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What Does Alcohol Abuse Do To Your Body?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 22, 2019

Abusing alcohol can have immediate and long-term side effects. The longer a person continues to abuse alcohol, the side effects become more severe. Here are some of the ways in which extended alcohol abuse can affect your body.

Abusing alcohol can have significant effects on the body. As most of us are aware, alcohol can lower inhibitions, increase sociability, slow reflexes and coordination, and impair memory, judgment, and motor function, among many other things.

However, those are just some of the short term effects of alcohol. When someone abuses alcohol by binge, excessive, or heavy drinking, it can cause harm to almost all areas of the body. The effects can become even more severe if the person is also dependent on alcohol.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain?

The brain controls the body, and once the brain becomes affected by long term alcohol abuse, these changes often become permanent. The brain regulates all functions of the body, including hormone and chemical creation and release, temperature, movement, sleep-wake cycles, motor function, and all organ systems.

After excessive alcohol use, the brain is unable to properly regulate most all of the systems it was able to previously. In addition, there are specific issues that occur within the brain as alcohol is introduced day after day, year after year.

These issues include:

  • reduced ability to think, learn, and memory formation
  • excessive fatigue
  • unable to remember events that occur while drinking (blackouts)
  • brain shrinks and permanent damage occurs
  • Alcoholic Korsakoff Syndrome is an amnestic disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency and neurotoxic effects of prolonged alcohol exposure
  • hallucinations
  • reduced REM sleep

Once the brain is permanently damaged, it is not uncommon to experience severely decreased function or even failure in many organ systems.

Does Alcohol Abuse Have Significant Effect On The Heart?

A common side effect of binge drinking is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) due to crossed impulse signals from the brain. Long term binge drinking can make these arrhythmias permanent. As a result, the heart muscles can stretch and wear out, making the heart unable to properly regulate blood flow (cardiomyopathy).

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Drinking alcohol also increases the release of stress hormones, which narrows blood vessels and makes the heart have to pump even harder to move blood throughout the body. This can result in a number of circulatory system issues, including high blood pressure and stroke.

How Is The Liver Impacted By Alcohol Abuse?

When alcohol is ingested, it is the job of the liver to filter out all of the alcohol and its toxins. It tends to become overworked, and over time the liver becomes inflamed and scar tissue then forms. Liver diseases, such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis are common in people who abuse alcohol for lengthy periods of time.

What Happens To The Kidneys When Someone Abuses Alcohol?

Alcohol reduces your brain’s ability to regulate the kidneys production of urine, this is why drinking makes people need urinate more frequently. Not only can this leave a person dehydrated, it can also overwork your kidneys. After years of over activity from alcohol abuse, kidneys are left damaged and sometimes diseased.

Is The Pancreas Affected By Alcohol Abuse?

The pancreas creates insulin and other chemicals, but when someone abuses alcohol those chemicals fail to release from the pancreas. This causes inflammation and eventually the pancreas stops working properly, which can lead to diabetes and other diseases.

Additionally, an increase in toxins in the pancreas can lead to an infection called pancreatitis, which results in improper digestion and malnutrition.

What Organ Systems Are Impacted By Alcohol Abuse?

As stated above, the brain regulates organ system function and these systems are affected by the disruptions that alcohol causes in hormone and chemical regulations. The following include descriptions that explain the issues associated with each system and alcohol abuse.

Immune System

For up to 24 hours after a night of drinking, a person is more susceptible to illness. Long term excessive drinking leads to increased rates of pneumonia and other diseases, like tuberculosis. This is because alcohol reduces the body’s ability to to make enough white blood cells to fight off germs, disease, and infections.

Digestive system

Alcohol increases amounts of acid within the stomach, which increases heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. The constant irritation of the lining of the digestive tract after prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to ulcers and chronic diarrhea.

These factors combined affect digestion and is often the reason why people who have abused alcohol for long periods of time tend to struggle with malnutrition.

Sexual Dysfunction and Health

The hormone deregulation caused by alcohol can affect sexual function and reproductive health.

Some of these issues include:

  • menstrual cycle irregularities
  • erectile dysfunction
  • low sperm count
  • shrinking testicles
  • breast growth in men

Nervous System

Because alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain and nervous system, it tends to slow everything down.

This depressive effect is expressed in several ways, including:

  • neuropathy
  • impaired vision
  • decreased balance and coordination
  • hand-eye coordination is reduced
  • hearing problems
  • reaction time impairment
  • cell poisoning (cytotoxic)

Excessive alcohol consumption can also make symptoms of existing conditions worse, such as:

  • insomnia
  • restless leg syndrome
  • nightmares
  • sleep apnea

Skeletal and Muscle Systems

Heavy drinking lowers calcium levels, which can lead to osteoporosis, which is a condition in which bones become deficient and break easily. These bones, once broken, take longer to heal and are more likely to break again.

Alcohol lowers blood flow to muscles, and reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients the muscles receive. Without proper circulation, muscles are not able to grow and muscle mass will decrease.

Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Cancer?

After a significant amount of studies have been explored, patterns have emerged between alcohol abuse and the following types of cancer:

  • head and neck
  • esophageal
  • liver
  • breast
  • colorectal

What Are The Risks Of Alcohol Withdrawal?

When a person begins experiencing some of the side effects associated with long-term alcohol abuse and dependence, it can be scary. They may want to stop, but the symptoms of withdrawal may seem just as unsettling.

This is why it is important to seek professional assistance when trying to stop drinking alcohol. While some side effects are simply uncomfortable, like nausea and restlessness, some can be severe, even fatal. Detoxification programs are equipped to administer medications and other intervention measures to help ease discomfort associated with alcohol withdrawal.

What Alcohol Does To The Body

Alcohol is a toxin, and it poisons the body. Over time, alcohol tends to cause havoc on the body. Whether a person drinks a lot of alcohol at once, or several alcoholic beverages in a day for years, the body is not equipped to handle toxin exposures like that.

Alcohol abuse treatment facilities are available to help people struggling with alcohol abuse and dependence. These professionals know the steps to take and exactly how to help someone who is ready to stop abusing alcohol.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effect on the Body

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Methamphetamine

Medline Plus - Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

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