What Alcohol is Doing to Your Body | Palm Beach Institute
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This is What Alcohol is Really Doing to Your Body

The drinking of alcohol can affect the body in a number of ways.  While we are very familiar with the outward manifestations of alcohol consumption the short and long-term effects of alcohol use and abuse on the body and brain needs to be acknowledged and addressed.  While these effects are not easily visible, the continued use and subsequent abuse of alcohol can have significant health risks over time.  It is important to understand both the short-term as well as the long-term effects of alcohol consumption.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

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When alcohol is consumed approximately twenty percent of it is absorbed rapidly in the bloodstream while the remainder is processed through the gastrointestinal tract.  Once alcohol enters the bloodstream and can be absorbed and diffuse into every major organ because the cell membranes of all the major organs are highly sensitive to alcohol.  The effects of alcohol are dependent on a person’s weight, age and gender.  Additionally, a person’s body composition, overall health and history of drinking also play crucial roles in regards to alcohol’s overall effects on the body.

When people begin consuming alcohol they initially may feel increased relaxation, self-confidence, happiness and sociability, but these can generally progress into more negative behaviors. Alcohol consumption leads to the slowing of reflexes, reduced coordination, impaired thinking, poor judgment, depression, impaired memory, and a decreased ability to control motor functions.  Additionally, alcohol use has been linked to violent behavior and an increase in unprotected sex among young adults. Alcohol also increases the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Alcohol increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, suicide, injury, domestic violence and drowning.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

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When alcohol is continuously consumed over a period of time it begins to affect the body in a myriad of ways. Long term and excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of many cancers including liver, breast, esophagus, pancreas, mouth, larynx and pharynx. Alcohol use over time can also cause alcohol dependency, better known as alcoholism.  Since alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can cause significant health issues over time, it is important to understand those complications.

For example, excessive drinking can cause fatty deposits to build in the liver which can cause hepatitis, which can cause the liver to not absorb nutrients.   Cirrhosis of the liver can also take place with excessive alcohol use. Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver and with the excess of scar tissue can bring forth complications such as jaundice, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Heavy drinking can also have significant effects on the heart.  Some conditions that can be brought on by alcohol abuse include cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscle to expand and droop.  Another potentially serious heart condition is myocarditis which is the inflammation of the heart muscle.  Other complications can include irregular heartbeat, increased cholesterol and greater risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Additionally, excessive drinking can accelerate the rate of bone deterioration and increase the risk for bone fracture and osteoporosis. Calcium is necessary from strong, dense bones and when alcohol is consumed it acts as a diuretic and flushes calcium from the bones making them weaker and more susceptible to fracture. When alcohol is consumed excessively it can also cause cell damage in the central nervous system creating a condition known as neuropathy. Neuropathy causes alternating feelings of weakness, burning, pain and numbness in the feet and hands.

Knowing the dangers of both the short and long-term effects of alcohol is an important tool in the journey of recovery.  Being aware of complications brought on by excessive use physically, emotionally and psychologically can act as a great motivator to pursue the path of recovery. If you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, find out what the treatment options for alcohol abuse are here.

13 Responses to “This is What Alcohol is Really Doing to Your Body”

  1. If someone has over-indulged alcohol daily over the course of several years it is possible to just stop cold with no adverse reactions?

    I understand there may be a desire to continue, but are there adverse physical reactions that may adversely affect long term health if one just simply stops without medical assistance?

    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. transplant101

    The fatty deposits will not cause hepatitis. But it most certainly will slowly develop into cirrhosis and eventually liver failure.

    hepatitis is a viral blood disease classified in 3 groups,
    A, B and C. There are cures for all thanks to new drugs that have passed FDA. If you were born between 1945 and 1965 you should have a blood test for HEP C, this comes from the Surgeon General.

    I was transplanted on 19 Nov. 2011 and still have HEP C.

    Aloha

    Reply
  3. I applaud your efforts to educate the public about the negative effects of alcohol use and I wish this was required reading for high school students. One very important aspect was neglected, however. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and the long term effects of consumption can include permanent physical impairment of the brain. The heavier the consumption over time, the greater the loss of function. Moderate to heavy regular consumption such as a frequent cocktail or two & wine with dinner may gradually result in personality changes caused by irreversible physical damage to brain tissue. The physical deterioration of the brain may lead to dementia and loss of independence. The destruction of personal relationships and the financial burden on families can be devastating. NOTE to Ellen: Abrupt medically unsupervised withdrawal after long term alcohol use can lead to Delirium Tremens which may result in seizures and can be fatal. Wikipedia has a good article about it.

    Reply
  4. gina grimsley

    My gastro specialist said that 2 glasses of wine a day was not harmful. He said more that is. What other things that we consume can cause harm? Fats, caffeine (mixed reviews), household chemicals, etc. I am thinking that if you are not getting “drunk” and maintain a productive lifestyle with good food and exercise and avoid other vices, that your chances for survival are pretty darned good.
    I am not minimizing the amount that can destoy a persons body. But just putting thinngs in to Perspcetive.

    Reply
  5. Gina, your gastro specialist was referring to 2 standard servings of wine for a man. For a women, the amount is closer to one half to one full serving. A serving of wine is 5 ounces which is a little over one half of a cup. The term “Drunk” cannot really be measured and most people would define it as being visibly or verbally affected. Legally in most states, a blood alcohol level of 0.08% is defined as “Drunk” for the purposes of driving.

    Fats are bad if they are trans- as opposed to cis-fats. Trans-fats are not natural in the body. Caffeine would be a poison if you were an insect! In higher life forms it is a mild stimulant. Why you would eat household chemicals on purpose is unclear to me. If handled per the package labels, then there won’t be much effect on your health.

    Clearly, you are minimizing the effects of alcohol use. I can only warn that use beyond the small recommended amounts listed above which have been shown to be beneficial to your heart will speed the breakdown of body systems. And ALL alcohol use causes some death of brain cells. At small consumption levels this would be insignificant, but don’t kid yourself — alcohol use comes with a price — always.

    Reply
  6. mommydoc

    transplant101, the term hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and viral hepatitis is only one type. There are other viruses, such as Epstein-Barr (mononucleosis) and varicella zoster (chicken pox) which can also cause hepatitis, and a wide variety of substances, such as medications and alcohol, which can also cause liver inflammation. There are also autoimmune disorders that can attack the liver. Here is an excellent article: http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/understanding-hepatitis-basics

    Alcoholic hepatitis is real, and can lead to cirrhosis if enough liver cells are damaged. The Mayo Clinic has a good article on alcoholic hepatitis: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcoholic-hepatitis/basics/definition/con-20026160

    Incidentally, there are actually 5 distinct hepatitis viruses, not 3: http://www.who.int/features/qa/76/en/

    Finally, gina grimsley, Lou is correct: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.

    Reply
  7. I drink beer, you yrs, 40+. I took a contract in Afghanistan (no alcohol) and was not the least distressed. Only thing I missed was coffee in the morning.

    Reply
  8. I reunited with my best friend from High School at our 40th reunion. I was surprised how old she looked at 58. She looked 75. She got pretty drunk every night of the reunion and smoked as much. She complained to me about a backache she had and I suggested she go see a Chiropractor. Four months later she died of pancreatic cancer. Two days before she died she told me she “didn’t expect this to happen.” Most people don’t until it’s too late.

    Reply
  9. Single#2

    Alcohol has taken everything away from me my childhood (my dad was an alcoholic .he also died in a drunk driving accident at the age of 60. My marriage of 25 years because of the alcoholic I became. My brother that has also alcoholic issues. As the so g says it truly is a family tradition if you want it or not. It truly does effect out blood system differently and education should be available early on because when you are drinking you brain connections are not working and can not even if you are a wonderful person make a good choice! I hope this helps someone to stop the loss in there life .

    Reply
  10. It’s all about choice. I come from a long line of alcoholics and I chose to stop the pattern. What I worry about now is the number of addicts we are adding to our society through legalization of marijuana and what those long term consequences might be. Why is staying sober so difficult?

    Reply
  11. To each is own. We all know what we should or should not do. The fun is enjoying life before you die. Scientifically and philosophically “none of us are making it out of here alive”. Out of the people I have personally seen meet they’re fate, only one was healthy enough to die of old age. If you are so concerned buy a vehicle with a high safety rating and quit trying to stop self inflicted natural selection. I’m feeling a little thirsty.

    Reply
  12. Mike A, not quite sure the pancreatic cancer story fits here. My mom died from it and never drank a drop of alcohol or smoked a day in her life.

    Reply

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