Skip to main content

In the United States, approximately 30 million individuals had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2022. If you or a loved one have been affected by alcohol addiction or suspect an addiction, self-knowledge can support your long-term success.

Addiction treatment education can help you better understand risk factors, relapse prevention strategies, and how this chronic disease can wreak havoc on your mind and body. AUD can range from mild to severe, but any excessive alcohol use can contribute to an increased risk of physical and mental health problems. Learning how alcohol affects your body may also reframe your idea of addiction as a chronic brain disorder that requires treatment like any other condition.

Physical Effects of Alcohol

The harmful consumption of alcohol is a factor in over 200 injury and disease conditions, resulting in disabilities and death for approximately 13.5% of individuals aged 20-39. Here are the most common effects of alcohol on the body:

  • Poor sleep quality
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor coordination
  • Irritation of the digestive system
  • Inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Rosacea
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating
  • Loss of balance
  • Impair the gag reflex, creating a choking hazard
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Lowered blood sugar levels
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Weakened immune system
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in pregnant women

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), drinking excessively, even on one occasion, can have serious consequences on your physical health. Diseases and conditions associated with excessive alcohol include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Oral cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis

What Organs Does Alcohol Affect?

Alcohol can significantly impact many major organs of the body, including:

  • Liver: Frequent, heavy alcohol consumption disrupts the natural function of the liver, which is particularly susceptible to alcohol damage. Most individuals who drink heavily will develop fatty liver disease, which is often the earliest stage of alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD). This disease makes the organ more vulnerable to inflammatory damage, including Cirrhosis, Fibrosis, and Alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Brain: Chronic heavy drinking can damage various regions of the brain responsible for essential cognitive functions like attention, sleep regulation, impulse control, decision-making, and memory. Alcohol can also create chemical imbalances in the brain and cause it to lose control of your body’s vital functions, potentially resulting in death.
  • Heart: Alcohol can weaken the heart muscle and cause it to stretch or droop, known as cardiomyopathy. The weaker the heart muscle, the less blood and oxygen that your organs receive. Drinking heavily can also result in high blood pressure, stroke, or irregular heartbeat, known as Arrhythmias.
  • Pancreas: Long-term alcohol consumption can cause a potentially fatal disease called pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Alcohol is responsible for up to 25% of acute pancreatitis cases and is the second leading cause of this disease. Recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis are thought to result in chronic pancreatitis.

Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant that can disrupt the natural balance of chemical messengers in your brain, altering your feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Alcohol dependence or addiction is a potential psychological effect of consuming alcohol too frequently or in heavy amounts. In fact, AUD commonly occurs with mental health disorders and can have many other psychological effects of alcohol on the brain, including:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder
  • Mood disorders, most often major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder
  • Inability to perform at school or work
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Impairment of vision, reflexes, or reactions controlled by the brain
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Alcoholic dementia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Use of other substances
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and death

The Connection Between Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol and mental health are closely intertwined. Because of the myriad of physical and psychological conditions that can develop from heavy alcohol consumption, people with AUD may continue to drink as a way to self-medicate or cope with the difficult symptoms. Alcohol consumption also lowers your inhibitions, making you more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as:

  • Driving while under the influence.
  • Getting into physical fights.
  • Having unprotected sex.
  • Engaging in self-injurious behavior.
  • Committing crimes.
  • Causing or being the victim of fatal injuries.

Let’s examine some key statistics about the potential psychological conditions related to alcohol consumption that we listed above.

Alcohol can cause and exacerbate mental health conditions. For instance, up to 30% of those with AUD will also have co-occurring PTSD. Up to 40% of individuals with AUD will develop an anxiety disorder. Because alcohol often has a temporary relaxing effect on anxiety, this can lead to more drinking and escalate both conditions.

The co-occurrence of AUD in those with major depressive disorder can affect up to 40% of individuals. Additionally, having AUD raises the odds of developing another substance use disorder (SUD). Over 40% of men and 47% of women with AUD have had another SUD.

Does Alcohol Have Permanent Effects?

Yes, alcohol can have permanent and devastating effects on your mind and body. Ethanol, the intoxicating active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, directly influences the body’s organs. Some of these effects can appear quickly or develop over an extended period of time. To recap what you learned above, here are the most common short and long-term effects of alcohol addiction.

Short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired vision, reflexes, and coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed or quickened heart rate
  • Temporary relaxation or diminished stress
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Vomiting
  • Poor decision-making
  • Temporary communication problems like dysarthria, or slurred speech
  • Injuries, such as falling, motor vehicle crashes, burns, and drownings
  • Respiratory suppression
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Confusion
  • Violence, including sexual assault, suicide, homicide, and intimate partner violence

Long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Mood and sleep disturbances
  • Various types of cancer, including breast, colon, and throat
  • Digestive problems
  • Increased prevalence of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression
  • Increased substance use
  • Tolerance development
  • Impaired learning
  • Reduced memory capacity
  • Disrupted brain development
  • A weakened immune system
  • Social, relationship, and family difficulties
  • Job or financial problems, including unemployment
  • Shrinkage of the hippocampus
  • Development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

Find Safe, Compassionate Care at Sana at Stowe

If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol addiction, these potential effects can be your reason to seek treatment and avoid further damage. At Sana, we are here to help. We’re dedicated to providing personalized care to all patients who struggle with substance abuse, alcohol addiction, PTSD, and trauma. Our licensed professionals collaborate to ensure safe, comfortable, and private treatment so you can focus on your personal transformation and recovery.

Our serene, healing environment provides a peaceful place for evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions. At Sana, we will guide and stay with you through recovery. If you are ready to reconnect with yourself in a supportive and non-judgemental space, call us today or contact us online.

Sana is Here to Help

Sana is here for you and your loved ones. Sana at Stowe provides high-quality treatment for those struggling with substance abuse, alcohol addiction, trauma, and PTSD. Our compassionate and professional staff is dedicated to giving our patients the recovery experience they deserve in a safe and healing environment. To learn more or to get started on your journey to recovery today, give us a call or visit our contact form.

Click here to call us: 866-575-9958