What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on July 16, 2020
Alcohol has a short-term and long-term impact on the body. It begins when you take your first sip of any type of alcoholic drink. The more you realize the risks of drinking alcohol, the more you’ll recognize it may not be something you want in your body. Read on to learn more about the effects that alcohol has on the body.
Alcohol interacts with the way your brain works. It also impacts the memory-making center of the brain. This creates instances in which a person wakes up without having any idea where they are or what they were doing.
You may wake up unable to remember what you were doing. You could even forget you were drinking alcohol. Over time, this can create long-term gaps in your memory, which has a lasting impact on your brain’s health.
The more exposure to alcohol you have, the more likely it is to damage your brain in various ways.
Long-term exposure causes shrinkage in the brain’s frontal lobes. This is permanent damage, and there’s no way for it to heal. The impact can include changes to cognition and communication among other things.
The lungs are impacted by alcohol, too. Those who drink frequently are more likely to have difficulty fighting off respiratory illnesses. This includes bacteria and viruses.
That means a person who consumes alcohol consistently is more likely to develop health complications from many things. This could include anything from the common cold to tuberculosis and even pneumonia.
Heavily drinking over a long period of time or binge drinking, can cause heart damage. It can cause cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle suffers damage.
The heart enlarges and the muscle weakens. That means it cannot push enough oxygen-rich blood through the body, impacting overall health and function.
Because of the way alcohol changes the function and size of the brain, it distorts a person’s behavior. That means you may react differently to various types of interactions and stressors. In some situations, you may struggle to make decisions or lack mental clarity regarding the decisions you need to make.
Cognitive function decline often creates behavioral changes that can be significant. Your loved ones may say your personality is different or “You didn’t use to act like this.”
Your brain controls the function of your body in every way. One way that alcohol impacts it is by limiting the brain’s ability to coordinate your movements.
You may feel off-balance often. You may also have trouble walking a straight line. Over time, this type of damage can become more permanent. You may struggle with frequently falling down or losing your balance even when you aren’t drinking. This can make tasks requiring good balance hard to do.
Reproductive System Changes
Drinking alcohol can impact your reproductive system. In men, this typically leads to erectile dysfunction. That can make it difficult to produce an erection.
In both men and women, it can impact the production of hormones to stimulate sexual activity. In many cases, it can cause infertility. In women, it can alter the menstruation cycle, limiting fertility. It can also increase the risk of breast cancer in women.
Immune System Complications
The immune system is responsible for fighting off illness. Alcohol slows down the reaction of the immune system, hampering its ability to fight off illness. This allows for bacteria to flourish.
White blood cells, which fight disease and illness, are less effective and become sluggish. If you drink alcohol on a consistent basis, this can make you more likely to suffer from complications of illnesses. It can also make some forms of cancer more dangerous and aggressive.
Alcohol’s impact on the function of the body also leads to limitations in the way it breaks down the nutrients. First, many people who drink alcohol heavily do not eat nutritious foods or get enough of a variety in their diet. In addition, alcohol impacts the ability of the body to absorb nutrients because it damages the lining of the digestive tract.
This further complicates the body’s ability to take in and use nutrients necessary for organ function. Alcohol’s impact on the body can be devastating the longer malnutrition continues.
The liver is one of the most important tools for flushing the body of chemicals and toxins. The liver struggles to remove high volumes of alcohol from the bloodstream, though.
Chronic alcohol use causes damage to the liver. This limits its ability to remove substances from the body. That includes alcohol but also other toxins you take in.
The lack of nutrients as well as the effects of alcohol often create a constant state of fatigue. Your body is tired – your immune system is working hard as is your brain, often without the nutrients it needs. All of this leads to fatigue. It is also brought on by a lack of iron in the body, which causes anemia to occur. This is a common complication of alcoholism.
Cancer can occur in many areas of the body due to alcohol. Chronic drinkers face the highest risk of developing cancers of the esophagus, mouth, and throat. It can also increase the frequency of stomach cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Because alcohol limits the immune system’s function, cancer is able to spread rapidly.
Women who are pregnant and drink alcohol—even in small amounts—can feel numerous effects. Drinking while pregnant can cause premature birth and a host of other health issues for the baby. This includes being born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Some will also have mental development problems or various birth defects. Stillbirths and miscarriage are also more common in women who are drinking alcohol while pregnant.
If a person has diabetes and abuses alcohol, this can be really harmful. Excessive alcohol use can prevent the organs from responding to blood sugar levels. This can lead to various health complications.
Alcohol abuse in diabetics can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, nerve damage and eye problems.
Over time, the use of alcohol can intensify bone density loss. Thinning bones are more susceptible to fractures. This can increase the risk of complications especially in women who are older. It can lead to the need for joint and hip replacement procedures as well.
Getting Help for Alcohol Use Disorder
As you can see, alcoholism can have seriously harmful effects on the body. If you are struggling with alcohol use disorder, it is important to get help. Enrolling in a quality treatment program can get you started on rebuilding your life and taking back your health.
Search our directory for a treatment center near you. Your health is precious, make it your priority today.
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