Alcohol can affect every part of your body, impacting the health of each body system when used heavily or for prolonged periods of time. It is important to understand exactly how alcohol can affect your body so that you can be aware of changes that occur.

What Does Drinking in Moderation Mean?

Drinking in moderation means that you are not drinking heavily or binge drinking. While the definition varies slightly based on which organization provides it, it is generally accepted that heavy drinking is defined as more than seven drinks per week in women or more than 14 drinks per week in men. Binge drinking is another form of heavy drinking and is defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting for men or drinking four or more for women. While drinking in moderation is considered healthier than drinking heavily or binge drinking, addiction and health problems can still resultfrom drinking in moderation.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Alcohol activates receptors in the brain that slow the normal process of the body. This is what creates the short-term effects of alcohol use. Alcohol is also toxic to the body, and the long-term presence of alcohol can lead to problems as its toxic effects build up over time.

Effects of Alcohol on the Throat

The first part of the body that alcohol comes into contact with is the throat, and frequent or heavy drinking can damage it. Alcohol is an irritant and burns on contact. When someone drinks alcohol, they may notice a burning sensation in their throat, especially if they’re drinking high-proof liquor.

The burn of alcohol can damage or kill the body’s living tissue. Drinking alcohol over a long period can cause severe effects of alcohol on the mouth and throat, which can lead to the development of neck and throat cancers or chronic regurgitation problems.

Effects of Alcohol on the Stomach

Alcohol has an irritating effect on the stomach and affects the cells that line the stomach. Food and drink remain in the stomach for a prolonged period of time, meaning alcohol will be present in the stomach for a while when it is used. Alcohol can damage the stomach lining, increasing the risk of ulcers developing. 

Alcohol can also damage cells in the stomach that produce stomach acid. This can lead to digestive problems, causing food to be harder to digest and making it more uncomfortable as it sits in the stomach for longer periods of time or passes into the intestines in a more whole state.

Effect of Alcohol on the Brain

There are several possible effects that alcohol can have on the brain. A short-term effect can be temporary memory loss, or blackouts, and decreased coordination and judgment. These effects can occur with a single drinking episode and are more severe when binge drinking.

The chemical reaction that alcohol causes in the brain is also what makes alcohol addictive and can lead to addiction over a long period of time. Long-term complications that affect brain function can also develop with prolonged or heavy alcohol use. This can lead to memory and cognitive problems, even causing dementia.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Drinking alcohol for an extended period may also lead to the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological condition affecting memory, speech and vision. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome occurs because alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb thiamine (vitamin B1). Thiamine is essential for normal neurological functions, and low thiamine levels cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a condition that is reversible in its early stage but becomes permanent when not treated soon enough. This condition ultimately leads to irreversible problems in forming new memories and can cause dementia-like symptoms.

Effect of Alcohol on the Heart

Drinking alcohol can cause several problems with the heart, including:

  • Inflammation: Short-term alcohol consumption can cause inflammation of the heart’s muscle walls.
  • Arrhythmia: Binge drinking and drinking for a long period can disrupt the heart’s rhythm, causing the heartbeat to speed up or become irregular.
  • Cardiomyopathy: In addition to affecting the heartbeat, other conditions can develop, including cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the muscle of the heart does not work correctly.
  • Heart attack: Drinking alcohol also raises blood pressure and blood lipids. When these levels are increased, there is a higher risk of a heart attack, hypertension and stroke.

Effect of Alcohol on the Liver

The effects that alcohol can have on the liver are well-known. When used heavily for a prolonged period of time, alcohol can cause liver failure in a three-step process.

  • Fatty liver disease: As the toxins of alcohol continuously affect the liver, alcohol will initially cause fat to build up in the liver. This is unlikely to cause any specific symptoms.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, occurs as fat building up in the liver starts to irritate the liver. This condition is reversible and will often be the first time you notice liver-related symptoms.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver and occurs as inflammation damages it. The scarring that develops is permanent, even if alcohol use is stopped, and impairs liver function. There is no cure for cirrhosis, and if it becomes severe enough, death will occur.

Effect of Alcohol on Kidneys

Alcohol negatively affects your kidneys by causing dehydration and increasing your blood pressure. Normally, the kidneys compensate for high blood pressure by increasing urine production and removing fluid volume from the blood. The kidneys also normally compensate for dehydration by retaining fluids in the blood. Because alcohol use causes both to occur, the kidneys are placed under additional strain and may even temporarily go into kidney failure.

Effect of Alcohol on the Pancreas

Alcohol leads to inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis. The pancreas creates digestive enzymes that help break down food. When pancreatitis occurs, these enzymes digest the pancreas itself instead of food. This condition is very uncomfortable and can make it very difficult to eat or drink. Pancreatitis can be not only very painful but also fatal in some circumstances.

Effect of Alcohol on Face and Skin

Alcohol causes dehydration which ultimately affects the quality and health of the skin. Dehydration causes the skin to be less full and inhibits the normal, healthy function of the skin. This can lead to clogged pores, causing blackheads and pimples to develop. The decreased hydration of the skin can also cause wrinkles to appear. Additionally, alcohol changes circulation in the skin, sometimes causing a flushed, reddened coloration of the skin.

Effect of Alcohol on Weight Loss

In addition to causing health problems with one’s organs, heavy alcohol consumption also causes people to gain weight. Alcohol often contains calories that lead to increased weight gain. Alcohol also contains primarily empty calories, causing the body to have to focus on metabolizing the calories present in alcohol instead of other calories that would lead to weight loss.

Alcohol and Immune System

Alcohol is known to suppress the normal function of your immune system. When used excessively, alcohol affects the immune system in many different ways. The exact mechanisms by which alcohol suppresses the immune system are not fully understood; however, the research is clear that heavy alcohol use increases the risk of infections such as pneumonia, sepsis and poor wound healing. The immune system plays an important role in fighting cancer, and the effects of alcohol on the immune system may be part of what makes alcohol increase the risk of developing cancer.

Alcohol, Estrogen and Breast Cancer Risk

Alcohol use leads to an increased risk of breast cancer, even if it is only used lightly. Research shows that drinking just three alcoholic drinks a week increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 15%

The increased risk of breast cancer with alcohol is caused because alcohol increases levels of a hormone called estrogen. Many breast cancers grow only when estrogen is present, and the increased levels of estrogen that alcohol creates lead to an increased risk of these breast cancers growing and developing.

Alcohol Addiction Rehab in Orlando, Florida

Alcohol addiction can be difficult and even dangerous to overcome. At Orlando Recovery Center Drug and Alcohol Rehab, we offer inpatient and outpatient detox and rehab programs. These programs can help you safely stop using alcohol and make it through withdrawals as comfortably as possible. They will also provide you with the tools and resources you need to maintain long-term sobriety.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, we are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve lasting freedom from alcohol addiction.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.