In the United States, about 85% of adults will drink alcohol at some point in their lives. Some drink in moderation, while others engage in excessive alcohol use (also called alcohol abuse).
No matter how much you drink, it’s important to understand how alcohol affects your body.
Drinking Levels & The Effects Of Alcohol Use
Alcohol can have many different effects. The specific effects you’ll experience depend on personal factors, including:
- your age (older people tend to experience stronger effects than younger people)
- your sex (women tend to experience stronger effects than men)
- your drinking level
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are three main drinking levels:
- moderate drinking, which occurs when a woman has 1 drink or less per day and a man has 2 drinks or less per day
- binge drinking, which occurs when a woman has 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours and a man has 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours
- heavy drinking, which occurs when a woman has more than 3 drinks in one day and a man has more than 4 drinks in one day
The NIAAA defines a standard drink as a beverage that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol is found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of liquor.
In general, binge drinking and heavy drinking pose more serious health risks than moderate drinking. However, all three drinking levels can have short-term and long-term effects on your health.
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol Use
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down your brain activity. This effect lowers your inhibitions, which can make you feel relaxed and confident. However, it also makes you more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as driving while drunk or having unprotected sex.
Other short-term effects of alcohol include:
- increased heart rate
- high blood pressure
- slurred speech
- blurry vision
- trouble thinking clearly
- trouble walking
- slowed reaction times
- poor memory
Accidents & Injuries
Because alcohol impairs both your physical and mental functioning, it increases your risk of various types of injuries, such as drownings, falls, and burns. It also makes you more likely to commit or be a victim of violence.
In addition, alcohol can cause a life-threatening overdose, especially if you binge drink.
Alcohol overdose (also called alcohol poisoning) occurs when you drink so much alcohol that your breathing, heart rate, and other body functions start to shut down. Common signs of alcohol overdose include:
- stomach pain
- slow or irregular breathing
- loss of consciousness
Learn more about Alcohol Poisoning
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Use
When you drink alcohol on a regular basis, you increase your risk of various health problems, including:
Ulcers are painful sores that appear in the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Some studies suggest that excessive alcohol use raises the risk of ulcers. Also, if you already have an ulcer, alcohol can make it worse.
Alcohol takes a serious toll on your liver. The most common liver diseases associated with alcohol use include:
- alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- steatosis (a buildup of fat in the liver)
Drinking alcohol can damage your heart and cause issues such as:
- arrhythmia (a heart disease that causes irregular heartbeat)
- cardiomyopathy (a heart disease that enlarges your heart muscle and prevents your heart from properly pumping blood)
Alcohol has been linked to the following types of cancer:
- breast cancer
- liver cancer
- colon cancer
- rectum cancer
- head and neck cancer
Pancreatitis is a painful and life-threatening condition that occurs when your pancreas becomes inflamed. Alcohol use (especially heavy drinking) is one of the main risk factors for the disease.
Weakened Immune System
Over time, drinking alcohol can weaken your immune system and leave your body more vulnerable to infections, including mild infections (such as colds) and serious infections (such as pneumonia).
Poor Birth Outcomes
Pregnant women who drink alcohol face an increased risk of negative birth outcomes, including:
- fetal alcohol syndrome (a condition that causes physical and mental defects in developing fetuses)
Mental Health Issues
Since alcohol affects your brain activity, it can contribute to mental health concerns such as:
- learning problems
- memory problems, including dementia
Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction) is a serious disease that makes you feel unable to control your alcohol use. Common signs of the disease include:
- intense cravings for alcohol
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and nausea, when you don’t drink alcohol)
- loss of motivation at work or school
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, seek help at an alcohol abuse treatment program. When left untreated, alcohol use disorder can lead to a variety of issues, including job loss, damaged relationships, and the health issues described above.
To learn about treatment options for alcohol use disorder, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified physicians provide personalized, comprehensive services to help you stay alcohol-free.
What Is Alcoholic Nose?
Alcoholic nose, known clinically as rhinophyma, is a severe form of the non-contagious skin disorder rosacea. This condition occurs most in fair-skinned men of European heritage between the ages of fifty and seventy and causes an abnormally waxy, swollen, red or purple nose.
Despite its name, alcoholic nose is not caused by alcohol consumption. However, chronic alcohol addiction may contribute to rhinophyma’s severity in certain cases.
Learn more about Alcoholic Nose/Rhinophyma
Does Alcohol Cause Weight Gain?
Alcohol can cause weight gain especially if it’s consumed in large amounts. Alcohol is often high in calories, has very little nutritional value, and can negatively affect different parts of the body. All those factors can lead to weight gain.
Learn more about Alcohol & Weight Gain
Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?
Yes. Drinking alcohol can prevent you from hitting your weight loss goals and may even make you gain weight. Alcohol use often leads to unhealthy food choices, poor sleep, and less exercise. Drinking heavily can interfere with proper digestion and liver function.
Learn more about Alcohol & Weight Loss
What Does Alcohol Do To Your Liver?
Alcohol is toxic to the liver, especially in large amounts.
Heavy alcohol use over a long period of time can damage healthy liver tissue and interfere with liver function. It can cause fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is the most severe and potentially fatal stage of liver disease.
Learn more about The Damaging Effects Of Alcohol On Your Liver
What Is The Link Between Alcohol & Memory Loss?
Alcohol use can lead to blackouts, a form of short-term memory loss, as well as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and dementia, forms of long-term memory loss. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of alcohol-related memory impairment.
Learn more about Heavy Alcohol Use & Memory Loss
What Is Alcohol-Induced Psychosis?
Alcohol-induced psychosis, also referred to as alcohol hallucinosis, may occur in a person who is suffering from alcohol withdrawal, acute intoxication, or chronic alcoholism.
It is a condition where a person develops psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, fear, delusions, and hallucinations.
Learn more about Alcohol-Induced Psychosis
Are Heavy Drinkers More Prone To Strokes?
Heavy drinking is a major risk factor for strokes, as excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to a variety of other stroke risk factors. This includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and poor overall health.
Learn more about Heavy Alcohol Use & The Increased Risk Of Stroke
What Is Alcohol-Related Dementia?
Alcohol-related dementia is a type of dementia caused by alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). Alcohol-induced dementia affects learning, memory, and other mental functions. If left untreated, severe cognitive impairment or permanent brain damage may occur.
Learn more about Alcohol-Related Dementia
What Is An Alcohol Blackout?
An alcohol blackout is a type of memory loss that occurs when a person reaches a blood alcohol level of 0.16% or higher. Alcohol can affect brain cells involved with the formation and storage of memory, potentially leading to short-term memory loss or blackout.
Learn more about Alcohol-Related Blackouts
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
Outpatient Drug Rehab for Addiction Treatment
Taking advantage of outpatient rehab can help a person overcome the substance abuse lifestyle, while gaining access to group counseling, individual therapy and classes. People in recovery can learn skills to help manage stress and...
Day Treatment – Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
Motivational Interviewing for Substance Abuse
Motivational Interviewing (also called MI, for short) is a counseling method that helps people find genuine internal motivation to solve and address problems in their life. In the context of substance abuse treatment, MI is...
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
12 Step Program for Addiction Treatment
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol's Effects on the Body
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Drinking Levels Defined
- United States National Library of Medicine — Ethanol poisoning
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.