How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

You do not have to be an alcoholic before alcohol begins to affect your body. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption since how alcohol affects you will depend on your age, gender, size, and how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol. In general, if you routinely drink more than one drink a day, you may be at higher risk for associated health problems. Besides bringing about short-term effects such as dizziness, alcohol consumption can also harm your body in the long run. What are the dangers of drinking alcohol?

How does Alcohol Affect the Body?

How does alcohol affect the body? The short answer is that there are some short-term effects and some long-term effects. The short-term effects of alcohol appear within the first few hours of drinking and up to a day or two after you stop drinking.

The First Few Hours After Drinking

Alcohol begins to affect the central nervous system (CNS) almost immediately after drinking. The CNS controls many bodily functions including movement, cognition and your senses. When alcohol blocks these functions, you see the symptoms of drunkenness. These symptoms include:

  • Slurring of speech
  • Visual disturbances including blurred vision
  • Diminished coordination and loss of balance
  • Dizziness
  • Dulled sensation of pain
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Loss of ability to judge distance
  • Impaired judgment
  • Sweating, nausea, and vomiting

The Morning After

The morning after alcohol is what many people dread when they have had too much to drink. “The morning after” may last a few hours or a few days after drinking too much. As the body processes alcohol, it is converted to large amounts of glucose (sugar). The normal body responds to this increased glucose by producing greater than normal amounts of insulin to remove the sugar. Once the excess glucose is removed, the insulin continues to remove sugar resulting in lower than normal serum glucose levels in your body. Low glucose levels result in the typical hangover symptoms of shakiness, visual disturbances, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and the general malaise that follows alcohol consumption.

Long-term Effects

While the short-term effects of alcohol can make you miserable, the long-term effects can be life-threatening.

Liver

Some of the most devastating effects of alcohol occur in the liver where it can result in fatty liver, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and even an alcoholic hepatitis. Long-term use of alcohol may increase your risk of liver cancer.

Breast

Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing various cancers including breast cancer. If you limit alcohol to one drink per day or less, your risk of breast cancer will be less.

Stomach

Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach causing increased production of stomach acid. This stomach acid can erode the lining of the stomach causing ulcers, nausea, and vomiting.

Pancreas

When the pancreas is overworked from excessive alcohol, you are at much higher risk for the development of pancreatitis. This inflammation of the pancreas can cause problems with your normal digestion and decrease the absorption of calcium and Vitamin D.

Heart

Damage to the heart from alcohol consumption can include irregular heartbeats, cardiomyopathy which is an abnormal stretching of the heart leading to decreased function, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Bones

There is very good research that shows that alcohol use in an adolescent and young adult can have an adverse effect on bones. Specifically, the excessive use of alcohol keeps the stomach from absorbing the calcium necessary to build strong bones. In later life, this results in osteopenia and osteoporosis – brittle bones.

Central Nervous System

In addition to the short-term effects of alcohol on the CNS, these symptoms can become long-term resulting in chronic shakiness, loss of balance, tremors, and slurred speech.

Memory

Chronic use of alcohol affects the hippocampus in your brain. This part of the brain is responsible for storing and retrieving memories. Much of this process happens during normal sleep. Because alcohol interferes with normal sleep patterns, your ability to store memories is also affected.

Immune System

When alcohol weakens your immune system, you become more vulnerable to other diseases. Chronic and binge drinkers may be more susceptible to infections including tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Limits of Alcohol Consumption

If you drink alcohol, the best advice is to drink in moderation. Guidelines for “moderate” drinking depend on your gender and size. Men and women metabolize alcohol very differently. This is due in part because women are usually smaller than men. Even for a man and woman who weigh the same, alcohol metabolism will be faster for a man because a man’s weight includes more water than a woman. Since alcohol is diluted by water, a man will be able to process the same amount of alcohol faster than a woman.

Typically, the recommendation is one drink each day for a normal sized woman and two drinks for a man. A drink is defined as one 12 ounce (355 milliliters) beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of “hard” liquor (vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.).

 

 
 
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