Alcohol Effects: Immediate Effects, Side Effects & Long-Term Impact

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 11/10/2023

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Updated 11/10/2023

Alcohol abuse and addiction are unfortunately all-too-common among people of all ages and from all backgrounds, in Colorado and nationwideIn any given month, about 55% of Americans drink, and around 6.3% drink heavily. Overall, 5.3% of Americans aged 12 and up have alcohol use disorder, also called alcoholism.

Immediate Effects on the Body

Drinking can have a variety of immediate effects on the body. These effects can start to kick in within 10 minutes, the amount of time it takes for alcohol to get into your bloodstream and enter your brain. Common symptoms linked to intoxication include:

  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow reflexes
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Long Does It Take For the Effects of Alcohol To Wear Off?

You may still be suffering effects from drinking alcohol, even if you no longer feel drunk. Alcohol is removed from the body via the liver, which can process about one drink an hour. One drink equates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of whiskey.

Long-Term Effects on the Body

Drinking, especially heavily and over time, can cause a variety of long-term physical effects on the body. A recent survey showed that 61% of Western state drinkers, including Colorado, stated that drinking negatively impacted their physical health. The long-term consequences of drinking on the body include:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke: Cardiovascular complications are linked to long-term heavy alcohol use. In part, this is because of direct damage alcohol inflicts on the heart. Heavy drinkers are twice as likely to have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease than those who do not drink heavily.
  • Liver disease: Liver damage is a common consequence of heavy drinking. A recent survey found that heavy drinkers are 2.12 times more likely to have liver disease and 2.26 times more likely to have cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) than those who do not drink heavily.
  • Digestive problems: Gastrointestinal problems, including chronic inflammation of the stomach, can result from chronic alcohol use. This is due to alcohol’s impact on bacteria in the intestines and a damaging inflammatory response in the GI tract.
  • Cancer: Certain cancers, especially of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon, are more prevalent in those who drink heavily than those who do not. In general, recent results show heavy drinking increases your chances of having cancer by 48%.
  • Weakened immune system: Drinking increases your chances of getting sick by weakening your immune system. This makes it harder to fight off bacteria and viruses like COVID-19.

Alcohol’s Short-Term Effects on the Mind

Drinking sometimes gets a reputation for helping people to feel relaxed or more social. However, alcohol can quickly cause a series of short-term effects on the mind, including changes in mood and poor decision-making skills. Poor decision-making, in turn, can lead to many dangerous situations, including violence, injuries and risky sexual behavior.

Alcohol’s Long-Term Effects on the Mind

Over the long term, heavy drinking can cause multiple mental health and neurological problems. These include:

  • Learning and memory problems: Cognitive problems like dementia, including, in severe cases, Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Psychosis, are linked to long-term heavy drinking.
  • Mental health problems: Depression and anxiety are both common consequences of long-term drinking. A recent survey showed that 57% of heavy drinkers in the Western states, including Colorado, stated their mental health was negatively impacted by drinking, with 42% reporting depression.
  • Alcohol use disorders: Alcohol addiction is a probably long-term consequence of heavy drinking.

Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning is a serious, sometimes fatal, health consequence borne of excessive drinking. Nationally, about six people die every day from alcohol poisoning, with most deaths occurring in adults and men.

Alcohol overdose can vary in severity depending on the person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The higher the BAC, the more symptoms a person can have and the more severe their symptoms may be. In general:

  • BAC of 0 to 50%: Symptoms include relaxation, talkativeness and problems with fine motor control
  • BAC of 50% to 100%: Symptoms include impaired judgment and coordination.
  • BAC of 100% to 200%: Symptoms include problems walking, slurred speech and mood and behavior changes.
  • BAC of 200% to 400%: Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, low body temperature, memory problems and vision problems.
  • BAC of greater than 400%: Symptoms include slowed breathing followed by coma and even death.

The risk of having an alcohol overdose can be reduced by avoiding heavy drinking and avoiding mixing alcohol with energy drinks or caffeine, which can mask the alcohol’s content. If you suspect a loved one has alcohol poisoning, you should seek emergency medical attention. Even if you are underage, you will not get in legal trouble for seeking help to save someone’s life.

Alcohol Poisoning in Colorado

Alcohol poisoning is a big problem in Colorado. In fact, Colorado has one of the highest rates of alcohol poisoning in the United States. In Colorado alone, there are 14.4 deaths from alcohol poisoning per one million people annually.

Social Impacts of Alcohol

Drinking not only impacts your body, brain and mental health. It can also have a significant impact on your relationships, career, school and finances. This is true both for those who drink heavily and those who do not. A recent survey showed that alcohol could impact multiple areas of your life; among Westerners who drank alcohol:

  • Career or job: 22% reported that drinking had impacted their careers or jobs. Heavy drinkers were three times more likely than non-heavy drinkers to have this issue.
  • Parenting: 19% reported that drinking had an impact on their ability to parent their children. Parents who drank heavily were twice as likely to experience this than those who didn’t.
  • Finances: 34% of drinkers, including 38% of heavy drinkers, reported that their alcohol use caused a financial burden on their lives.
  • Social problems: 44% of drinkers stated their relationships were negatively impacted by drinking, with heavy drinking making you three times more likely to hurt a relationship.
  • Hygiene: 31% of drinkers reported that their drinking impacted their hygiene.
  • Legal issues: 11% of drinkers had a legal issue like going to jail or getting a fine, with heavy drinkers doubling their chances of dealing with the law.

Risk of Dependence & Addiction

Drinking carries a risk of abuse, dependence and addiction. However, it can sometimes be hard to know if you have a problem with alcohol and are at risk. Certain behaviors serve as red flags to let you, your loved ones and your doctors know that you may be struggling with drinking.

Ask yourself these questions about your drinking this past year. Have you:

  • Sometimes drank more, or for a longer time, than you meant to?
  • Unsuccessfully tried to cut down or stop drinking?
  • Had a situation during or after drinking that increased your chances of getting physically hurt?
  • Had to increase the amount you drank to get the effect you wanted?
  • Continued to drink even though you felt bad about drinking?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from hangovers?
  • Continued drinking despite alcohol causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Noticed that drinking interfered with other things in your life, including relationships or jobs?
  • Stopped activities that once gave you pleasure in order to drink?
  • Experienced legal problems because of your drinking?
  • Had withdrawal symptoms when you tried to stop drinking?

If you find that you have answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you may be struggling with an alcohol addiction. Fortunately, help is available.

Find the Help You or Your Loved One Needs

If you struggle with drinking, it can be overwhelming to think about how to stop. Fortunately, help is here. Our alcohol recovery experts at The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can assist you in overcoming your alcohol addiction through treatment. Don’t wait: contact us today to learn more.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” March 2021. Accessed April 28, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Overview of Alcohol Consumption.” Accessed April 28, 2021.

Maier, Scott. “Alcohol Abuse Increases Risk of Heart At[…]on and Heart Failure.” University of California San Francisco, January 2, 2017. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Bishehsari, Faraz; Magno, Emmeline; Swanson, Garth; et al. “Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation,” Alcohol Research Current Reviews, 2017. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” February 23, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths infographic.” January 6, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2021.

LaHood, Anthony J.; Kok,  Stephanie J. “Ethanol Toxicity,” StatPearls, April 17, 2020. Accessed April 28, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What are symptoms of alcohol use disorder?” Accessed April 28, 2021.


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