Substance Use

Side Effects of Alcohol

TABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents

depressed woman drinking beer at bar

What Are the Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol is the second-most widely used substance in the United States, with recent figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showing that nearly 26 million Americans used alcohol between October to December 2020. Despite the side effects of alcohol consumption, it is still widely used. In this post, we’ll go over the damaging side effects of drinking alcohol.

If you or a loved one are struggling to stop drinking, Zinnia Healing can help. Learn more about treatment options for alcoholism at Zinnia Healing here.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Some people are under the misconception that only heavy drinking is damaging to their health. But this is not true, and even a small amount of alcohol can have damaging effects on the immune system, liver, and pancreas and contribute to harmful health conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed/slurred speech
  • Changes in hearing, vision, and perception
  • Mood changes
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Loss of coordination
  • Difficulty focusing
  • “Blacking out”
  • Injuries, including car crashes, falling, drowning, and burns
  • Violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide, and suicide
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors that can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Excessive alcohol use over time can lead to chronic diseases and other serious health conditions, such as:

  • A weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Ulcers
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Stroke
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer, including breast cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, voice box cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, and rectum cancer
  • Mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia
  • Alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependence
  • Problems at school, home, and work
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop drinking or cut back

Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Body

Now we’ll take a closer look at how alcohol use impacts the internal organs and body processes:

Digestive System and Endocrine Glands

Excessive drinking over a long period can cause the pancreas to become inflamed, leading to a condition called pancreatitis. This condition causes abdominal pain in the short term. Untreated pancreatitis can cause serious health complications.

Speaking of the pancreas, it plays a key role in regulating how the body uses insulin and responds to glucose. If alcoholism causes pancreatitis or liver disease, the pancreas and liver stop functioning as they should. This can lead to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.

When the pancreas becomes damaged, it can also prevent the body from producing enough insulin to use sugar. When this happens, it can lead to too much sugar being present in the blood, a condition known as hyperglycemia.

Alcohol is also extremely damaging to the liver and can lead to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and potentially fatal alcoholic liver disease. The main problem with drinking and liver function is that alcohol disrupts the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body and causes chronic inflammation and scar tissue that can destroy the organ.

Central Nervous System (CNS)

If you’ve ever wondered why people slur their speech when they’re intoxicated, it’s because alcohol reduces communication between the brain and body, which makes speech and coordination harder.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can damage the CNS by impacting the ability to:

  • Create long-term memories
  • Think clearly
  • Regulate emotions
  • Make rational decisions

Digestive System

Alcohol consumption can damage the tissues in the digestive tract. This damage prevents the intestines from properly digesting food and absorbing the nutrients and vitamins the body needs.

Damage to the digestive system caused by heavy drinking manifests as:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Painful stools
  • Ulcers, which can cause internal bleeding and even death
  • Hemorrhoids

Psychological Impact of Alcohol Use

The health risks of alcohol consumption are not just physical but mental as well. This is because long-term alcohol use changes the brain, impacting the following:

  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Impulse control
  • Emotions
  • Mood
  • Personality

Alcohol can also worsen symptoms of certain mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Long-term alcohol use can lead to the body becoming dependent on alcohol and building up a tolerance. When this happens, you will need to drink more and more to feel the effects of alcohol. When people develop alcohol use disorder and suddenly stop drinking, they will often experience a wide range of physical, emotional, and/or mental health symptoms, as well as symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can be life-threatening.

According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol use disorder is defined as a “chronic relapsing brain disease” in which a person compulsively drinks despite adverse consequences.”

The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Heavy sweating
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

Because the effects of alcohol withdrawal in long-term alcohol users can be so dangerous and uncomfortable, it’s highly recommended to undergo medical identification under the supervision of health professionals. To learn more about the detox process, click here.

What Are the Risk Factors for Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder, including:

  • A family history or personal history of addiction
  • Heavy drinking
  • Binge drinking
  • Stress
  • Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety

Zinnia Healing Can Help

If you are worried about the effects of alcohol on your mind, body, and spirit and have been unsuccessful at quitting drinking on your own, help is available. Zinnia Healing offers a wide range of customizable programs to treat alcoholism, including detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, individual therapy, group therapy and support groups, and medication. Contact Zinnia Healing today virtually or by phone at (855) 430-9439 to learn more.