How Alcohol Impacts Your Body: Short and Long-term Effects
1. NauseaWhen you hear “alcohol poisoning” you probably think of something that happens to a small number of people. However, if you drink heavily, chances are that this has happened to you. Drinking excessively leads to alcohol poisoning that can cause vomiting and nausea along with other symptoms like paleness, difficulty breathing, low energy, exhaustion etc.
2. DiarrhoeaDrinking small “normal” amounts of alcohol speeds up digestion and leads to diarrhoea. Alcohol prevents water to be absorbed by the colon and causes it to squeeze more frequently. The excessive amount of alcohol that isn’t absorbed by the colon is released through stool. Drinking a lot of alcohol can irritate the digestive tract and disrupt the bacteria in your gut, which can lead to prolonged diarrhoea, lasting a couple of days.
3. Audiovisual issuesAlcohol damages the brain. It affects the part of the brain in charge of processing sounds. That’s why drunk people often can’t understand what others are saying. At the same time, alcohol slows down the communication between the brain and the eyes, slowing down pupils and decreasing their reaction time. That’s why people will often have double vision when they’ve had one too many.
4. Problems with balanceAlcohol disrupts the amount of fluid in our inner ear. This fluid is in charge of maintaining our sense of balance. When drinking alcohol can reach the inner ear and cause balance issues. At the same time, it can contribute to hearing loss.
5. Memory loss or amnesiaYou’ve heard people talking about how they got trashed the day earlier and can’t remember things. Well, that’s because alcohol always causes memory loss. However, the more you drink, the worse it gets. It slows down the nerves within the hippocampus in charge of forming and keeping memories. If a person has been drinking heavily for a long time, alcohol can damage the hippocampus and lead to amnesia.
6. Loss of consciousnessDrinking too much can lead to a full blackout. Sometimes the person will fall asleep when drinking too much and lose consciousness. However, in some cases, they will remain awake but lose consciousness. Our memories are formed with a process known as “transfer-encoding”, but alcohol disrupts this process. Drinking too much can cause a total loss of consciousness with complete memory loss. In some cases, fragments of the memories will come back.
1. Liver damageAlcohol can lead to chronic liver damage, which means that the damage can happen over the years. There still isn’t proof why alcohol damages the liver. However, there is concrete evidence that it does and the mechanisms that happen. Alcohols can release toxins in the gut and disrupt the microbiota (the bacteria in our stomach), which can lead to liver damage. At the same time, the liver’s job is to break alcohol down, and when this happens, it causes a chemical reaction that causes scarring and inflammation.
2. Brain damageAlcohol starts affecting the brain as soon as it reaches the bloodstream. The more someone drinks the more alcohol reaches the brain, causing damage. This brain damage can lead to many symptoms and diseases over a long period, including:
- Hindered motor functions and poor reflexes
- Memory issues
- Major mood swings
- Cognitive decline
3. UlcersIn moderate amounts, alcohol can actually prevent ulcers. It can prevent the H. pylori bacteria from reaching the stomach. However, when drinking excessively over a long period of time, alcohol can increase the production of gastric acid, leading to increased chances of stomach ulcers. Alcohol can also cause gastritis. Even though there isn’t any proof that this is related to ulcers, gastritis is also caused by the same bacteria. This means that there is a correlation between alcohol and ulcers that is yet to be explored.
4. Vitamin B1 deficiencyPeople who drink excessively usually have an unhealthy diet, and they eat less food overall. Alcohol is absorbed instead of thiamine (B1 vitamin), which leads to thiamine deficiency. At the same time, alcohol also disrupts the gastrointestinal tract making thiamine absorption even more difficult. Vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to various mental issues, confusion, memory loss, anorexia, muscle weakness, and cardiovascular issues.
5. Nerve damageAlcohol is toxic to nerve tissue. Over time peripheral nerves can get severely damaged and have difficulties transmitting important signals for brain and body functions. The balance of essential vitamins for nerve function such as vitamin E, B1, B12, B6, niacin, and folate can get disrupted, causing a variety of issues such as:
- Difficulty speaking
- Total or partial sexual dysfunction
- Problems urinating
- Bladder issues
- Muscle weakness
- Leg numbness
- Cramps and spasms
6. High blood pressureDrinking excessively leads to an initial increase in blood pressure. However, over time blood pressure levels can get permanently increased. Furthermore, alcohol has a lot of calories. Excessive use can lead to weight gain and obesity. These factors further increase the risk of high blood pressure.
In even moderately excessive amounts, alcohol is bad. It can cause a variety of issues if the person has predispositions for certain health issues and diseases. Like many things we consume, alcohol often has a social context in which it sits. Alcohol often creeps up in consumption and often starts to lose any rational purpose. It just becomes something many just ‘do’. Take a moment to look at the social contexts in which your consumption lies. Assess what that level of consumption looks like and much like many habits, address the context, not the actual consumption in order to change any of those statistics.
For more information or for further support. There are a number of support networks across the UK, such as: