Updated: May 19
Alcohol consumption has short and long-term health effects that affect different areas in your body.
Whether you drink alcohol in moderation or binge drink, the fact is that drinking alcohol will affect your health. And, whether it's from a hangover or from the way alcohol can contribute to your health declining pretty rapidly, the repercussions of drinking are many. Drinking alcohol causes damage to your liver, contributes to many types of cancers, and can even affect your memory. In this blog post, I'll give you some information about how alcohol affects your health.
Let's take a look at how different areas in your body are affected by alcohol consumption.
1 - How does alcohol affect your brain?
Alcohol’s effect on the brain depends on several factors, including age, gender, weight, health status, alcohol tolerance, and the amount and pattern of drinking, among others.
The immediate effects of alcohol include slurred speech, blurred vision, and slow reaction times. This is because alcohol slows down how fast your brain works. When you drink too much, you may pass out or even die from alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.
It's not just heavy drinking that damages your brain. Drinking any amount of alcohol can hurt your memory and learning ability.
2 - How does alcohol affect your heart?
In the short term, drinking alcohol can lower your blood pressure. It can also cause an irregular heartbeat, which increases the risk of stroke and sudden death.
Alcohol’s effects on the heart don’t stop there. Drinking too much alcohol increases your blood pressure over time. People who drink heavily and have high blood pressure are at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke.
The more you drink over time, the higher your risk of high blood pressure. People who have more than three drinks a day are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who don’t drink at all. And binge drinking greatly increases this risk. Binge drinking is when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours.
“Heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic pressure) by about 5.5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their bottom number (diastolic pressure) by about 4 mm Hg.” – Mayo Clinic
Alcohol can also contribute to high triglycerides (blood fats) and obesity – both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. People who are obese are also at higher risk of other conditions associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.
3 - How does alcohol affect your liver?
Your liver does many important jobs, like making bile to help you digest food, storing energy, and cleaning alcohol and toxins from your blood. A healthy liver can process around one ounce of alcohol per hour. That's about a beer's worth of alcohol, but the actual time it takes for the liquor to be broken down varies depending on many factors, including gender, age, and other health conditions.
When there is alcohol abuse, the primary function of the liver becomes impaired and it can lead to cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and hepatitis. These conditions can all lead to complications like cancer, liver failure, and eventually death.
Risk factors for developing alcoholic liver disease include consumption of greater than 40 grams of alcohol per day for men and greater than 20 grams per day for women.
4 - How does alcohol affect your digestive system?
Other than the liver, excess intake of alcohol can damage other parts of the digestive system as well. Alcohol affects the digestive system by interfering with digestion, absorption, and elimination processes.
Alcohol may cause irritation and inflammation in the mouth and throat, especially when taken in large quantities. This may cause oral cancers such as cancer of the tongue, pharynx, and larynx.
Alcohol also irritates the esophagus, which results in increased production of saliva and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD is a condition where acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and chest pains. Esophageal cancers may also occur because of heavy drinking.
Drinking too much alcohol may cause vomiting, nausea, and even bleeding in some people. Heavy drinking leads to alcoholic gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach), which slows digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. Alcoholic gastritis is more common among men than women. In severe cases, it may lead to stomach ulcers.
The chronic consumption of alcohol is also associated with an increased risk of developing stomach and colorectal cancer.
5 - How does alcohol affect your kidneys?
Alcohol affects the kidneys because it's full of toxins. The body's primary way of dealing with these toxins is by filtering them out with the kidneys. When you drink too much, you are putting an extra strain on your kidneys. This can cause your kidneys to stop working correctly. If that happens, your body may not be able to filter out excess water and waste from your blood, which could lead to kidney failure.
Also, alcohol is a diuretic. Therefore, consuming large amounts of alcohol can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which in the long-term results in an increased risk of kidney stone formation.
6 - How does alcohol affect your unborn baby?
If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it's important to know that drinking alcohol can harm your baby. This is true no matter how much or how often you drink. Alcohol can cause problems for your baby during pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. The more alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, the greater the risk to her baby.
Drinking alcohol when pregnant can cause a range of fetal abnormalities known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a cluster of abnormalities that may include mental retardation, heart defects (congenital heart disease), abnormal facial features, including small eyes, a flat, upturned nose, and an abnormally thin upper lip. They also present behavior problems, such as hyperactivity and poor impulse control, poor growth before and after birth, delayed development, learning disabilities, and infertility in the child's later years.
Finally, the last question is, do you need more reasons to stop drinking? Alcohol can be highly damaging to your health—especially if you drink heavily and frequently. It can also lead to accidents and deaths. When you drink, you put your life and others at risk. The good news is that if you need help to quit drinking, there are many resources available. As a final thought, try to stay away from alcohol, but if you decide to have a drink, be mindful and consume in moderation.
And as always, stay healthy and come back for the next topic.
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