Alcohol is not only a psychoactive substance causing intoxication, but it’s also a toxin itself. The short-term effects of alcohol include impaired judgment and coordination, as well as drowsiness and a greater risk of being in accidents. However, the long-term effects of alcohol on the body can be detrimental and even deadly.
The effects of alcohol on the body often extend to all of the four body systems: the digestive, central nervous, circulatory and endocrine systems.
Alcohol Effects on Different Body Systems
When someone drinks, the alcohol is carried throughout their body via the bloodstream. The alcohol reaches all organs and all body systems. The effects of alcohol on body systems include:
- The digestive system includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines. When someone drinks alcohol, it doesn’t pass through the digestive system. Instead, it goes into the bloodstream and around 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed in the stomach. Around 80 percent of the alcohol a person consumes is absorbed in the small intestine.
- The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. Alcohol slows down the CNS with a depressant effect, affecting brain function and brain chemicals.
- The circulatory system is made up of the heart, veins and blood. Significant amounts of alcohol can cause heart damage and make it harder for the heart to pump the necessary amounts of blood to other parts of the body.
- The endocrine system controls metabolism, mood and hormones. Alcohol can impact how glands release hormones.
Effects of Alcohol on the Mouth, Throat and Esophagus
The mouth, throat and esophagus are part of the digestive system and have initial contact with the alcohol a person consumes. Long-term effects of alcohol on the mouth and throat as well as the entire digestive system include:
- Heavy drinking can raise the risk of many cancers including mouth, throat, and esophagus cancer
- The more someone drinks, the more their risk of developing those cancers goes up
- Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and can lead to intestinal ulcers
- Damage to the small intestine from alcohol can prevent the body from absorbing essential nutrients
- As an irritant, alcohol can burn the esophagus and cause damage, in addition to increasing the risk of head and neck cancers
- Five or more drinks a day can double or triple the risk of developing cancer in the mouth and throat
The Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
The potential effects of alcohol on the heart include:
- Drinking too much can raise the level of fats called triglycerides in the blood, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- The increased calories from alcohol intake can raise the risk of a variety of heart-related problems including high blood pressure and heart attack
- Excessive drinking can increase the potential for stroke, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death, particularly if someone is binge drinking
The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
The brain is part of the central nervous system and alcohol significantly impacts the central nervous system in the short- and long-term. The possible effects of alcohol on the brain are:
- A study conducted in 2008 and published in the Archives of Neurology found that heavy, long-term drinking may shrink brain volume. Specifically, the study showed that people who had more than 14 drinks a week over 20 years had a brain that was approximately 1.5 percent smaller than non-drinkers.
- Heavy drinking is linked with more memory loss later in life. A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology indicates that men who had 2.5 drinks a day demonstrated signs of cognitive decline up to six years earlier than people who didn’t drink, had stopped drinking or were light-to-moderate drinkers
- Alcohol kills brain cells and cellular networks throughout the brain
- There is a type of dementia called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 in the brain. Alcohol inhibits the absorption of this vitamin and is the primary reason people develop this type of dementia.
Alcohol and Weight Gain
Alcohol and weight gain are the most related when someone is a heavy drinker. Alcohol has calories and no nutritional value. In addition to the calories in the alcohol itself, mixers combined with alcohol have calories as well.
For example, one 12 ounce can of light beer has 110 calories on average while a 5-ounce glass of white wine has around 120 calories. A few drinks and these calories can quickly add up.
Research shows the links between alcohol and weight gain. For example, women who have at least four drinks a day have a 41 percent higher likelihood of going from a healthy BMI to an overweight BMI.
Finding Help for Alcohol Addiction
If you live with alcohol addiction, help is available. Alcohol addiction treatment can help prevent or reverse many of the effects of alcohol on the body. Contact The Recovery Village and speak to a representative who can help you learn more about different treatment programs for alcohol addiction.