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8 Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Author: Kevin Olsen

Last Updated: 10/21/2022

There are many ways in which alcohol can affect your body. It can be physical, mental, or even emotional. Mentally, alcohol affects your body by impairing your judgment and making you say yes or no to things you normally would not. It can lead you into dangerous situations and uopt yourself or others in harm’s way. 

Alcohol also affects you emotionally as the more alcohol you drink the more unstable your emotions become. You may take something a little harder than you normally would or you may get angrier than you normally would. All of these things can put you or others in danger and it can be a scary thing.

While alcohol does affect your mental and emotional state in some scary ways it doesn’t compare to how alcohol can affect your physical body. One of the worst things that alcohol does is attacks your central nervous system. This can cause problems throughout your body and in your immune system as well. Alcohol also attacks your organs such as your liver, pancreas, and your heart. For women, alcohol also affects their menstrual cycles as well. There are many more ways that alcohol affects your body too. The Journal of Medicine and other research bodies have concluded that alcohol is a toxic substance for most parts of the human body.

1. Inflammation of the Pancreas

One effect that alcohol has on your body is that it causes inflammation within your pancreas. The pancreas helps with your digestion and also produces many hormones including Insulin. When you consume heavy amounts of alcohol it can lead to this inflammation otherwise known as pancreatitis. 

Pancreatitis is extremely painful and can even be deadly. The way the pancreas works in digestion is that it releases enzymes that digest your food in the intestines. When alcohol causes this inflammation it also causes these enzymes to become active within the pancreas and so the pancreas begins to digest itself. This leads to more inflammation which leads to more damage to the pancreas until the damage is irreversible or fatal.

There are several ways to spot pancreatitis before it reaches a deadly point. Some of those symptoms are mild or severe abdominal pain, back pain, a fever, a swollen or tender abdomen, nausea or vomiting, a fast heart rate, or jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes and skin. If you spot any of these symptoms and are worried that it could be pancreatitis you should immediately seek medical attention for it.

There are two versions of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. If you experience acute pancreatitis then you may be able to treat it. The first step is to stop drinking any form of alcohol right away. The next step would be to get on a diet plan that best suits your needs based on how bad the pancreatitis was. A doctor or nutritionist can help you with this step. If your acute pancreatitis has developed into chronic pancreatitis it may be impossible to treat. 

You should still stop drinking alcohol right away and try a diet plan because it could lessen the side effects but it may be too late to fully treat at this point. You can also enter yourself into an alcoholic rehabilitation center for this treatment as well.

2. Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Blood sugar, or glucose, is your body’s energy. Your body either turns that blood sugar into energy to use right away or stores it to use later. Either way, it’s important to you and your body as energy is needed to pretty much do anything. 

Heavy amounts of alcohol use cause low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, while also increasing your risk of diabetes. Some complications that alcohol can cause are also eye problems, vision loss, strokes, or even heart disease.

There are several ways to spot that alcohol is causing Hypoglycemia in you. We list these symptoms below.

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred Speech
  • Confusion
  • Feeling Shaky
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Seizures

If you experience any of these symptoms or all of them, you should seek a doctor or go to a hospital right away.

Luckily, there are some ways to help in treating low blood sugar. Firstly, if you do not have diabetes it is rare for alcohol to cause Hypoglycemia. Out of everyone in your world, about 9% of people have diabetes. This makes it extremely rare that alcohol should cause any major complications to your glucose levels. If you do have diabetes, or if your glucose levels drop, there are some things you can do. When your blood sugar levels drop below 70 mg/dl you should follow the “15-15 Rule.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s important to eat 15 grams of carbohydrates and then wait 15 minutes and recheck your blood sugar levels. If your levels remain below 70 mg/dl you should continue this “15-15 Rule” until your levels are above 70 mg/dl. Once your levels are in the “safe range” you should eat a heavy snack or a meal to keep your levels from dropping again. However, if you have diabetes and your blood sugar levels are too low to treat with the “15-15 Rule” you may safely use Glucagon Injections to help.

3. Damage the Tissue of the Digestive Tract

Heavy consumption of alcohol damages the tissue in the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract, is what absorbs and digests foods in your body. It also has bodily defenses against harmful ingested substances. The GI tract is the entire tract from when food enters your mouth until it is released as waste from your body. There is a lot to the GI tract and alcohol can cause many issues with it. 

Starting at the beginning of the GI tract, in your mouth, you have many good bacteria in your mouth helping to fight off germs on any food you eat. Alcohol damages and kills off many of these good bacteria. Alcohol also damages the esophagus and causes a lot of acid reflux which also causes more damage. You can develop stomach ulcers, liver inflammation, and even cancer due to the damage done to the GI tract. 

Another thing that alcohol can cause is what’s called a leaky gut syndrome. That’s when toxins leak into our intestines and out throughout the rest of our body causing more damage.

Some signs to look out for if you are worried about damage to your GI tract are more acid reflux than usual. If you have never had acid reflux and now you do that’s another sign to watch for. Some things you can do to help your GI tract are to take TUMS or any acid reflux reducer to stop the reflux in its tracks. TUMS is temporary so I do recommend using something like Famotadine as a more permanent solution, although you should seek advice from a medical professional first. You can also try eating a big meal to help with the reflux. 

Staying hydrated is something that will help as well. Switching to a more balanced diet to avoid an overload of toxins spilling into your body, and trying to get as much rest and sleep as possible are also some things you can do to help. The most important thing you can do to help would be to stop drinking right away and seek out a doctor for treatment.

4. Damage to the Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is a specific and very important part of your body’s overall nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. Your brain controls most, if not all, functions within your body. The spinal cord transports information from your brain to the rest of your body and it’s the main way this information travels. 

According to studies from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, heavy amounts of alcohol do serious damage to the central nervous system, and both your brain and spinal cord. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and contracts brain tissues and destroys brain cells. This is very dangerous because it can affect the way you think and move for the rest of your life. The way your brain transports information through your spinal cord may be changed and unable to go back to the way it was before the damage.

Some signs to watch out for are numbness or tingling sensations in arms, hands, or legs, muscle spasms or weakness, impaired speech, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, or difficulty swallowing. These are just some of the many signs that you may have damaged your Central Nervous System due to the amount of alcohol you have consumed. 

There may not be ways to fully repair the damage done, but there are ways to try to recover as best as possible. Some of those ways are to get physical therapy to improve muscle strength and function as best as you can. You will also want to switch to a diet plan that consists of high levels of folate, B12, B1, and vitamin E. 

These vitamins and folate support brain development and strengthening. 

Pain medication can be used to help with the pain and discomfort you may feel in the nerves throughout your body. While doing these things it is also important to seek treatment for your alcoholism to make sure there is no relapse and to make sure there is no further damage to your Central Nervous System.

5. Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Heart rate is important because it is counting the number of times your heart beats per minute and your heart is what keeps you alive. That said, heart rate needs to be in a certain range. When the heart rate drops too low or rises too high it can be dangerous and even fatal. 

A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. It is normal for your heart rate to drop as low as 40 beats per minute while resting or sleeping. Drinking alcohol can raise your heart rate both in the short term but also in the longer term as well. After drinking alcohol your heart rate will stay elevated for about 24 hours and if you consume heavy amounts of alcohol over a longer period it may cause your heart rate to stay at a creased level much longer.

You will want to watch out for signs of rising heart rate, or blood pressure level, as higher levels can lead to strokes, organ failure, heart attacks, heart disease, or even death. Some signs are feeling tired, short of breath, or constant fatigue throughout the day when you normally don’t feel this way.

Some ways to treat an elevated heart rate or blood pressure are to exercise daily, avoid stress, quit any recreational drug use, and stop drinking any alcohol. Also, avoid excessive consumption of stimulants like tea and coffee and lastly if you smoke you will want to quit as that also puts pressure on your heart. Once your levels return to a normal range you will want to continue to exercise and go on a healthy diet plan for the future.

6. Affect Your Menstrual Cycle

A menstrual cycle is when your body begins to ovulate and prepare for a possible pregnancy. The “cycle” itself is the time between the first days of your period, and most cycles last about 28 days. This could be a day or 2 longer or shorter. 

According to Planned Parenthood, there are a few different ways that alcohol affects your period cycle. Alcohol causes it to become irregular. Typically most cycles are “regular” meaning that if yours is 28 days it will stay that way each month, alcohol causes them to become irregular meaning that this month it may be 24 days and then next month it may be 30 days. Irregular periods make it difficult to know exactly when you are ovulating or able to become pregnant. 

Heavy amounts of alcohol use also completely stop your period from happening at all. Signs to watch for would be noticing if your cycle changes or becomes irregular. If this happens you should stop drinking right away and contact your gynecologist. You should also contact them if your period stops completely. If you are trying for a baby, or think it could be pregnancy, you should take an at-home pregnancy test first and then contact your gynecologist. 

Alcohol also does a few other things to your cycle. It can cause worsening cramps, heavier bleeding in your periods, and dehydration. The main form of treatment is to stop drinking alcohol right away. There may be some medication that your gynecologist can offer to help with the cramping or pain but to get your cycle back on track and normal again stop drinking any alcohol. 

7. Affect Bone Density

Bone density is important to the human body because as we age less dense bones are more likely to break than high-density bones. According to research from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, long-term consumption of alcohol is related to the weakening of bone density and an increased risk of fracture. This can lead to many broken bones and other injuries at a younger age.

There are a few ways you can tell that you may be experiencing a loss of bone density. One way is receding gums in your mouth. This is due to your jawbone becoming less dense and smaller. Weak grip strength or weak and brittle fingers or toenails as well are signs. Another sign would be if you are experiencing more fractures than normal.

The first thing to do for treatment is to get a bone density scan, that way you know exactly how serious the situation is. After that, if it is determined that you have low bone density or osteoporosis, then there are a few ways they could go for treatment. A calcium treatment to strengthen the bones, exercise, a healthy diet, and supplements like vitamin D or sun exposure for Vitamin D will help as well. 

Getting the bone density scan first is important so you know how much calcium or vitamin D you may need.

8. Reduce the Immune System

Heavy alcohol consumption over a long period will weaken your immune system. You may become more susceptible to respiratory diseases such as Covid-19 or you may be at a higher risk of diabetes or heart disease. Alcohol damages the immune cells that are supposed to fight off infection. This makes it harder for your body to remain healthy and then it makes it harder for your body to rid itself of infection once it has it. Your body will also prioritize breaking down the alcohol over other functions such as fighting off infections.

A few symptoms you can watch out for are slow or non-healing wounds. Another thing to consider is if you have been sick for a long time and rather than getting better it keeps getting worse. Shortness of breath is another important symptom to watch out for. According to studies from the CDC, these are all symptoms to look for.

There is only one real way to stop alcohol from damaging your immune system and that’s to stop drinking alcohol altogether. Some other ways to help are avoiding smoking, making sure to get plenty of sleep, going on a diet consisting of a lot of fruit and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, and making sure to follow good hygiene. 

What to Know More About the Effects of Alcohol?

There are many other ways that alcohol affects your body. A couple of others are your sexual health and your psychological health. We list these issues below.

  • Sexual Health: Because alcohol “takes the edge off” people often assume that alcohol makes sexual activity better. This is, however, incorrect. Heavy alcohol use decreases your libido. It makes it more difficult to keep and maintain an erection, and it makes it very difficult to achieve an orgasm or climax.
  • Psychological Health: Alcohol use also causes many psychological problems to a person. Heavy alcohol use can damage a person’s ability to concentrate or their memory. Alcohol affects your impulse control causing you to make poor choices you normally wouldn’t, and alcohol also affects your mood, emotions, and personality. It almost makes you a completely different person and alcohol often puts people, either yourself or someone else, in dangerous situations due to these changes.

These are only some of the effects of alcohol on the body. Some physical effects also include higher heart rate, dizziness, drowsiness, intoxication, and other problems.

How Long Does Alcohol Remain in Your System?

Alcohol will stay in your system for about 72 hours at most. Some other detection methods will not detect it after about 6 hours or more but it will remain for up to 72 hours. It mostly depends on your BAC (blood alcohol content) to know for sure how long but it is safe to say 72 hours at most it will remain in your system. Alcohol also remains in the breath for about 24 hours.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Your Body?

Alcohol has many effects on the body, some of them short-term and others long-term. Some of the long-term ones are high blood pressure, up to 16% of people in the world with high blood pressure are diagnosed with it due to heavy alcohol drinking (based on data from the CDC). 

Due to the liver constantly trying to detoxify the alcohol entering the body, another long-term effect is damage to your liver or even liver disease. Heavy alcohol drinking also leaves you vulnerable to several cancers including tongue, mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon, and liver. Along with all of these serious long-term problems you could face, you could also suffer from permanent memory loss.

What are the Short-term Effects of Alcohol on Your Body?

While there are some scary long-term effects of alcohol on your body, there are some equally scary short-term effects as well. There are some physical effects such as blurred vision, raised blood pressure, passing out, or vomiting. There are also some mental effects such as alcohol-induced amnesia, impaired decision-making, the inability to concentrate, poor judgment-making, and mood swings that could become violent. 

These short-term effects can be just as dangerous as long-term ones. The major difference between the long and the short-term effects is that all of the long-term effects only affect you, some of the short-term effects can affect other people too. Poor judgment such as deciding to drink and drive will not only affect you but possibly every other person on the road at that time.

How to Reduce the Effect of Alcohol?

There are many ways to minimize the long-term effects of alcohol on your body but there are also ways to reduce the effect of alcohol on your body in the short term. Some of the things you can do to reduce alcohol’s effects are eating before drinking alcohol. This is important because if you have an empty stomach the alcohol absorbs into your body and blood much faster and the effects are then stronger. 

Eating beforehand slows this process down and reduces the strength of the effects. Another important thing to do is try to limit yourself to one drink per hour. This will help you from overdoing it and overflowing your body with alcohol. One other thing to do, or not to do, is to avoid green tea. It may seem surprising but green tea blocks alcohol from being metabolized and lets it just sit in your body.

Does Alcohol Have Any Beneficial Effects?

Yes, alcohol does have some beneficial effects. However, this is only when you drink alcohol in small to moderate amounts, not in heavy amounts. Moderate amounts of alcohol help to reduce your risk of suffering, or dying from, a heart attack or heart disease. It also helps to reduce your risk of strokes as well. Some studies also show that a small to moderate amount of alcohol helps to reduce your risk of diabetes as well. 

Does Consuming Coffee or Water Help You Get Sober?

No, drinking coffee will not help to sober you up. The only thing you can do to sober up is to wait it out. Many people think coffee helps because it perks you up, but that’s all it does. Once that coffee wears off the alcohol in your body will be the same as it would have been without the coffee. While drinking coffee will not sober you up, drinking water will. 

However, if you drink a lot of water before, during, or after drinking alcohol it helps to slow down the absorption of alcohol into your body. It also helps to flush out bad toxins from your body and rehydrate you. Alcohol does lead to dehydration, so it’s important to remain hydrated when drinking alcohol.

Does Alcohol Affect the Skin?

According to research from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, yes, alcohol does affect your skin. Alcohol pulls the moisture from your skin leaving it dehydrated. 

Some of the effects alcohol has on the skin are dry skin, sunken eyes, decreased elasticity of your skin, and dry lips. Rehydrating yourself with plenty of water and stopping any consumption of alcohol will help to revitalize your skin.