Alcohol Effects on the Body
From suppressing the actions of your central nervous system to damaging your vital organs, alcohol can have a devastating effect on your body. Long-term drinkers have a higher risk of liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure than non-drinkers. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, excessive alcohol use is one of the primary risk factors in these serious chronic conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lung disease
- Cancer (especially of the mouth, throat, colon, rectum, liver and breast)
Alcohol’s Effects on the Heart
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) moderate alcohol use (an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. However, drinking more than this amount may increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. One drink equals:
- A 12-oz. serving of beer
- A 4-oz. serving of wine
- 1.5 oz. of hard liquor (80 proof)
- 1 oz. of hard liquor (100 proof)
Alcohol and the Central Nervous System
From the very first time you drink alcohol, you’ll probably notice its effects on your central nervous system. Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down your voluntary and involuntary actions. When you drink, you may have impaired motor coordination, slower reaction times, loss of memory while drinking (blackouts), and difficulty processing information.
Over time, you may notice that alcohol has a permanent effect on your cognitive abilities. According to Johns Hopkins University, heavy drinkers show a lower ability to think abstractly than non-drinkers, even when they’re sober.
Alcohol and Your Liver
Out of all the organs that are damaged by heavy alcohol use, the liver may suffer most. Montana State University reports that alcoholic hepatitis, which involves swelling, pain and inflammation of the liver, affects up to 50 percent of heavy drinkers, and cirrhosis affects between 15 and 30 percent of people who abuse alcohol.
The Role of The Liver
What’s so important about your liver? There are many reasons to appreciate and protect this hard-working organ. Your liver plays vital roles in digestion, protein production, detoxification and blood circulation, including:
- Eliminating toxins from your body
- Building proteins and making cholesterol
- Processing sugars and fats
- Storing vitamins and minerals
- Regulating blood clotting and blood fluid content
Your liver also metabolizes most of the alcohol you drink, and the more alcohol you consume, the more damage your liver incurs. The damage to your liver is progressive and cumulative, meaning that you may not see the results right away. However, over time, heavy drinkers can experience liver-related problems like:
- Weight loss
- Hardening and swelling of the liver
- Nausea and vomiting
- Malfunctions of the brain
- Kidney disease
Sexuality and Drinking
When it comes to your sexuality, alcohol can be dangerously deceptive. Because alcohol releases inhibitions and relaxes your judgment, you may feel more sexually attractive and have a higher sex drive when you’re drinking. But in reality, heavy alcohol use can lead to sexual dysfunction and impotence. Both men and women can experience problems with sexual response, which are often made worse by the emotional disturbances, depression and fatigue that alcohol can cause.
When your judgment is blurred by alcohol, you may be more likely to have unsafe sex. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, hepatitis, herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and the human papillomavirus (HPV) can have severe, life-changing consequences. Unplanned pregnancy, date rape and sexual violence are also more common among people who are abusing drugs and alcohol.
Healing Your Body and Psyche
Although it may be a fear of disease or injury that drives you to get sober, recovery also gives you the opportunity to mend psychological damage. Alcoholism isn’t just a disease of the body; it often arises from underlying trauma to the psyche. Finding healthier ways to resolve pain and heal wounds is one of the challenges of alcohol treatment.