How Does Alcohol Affect the Body? 5 Alarming Facts You Need to Know!

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How does alcohol affect the body? Today we'll explore the dark side of drinking. Alcohol is so prevalent in our society. It's ubiquitous, it's literally everywhere and it seems like it's usually associated with something positive and celebratory. If you go to a party, there's alcohol. If you go to a wedding, there's alcohol. If you go to a football game, a Christmas dinner, a Bar Mitzvah, a graduation celebration, or even if you're invited to the cookout, there is alcohol. Do you get my point? But there is a dark side to drinking.

According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and binge drinking accounts for 40% of those deaths. But even if you're not a binge drinker, if you're just a chronic drinker and you consider yourself to be a moderate alcohol user, you may actually be drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and you don't even know it.

effects of alcohol on the brain

Even just everyday use of alcohol can lead to a multitude of health problems. It can even affect your sex life. So today we're going to talk about it. I'm giving you the top five dangers of how alcohol affects your body and brain. The dark side of drinking. Keep reading.


What Is Considered One Drink Of Alcohol?

I'm Dr. Frita, an Atlanta nephrologist and an MD who has been triple board certified and today I'm giving you the top five dangers as we explore the question: how does alcohol affect the body and brain? Excessive alcohol use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. But what is excessive alcohol use? How many drinks? Well, first off, let's define what a drink of alcohol is.

what is considered one drink of alcohol

One drink is considered:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor

Excessive alcohol use includes drinking 8 or more drinks per week if you are a woman or 15 or more drinks per week if you are a man. I don't make the gender discrepancy news, I just report it. It also includes binge drinking, which is defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for a woman or five or more drinks on one occasion for a man. And binge drinking accounts for 40% of alcohol deaths due to excessive alcohol use. One out of six Americans binge drinks alcohol.  Excessive alcohol use also includes, any pregnant woman drinking or anyone under the age of 21. These are the CDC definitions.

how does alcohol affect the body

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body? Top 5  Dangers Revealed

1. Increased Risk For Liver Disease

Excessive alcohol can cause many types of liver disease including cirrhosis, which is actually not reversible and can lead to fatal liver failure. Alcohol is the second leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Hepatitis C is the number one cause and it's a real problem.

What Is A Liver?

So let's first talk about what the liver is, because it is a hugely important organ. Your liver is that organ located in the right upper part of your stomach. It just kind of peaks out right under the ribcage. It's responsible for filtering out excess toxins in the blood. It helps to make plasma proteins and it helps your blood to clot properly. It even aids your body in making hormones. It also helps to make vitamin D, so the liver is a big deal. But excessive alcohol use can really jack it up.

what is a liver

Liver Diseases Caused By Alcohol Abuse:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver Failure - you can ultimately get liver failure and die


2. Increased Risk For Heart Disease

Excessive alcohol use can definitely lead to heart disease. One way is that it can cause dilated cardiomyopathy. It can cause a big heart, but not in a good way. With the alcohol, dilated cardiomyopathy means that you get stretched out heart muscles, they become floppy and they don't always beat in a regular fashion. So it can lead to you having arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms or even sudden death, all because of alcohol use.

Excessive alcohol use can also lead to hypertension or high blood pressure, and we know that high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and strokes. In the past, it has been stated that drinking alcohol like perhaps a glass of red wine a day could actually help with heart health. That now is a bit controversial.

If you don't drink we definitely don't recommend that you start drinking. And the one thing that is not controversial, is that excessive alcohol use definitely can cause heart disease. Be sure to watch my video on 15 foods to avoid if you have high blood pressure after you finish reading this article.

3. Increased Risk For Cancer

Excessive alcohol use has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. According to a study published in The Lancet, in just one year, excessive alcohol use was associated with 741,000 of all new cancer cases globally. That's 4.1%. In another study, alcohol was found to be associated with 400,000 cancer deaths.

alcohol and cancer

Alcohol use can also increase your risk for throat cancer, and other oral cancers, such as mouth cancer. It can increase your risk for cancer of the esophagus, which is that tube between the mouth and the stomach. It can increase your risk for liver cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. Alcohol use has also been associated with breast cancer.


4. Impaired Brain Function

Impaired brain function is a huge danger when answering the question - how does alcohol affect the body? It has different effects on the brain - both short-term and long-term. It is considered to be a central nervous system depressant. When you take in alcohol it can cause impaired brain function, impaired cognitive or thinking ability, it can affect your memory, slow your body movements, and it can cause slow or slurred speech.

alcohol and impaired brain function

At the same time, alcohol can also cause euphoria and happiness. It can also cause an increase in dopamine release, the reward center, and an increase in serotonin, so it can affect the part of your brain that controls your balance which is why you can get a wobbly gait or a wobbly way that you walk when you have alcohol.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Alcohol can also affect your impulse control. Things that you normally wouldn't say. Things that are found socially unacceptable. If you have alcohol on board you might just say them or do them. Alcohol can also affect your sex life. It can increase your desire for sex and increase your arousal, but it can decrease your ability to sexually perform. Remember that.

how alcohol affects the brain

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Now, some of the long-term dangers of how alcohol affects the brain; memory loss. Some studies suggest that alcohol affects your memory. It can even be associated with dementia.

Alcohol can also be associated with brain shrinking like a decrease in the volume of the brain. It can definitely affect your cognitive function, your ability to have high executive functioning and to be able to carry out tasks. Even small amounts of alcohol, like less than a drink a day.

In some studies, it's been associated with a loss of brain volume, but definitely, there can be a dose dependence meaning the more that you drink, or the more frequently you drink, the worse effects it can have on your brain.


5. Addiction and Dependence

Excessive alcohol use can definitely lead to addiction and dependence, and this is how it works. When you drink alcohol, it leads to euphoria or a very happy feeling. What happens is the alcohol causes a release of your body's endorphins, which are like your endogenous morphine or opioids. This triggers a release of dopamine, which causes pleasure in your reward center.

It also triggers a release of serotonin which can cause a very light or happy mood. You have this euphoria but then the more and more alcohol you drink, especially with repeated use, you develop a tolerance. So that means that it takes more alcohol to get the same level of euphoria.


How Do You Know If You May Have A Level Of Dependence or Addiction To Alcohol?

There is a tool called the CAGE Questionnaire which has been used historically. It will ask you questions such as:

  • Do you feel like you need to cut down on alcohol?
  • Do you get annoyed when people ask you about your alcohol use?
  • Do you ever feel guilty about the amount of alcohol you use?
  • Do you need an eye-opener? In other words, do you wake up in the morning and the first thing you need to do is grab alcohol?

If you're answering yes to these questions then it's something to consider. You could have some type of dependence on alcohol.

Also, if you find yourself having frequent cravings for alcohol, if you're using the alcohol despite physical problems or social problems that it may be causing, or if you find yourself doing activities while drinking alcohol that you know you shouldn't be doing. For example, if you're driving after having excessive alcohol use that could be a sign that you have an alcohol dependency.

You definitely want to have a conversation with your physician if you think that you may have an alcohol dependency. And you can also reach out to groups like AA or Alcoholics Anonymous. If your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol you can get withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:

  • High heart rate
  • High fever
  • Anxiety
  • You can get very intensely agitated
  • Delirium Tremens or DTs (usually occur a few days after going without alcohol)
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens

Without a doubt, there are many dangers in how alcohol can affect your body and your brain. And the real frightening thing is that so many people have excessive use of alcohol and they don't even realize it. You don't have to be someone who's falling down and inebriated to have a problem with alcohol.

And you don't have to be someone who's smelling like alcohol and can't hold a job, or you embarrass yourself in public to have an alcohol problem.  You don't have to be that loud, stereotypical, intoxicated person to have a problem with alcohol.


So be honest with yourself, and if any of those questions I asked, or any of those things I mentioned, things that could let you know that you may have alcohol dependence, if any of these things ring true with you, seek help.

Also, pay attention to psychological addiction. If you associate certain activities with alcohol, where you really feel like you crave it. For example, if you can't do a Zoom call with friends without drinking alcohol, if you can't go to dinner without drinking alcohol, if you can't watch a game on television without drinking alcohol, pay attention to that and really calculate your numbers to see if you have excessive alcohol use and are putting yourself at risk for some of these dangers.

Again when it comes to the question: how does alcohol affect the body? The top five dangers of how alcohol can affect your body and brain are, that it increases your risk for liver disease. It increases your risk for heart disease and for cancer. It can cause impaired brain function and can lead to addiction and dependence. And these are just to name a few, this list is not exhaustive. There are more dangers, so be careful and be honest with yourself and your loved ones.

If you suspect you or a loved one may be facing challenges with alcohol, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to your physician or consider seeking support from organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Help and resources are available to guide you toward a healthier and happier path.

If you found this article to be helpful and informative please share it with the people you care about.

Dr. Frita - Frita McRae Fisher, M.D.
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  1. Dexter Maberry on December 15, 2023 at 5:14 am

    Thank you, I loved the facts and truth and would love to know more.

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