The effects of alcohol on the body can be extensive. Alcohol abuse (including binge drinking) and chronic alcohol use can affect the brain, heart, liver and other major organs and systems in the body. Alcohol’s effects can be short-term, such as intoxication or a lack of coordination. The effects can also be long-term and can cause serious health complications or death.
Alcohol Effects on Different Body Systems
While not everyone will see the same effects from alcohol, it’s possible for its use to affect every system of the body. In particular, alcohol can affect the digestive system, the heart and the brain. Alcohol use can also increase a person’s risk of developing various cancers, and it can lead to weight gain which increases the risk of developing chronic disorders like diabetes.
Effects of Alcohol on the Mouth, Throat and Esophagus
Alcohol first comes in contact with the mouth, throat and esophagus. As a result, damage can occur in these areas. The effects of alcohol on the mouth and throat as well as the esophagus can include:
- Irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus
- An increased risk of gastrointestinal reflux disease or GERD, where stomach acid goes back into the esophagus causing burning and tissue damage
- Increased risk of oral cancers and cancers of the esophagus and digestive system. There are two types of esophageal cancer, and both types are linked to alcohol abuse.
- Esophageal varices, which can develop when scarring in the liver slows the blood flow to the liver. Esophageal varices cause blood to back up, and these blood vessels can rupture.
- Drinking five or more drinks a day can increase the risk of head and neck cancers by as much as three times compared to people who don’t drink or do so minimally
The Effects of Alcohol on the Stomach
The effects of alcohol on the stomach stem from the fact that it irritates the digestive system. Drinking, even a small amount, causes the stomach to produce more acid, which can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the stomach, as well as the pancreas and colon. Alcohol use can cause the development of peptic ulcers as well. Peptic ulcers are open sores on the lining of the stomach that can be incredibly painful.
Drinking makes it difficult to absorb vitamins and nutrients from food because it reduces the number of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. Alcohol use can make symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome worse.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
People don’t necessarily think about the effects of alcohol on the heart, but these can be serious. Drinking too much can cause heart damage. Specific effects of alcohol on the heart may include:
- Cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle stretches and droops
- Irregular heartbeat, called arrhythmia
- Increased risk of stroke
- High blood pressure
The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Short-term effects of alcohol on the brain can be somewhat easy to detect. For example, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant causing blurred vision, impaired memory, slurred speech and slowed reaction times.
Long-term effects of alcohol on the brain may include:
- Reduced gray matter in the brain
- Changes in cognition and abnormal thinking
- Memory loss
- Problems concentration
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a type of brain disorder caused by a B-1 deficiency leading to double vision, uncontrolled eye movements and a confused mental state
Alcohol and Weight Gain
Alcohol can lead to weight gain in direct and indirect ways. First, when someone is drinking, they’re consuming calories. The calories from alcohol have no nutritional value, and anytime a person takes in too many calories, it can contribute to weight gain. Someone who drinks may also eat more than they would normally because of loss of inhibition, or they may make poor food choices leading to weight gain.
Alcohol may also be an appetite stimulant for some people, so when they’re drinking, they consume more calories than they would otherwise.
Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, the development of type 2 diabetes and certain kinds of cancer.
Find Help for Alcohol Addiction
If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction, contact The Recovery Village Columbus. We can help you learn more about alcohol addiction treatment and find an option that is right for you, even if it’s not at our facility. Your call is free and confidential, and there is no obligation to commit to a program.
MacMillan, Amanda. “Here’s What Really Happens to Your Brain When You Drink Too Much Alcohol.” Health.com, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.
NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” (n.d.) Accessed March 13, 2019.
Krause, Lydia and Roth, Erica. “Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS).” Healthline, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019.
NIH National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” Published on September 13, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.