms.
  • Cancer: Heavy alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast, throat, and liver cancer.
  • Brain damage: Alcohol can cause changes in the brain that can lead to problems with memory and learning.
  • Mental health issues: Alcohol abuse is associated with an increased risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
  • Social problems: Alcohol abuse can lead to problems in personal relationships and at work, and it can contribute to financial problems.
Written by Angela Mosel Angela Mosel is a substance abuse social worker with a Bachelor of Social Work from Spring Arbor University.

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