Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Body and the Brain

An occasional glass of wine with dinner or a nightcap before bed isn’t going to kill you. But alcohol abuse, long or short-term, can have seriously damaging effects on the body and the brain. Below are a few of the ways the brain and various body parts are affected by alcohol.

Brain

Did you know alcohol abuse can actually cause your brain to shrink? Long-term alcohol use can decrease the size of the frontal lobes, which are associated with learning, personality, behavior, and movement.

Because it affects the frontal lobes, alcohol abuse is capable of changing behavior, both in the short and long-term. Drinkers will act in ways atypical to their usual behavior, and this can evenalter their personality after long periods of abuse.

Drinkers also compromise their ability to communicate, as slurred or nonsensical speech is a common symptom of intoxication.

Alcohol dependence affects both the body and the brain. If used to be in an inebriated state, the brain craves the alcohol when the user isn’t drinking. This can impede cognitive and physical performance.

Large amounts of alcohol can also tamper with the brain’s abilities to form memories. This is often referred to as a blackout when a person drinks so much at once that the brain stops creating and storing memories, and the person will not remember what happened for a period of time.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, and other unpleasant, scary symptoms.

Heart

Chronic alcohol abuse is one of the lead causes of cardiovascular disease.

It can also cause stretching and sagging of the heart, known as cardiomyopathy.

Alcohol abuse can cause arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.

Stroke and high blood pressure are other risks of alcohol abuse.

Blood

Alcohol has a high sugar content, and so consuming too much alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, from being used to processing large quantities of sugar.

Liver

Because the liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, alcohol abuse makes the liver work overtime, and eventually become unable to remove harmful substances from the body.

It can also cause cirrhosis and steatosis, also known as “fatty liver.”

Pancreas

Alcohol abuse is one of the lead causes of chronic pancreatitis, which is a dangerous swelling in the pancreas that keeps it from digesting correctly.

Stomach

Alcohol abuse can damage the intestines, leading to stomach pain, digestion problems, ulcers, and constipation or diarrhea.

It also stops the body from absorbing all the vitamins and minerals it needs from food.

Sexual Organs

Alcohol negatively impacts both male and female sex organs. In both sexes, it can cause infertility or difficulty conceiving.

It can cause erectile dysfunction in men.

Pregnant women who drink can cause severe lifelong harm to the fetus, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or cognitive impairment. Pregnant women who drink also have an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery.

Immune System

Drinking lowers the body’s immune system, making users more susceptible to illness. Even binge drinking once leaves the body’s defenses down up to 24 hours after being drunk.

Cancer

The more a user drinks, and the longer the period they abuse alcohol, increases the risk of cancer. In 2009, about 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States were alcohol-related. Studies have proven a clear link between alcohol abuse and cancers in the following areas: neck cancer (including cancer of the throat and voice box), cancer of the mouth, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, colon, and rectum cancer. Alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk of developing any of these life-threatening diseases.