Health Effects

Alcohol has several negative health effects

Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down thinking and actions. It acts on the brain and affects all parts of the body. An average-size person's liver can break down about one drink per hour; the rest of the alcohol circulates throughout the body, affecting behavior, judgment, perception, and motor skills—such as driving and operating machinery.


  • In the US. 17.6 million adults are alcoholics or have alcohol problems.1

Liver disease

Alcohol impairs and eventually destroys the liver’s functions (including oxidation of alcohol). Heavy drinking can cause progressive damage.When excessive amounts of alcohol must be broken down by the liver, normal body functions are adversely affected. Production of proteins and energy
is inhibited, causing low blood sugar and increased accumulation of fat. This “Fatty Liver” condition can develop after several weeks of heavy drinking.
(Sometimes it leads to liver failure.) Continued heavy drinking eventually inflames liver tissue and destroys cells. Scar tissue can then develop in the liver, diminishing blood flow. Alcoholic hepatitis can result. It often leads to cirrhosis, an irreversible disease.Diseased tissue blocks blood flow to the liver, sometimes resulting in hemorrhaging elsewhere in the body. Cirrhosis can eventually cause other problems too, like kidney failure. Cirrhosis can develop after 5 or more years of heavy drinking.

  • Number of alcoholic liver disease deaths: 12,9282


  • Many studies document the association of substance abuse, especially the abuse of alcohol and drugs, with STDs. At the population level, the introduction of new illicit substances into communities often can drastically alter sexual behavior in high-risk sexual networks, leading to the epidemic spread of STDs. Behavioral factors that can increase STD transmission in a community include increases in the exchange of sex for drugs, increases in the number of anonymous sex partners, decreases in motivation to use barrier protection, and decreases in attempts to seek medical treatment.Alcohol, may affect an individual’s cognitive and negotiating skills before and during sex, lowering the likelihood that protection against STD transmission and pregnancy will be used.3
  • Adults who report having gotten drunk in the last year are almost twice as likely as those who did not to have ever had an STD. Problem drinkers are three times more likely than nondrinkers to have ever contracted an STD. Heterosexual men and women who abuse alcohol (and not injection drugs) are six and twenty times more likely, respectively, to be HIV positive than individuals in the general population.4
  • Studies of cross-sectional samples have consistently shown that heavy alcohol use predicts increased rates of HIV risk behaviors and infection.
  • Longitudinal multisite AIDS studies have reported that baseline heavy alcohol consumption is associated with seroconversion.5

Alcohol effects on the digestive tract

Alcohol irritates the digestive tract, sometimes causing problems:
++Cancer of oral cavity
Alcohol combined with tobacco is linked to cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat.

Irritation of esophagus

Alcohol irritates the lining of the esophagus and can interfere with swallowing and other functions.

Stomach damage

Alcohol irritates stomach tissue. Prolonged, heavy drinking contributes to inflammation of tissue (gastritis) and ulcers.

Inflammation of pancreas

Excessive amounts of alcohol can disrupt the pancreas, plugging the organ with protein and leading to inflammation (pancreatitis).

Digestive problems

Chronic drinking interferes with body’s absorption of essential nutrients. Intestinal cell damage may occur in people who have alcoholism.


Excessive alcohol consumption can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Alcohol's effects on the body

  1. BRAIN: Alcohol is a "downer," It directly affects the brain cells. Unclear thinking, staggering and slurred speech may result. Large amounts of alcohol may cause unconsciousness or death. Noticeable effects of alcohol injury to the brain: memory loss, confusion, and augmentation. (Augmentation is a physiological response to alcohol which results in hyper-alertness to normal situations, perceiving light as brighter or sounds as louder than usual, or the drinker’s becoming extremely sad or angry for no apparent reason.) The drinker's rapid mood swings and emotional and behavioral instability can be brought under control by stopping drinking. Blackouts, or loss of memory for a period during drinking, are a physical effect of alcohol on the brain. They occur as alcohol cuts off the supply of oxygen to the brain. Lack of oxygen supply to the brain can kill tens of thousands of brain cells every time a person becomes intoxicated.
  2. EYES: Alcohol causes blurred vision.
  3. HEART: Alcohol can increase the workload of the heart. Irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure can result.
  4. LIVER: Alcohol can poison the liver.  Prolonged use causes extensive damage and failure.
  5. STOMACH/PANCREAS: Alcohol irritates the digestive system. Vomiting and ulcers may result.
  6. KIDNEYS: Alcohol can stop the kidneys from maintaining a proper balance of body fluids and minerals.
  7. VEINS/ARTERIES: Alcohol widens blood vessels causing headaches and loss of body heat.
  8. BLOOD: Alcohol reduces your body's ability to produce blood cells resulting in anemia and/or infections. The Blood: One effect of drinking alcohol is "blood-sludging" where the red blood cells clump together causing the small blood vessels to plug up, starve the tissues of oxygen, and cause cell death. This cell death is most serious, and often unrecognized, in the brain. With this increased pressure, capillaries break, create red eyes in the morning, or the red, blotchy skin seen on the heavy drinker's face. Blood vessels can also break in the stomach and esophagus leading to hemorrhage, even death.Other effects of alcohol on the blood include: anemia; sedation of the bone marrow (which reduces the red and white blood count, and weakens the bone structure); lowered resistance to infection; and a decrease in the ability to fight off infections.
  9. MUSCLES: Alcohol can cause muscle weakness, including the heart muscle. The Muscles: Alcohol reduces blood flow to the muscles, including the heart, causing muscle weakness and deterioration. One outcome is cardiomyopathy (sluggish heart) which is common in alcoholics. Another outcome, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), or "holiday heart," is often treated in emergency wards after several days of party drinking. Muscle aches are a common symptom of excessive-drinking "hangovers."
  10. Raises IgE levels making more susceptible to allergens
  11. Increases risk of stroke
  12. Messes with circadian rhythm so poorer sleep
  13. Decreases thyroid function
  14. Reduces corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and vasopressin (VP). These two hormones travel to the pituitary gland, causing the secretion of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), Rivier reported. ACTH then goes into the bloodstream and causes the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids. These chemicals cause the redirection of nutrients, like glucose, to the areas of the body that are under stress.
  15. Increases BP
  16. Increases risk of Afib
  17. Alcohol Inhibits Formation of Osteoblasts decreasing bone formation and leading to low bone mass,
  18. Learning and memory impairments, interferes with the establishment of new memories rather than the recollection of previously stored information. Alcohol does so by disrupting neural plasticity in brain regions involved in memory formation. Neural plasticity refers to the ability of circuitry in the brain to reorganize itself as a result of experience. General model of memory showing the primary effects of alcohol. The figure displays a general model of memory formation, storage, and retrieval based on the modal model of memory originally proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968). Alcohol seems to influence most stages of the process to some degree. However, its primary effect appears to be on the transfer of information from short-term to long-term storage. Intoxicated subjects are typically able to recall information immediately after its presentation and even keep it active in short-term memory for one minute or more if they are not distracted. Subjects are also normally able to recall long-term memories formed prior to becoming intoxicated. However, beginning with just one or two drinks, subjects begin to show impairments in the ability to transfer information into long-term storage. Under some circumstances, alcohol can impact this process so severely that, once sober again, subjects are unable to recall critical elements of events, or even entire events, that occurred while intoxicated. Such impairments are known as blackouts. When the amount of alcohol is high, imbalances are created which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperuricemia (as in arthritis or gout), fatty liver (which may lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis), and hyperlipemia (build-up of fats sent to the bloodstream; which leads to heart problems). When alcohol acts on the CNS, intoxication occurs, affecting emotional and sensory function, judgment, memory and learning ability. Smell and taste are dulled. The ability to withstand pain increases as the BAL rises. With each drinking episode, central nervous system functions deteriorate in a predictable sequence, beginning with intellectual functioning, followed by disturbances in sensory and motor control. Last affected are the automatic biological functions, such as breathing and heart action.
  19. Alcohol increases acid in the stomach. That can result in gastritis or stomach or intestinal ulcers. The pancreas produces insulin which is necessary to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. Drinking causes a steep rise in the blood sugar; the pancreas responds by producing insulin which causes a fast drop in blood sugar and the symptom of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. 70-90% of alcoholics suffer to some degree from the disorder of hypoglycemia, chronic low blood sugar, as a long term effect of their drinking. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include dizziness, headaches, lack of ability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, light-headedness, tremors, cold sweats, heart palpitations, loss of coordination, and upset stomach. In time, the drinker's overworked pancreas may stop producing insulin and diabetes can result. Conversely, a person with a family history of diabetes may be more vulnerable to problems with alcohol.
  20. The Endocrine System: This system controls the body's hormones and includes the pineal, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and the ovaries or testes. Alcohol sedates these glands, resulting in under-production of hormones; effects include increased susceptibility to allergies. Alcohol can effect sexual functioning in various ways. In low doses, it lowers inhibitions and may make a person feel sexier; but in higher doses, it can decrease sexual functioning: in men, by decreasing the frequency of erections, decreasing the maintenance of erections, decreasing penile size during erection, and increasing the amount of time between erections, in women by interfering with normal processes of sexual stimulation, and blocking orgasmic response. With chronic and prolonged use of alcohol in men, there is a shrinkage of sex glands and an increase of the "female hormone" estrogen. This produces secondary sexual characteristics, such as enlarged breasts and a decrease in body hair. Prolonged use of alcohol can cause infertility in both men and women.
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