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Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Long-term alcoholism effectsDrinking alcohol, especially in large quantities for long periods of time, can have many negative effects on your body and mind. Alcohol – which includes beer, wine, and liquor – is a central nervous system depressant. It affects all organs in the body, especially the liver and the brain.

When you drink alcohol, you might notice effects such as difficulty walking, speaking, or thinking clearly. These short-term effects usually dissipate a few hours after your last drink. However, some long-term effects of alcohol can continue after you stop drinking, especially if you’ve been drinking in excess for an extended period of time.

Dependence on Alcohol

Drinking alcohol over a long period of time, and increasing the amount you drink, can lead to a dependence on it. According to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, you have a higher risk of becoming dependent on alcohol if you have more than two drinks at a time on a consistent basis.

Alcohol dependence is often associated with a growing tolerance to its effects, which means that you’ll need to drink increasingly more to feel the same results. And if you stop drinking, you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, which could include nausea, sweating or feeling shaky, or more serious developments, such as delirium and seizures.

Moderate Drinking Versus Heavy Drinking

Many of the long-term consequences of alcohol come from drinking it in excess. So what does “in excess” mean? One alcoholic drink is considered:

  • 12 ounces of beer.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor.
  • 5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

For women, moderate drinking is considered one drink or less each day. For men, it’s two drinks or less each day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, these guidelines might not apply to you depending on the extent to which alcohol affects you individually, whether you are taking medications that interact with alcohol, and other factors.

Heavy drinking entails consistently drinking an amount over the moderate limit per day. If you fall into this category, you’re more likely to experience some of the long-term consequences of alcohol use. Another consideration is that binge drinking, or drinking many drinks in a short amount of time, can also have serious effects on your health.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as four drinks or more in approximately two hours for a woman and five drinks or more in the same time period for a man. This pattern of drinking typically raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration to .08 or higher. More than 90% of adults who consume alcohol in excess have engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking in the past month.

An individual isn’t necessarily addicted to alcohol if he or she engages in binge drinking, but this behavior can still have detrimental results. For example, those who binge drink are 14 times more likely to drive drunk than those who don’t engage in binge drinking.

Other harmful consequences of binge drinking may include:

  • Overdose.
  • Liver damage.
  • Violence in the form of exposure to guns, domestic violence, or sexual assault.
  • Accidental injuries through incidents such as car crashes, drowning, burns, or falling.
  • Stroke.
  • Cardiovascular issues.
  • Brain damage.
  • Accidental pregnancy.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Giving birth to a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Poor control of diabetes.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

A significant long-term effect of alcohol is that it can harm the brain. Drinking too much alcohol for a long period of time can disrupt neuronal pathways. This effect negatively affects cognitive functioning, behavior, and mood. Neuronal activity is intimately connected with every function of the brain. For example, neurons in the cortex help with mental functions and consciousness, and healthy neuronal activity is required for efficient memory formation.

Alcohol’s intoxicating effects manifest as symptoms that arise during a drinking episode, but other health effects may persist on a more long-term basis when alcohol affects the neurons in your brain. These symptoms include:

  • Slurred speech.
  • Trouble walking.
  • Blurred eyesight.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Slow reaction times.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Cirrhosis.
  • Fatty liver.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cancer in regions such as the mouth, throat, breast, and liver.
  • Stroke.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Stretching and weakening of heart muscle.
  • Weakened immune system.

Alcohol can have short-term effects on the brain when you drink small amounts of it. In other words, the effects will stop when you stop drinking. But if you drink large amounts for a long period of time, the negative effects build up and can last long after you stop drinking.

Alcohol and Poor Nutrition

Alcoholic malnutritionSome of the effects of alcohol on the brain can be worsened by poor health or an alcohol-related condition, such as liver disease. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 80% of people addicted to alcohol don’t get enough of the nutrient thiamine, or vitamin B1, which is necessary for brain health. This vitamin is found in nuts, whole grain cereals, peas, poultry, and meat.

Many of those suffering from long-term alcohol addiction are at risk of developing a serious neurologic disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which has two forms: a short-term one called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a long-term one called Korsakoff’s psychosis. Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • Coordination problems.
  • Vision problems such as nystagmus, drooping eyelids, and double vision.
  • Confusion.
  • Leg tremors.

Symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include:

  • Memory issues.
  • Trouble learning.
  • Problems with walking and coordination.
  • Hallucinations.

If Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is suspected, the individual must be treated immediately. If it isn’t, the condition can progress to coma and death.

How Alcohol Affects the Liver

The liver is responsible for breaking down the alcohol you drink, so it can become extremely damaged from a high volume of alcohol or long-term drinking. Alcohol can cause severe liver damage, including:

  • Fatty liver disease. This is characterized by excess fat in the cells of the liver, and it’s an earlier stage of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption. Almost all heavy drinkers develop this condition. It can be somewhat reversed with abstinence from alcohol, although it’s more serious in some people than in others.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis. This condition results in a swollen and damaged liver. It’s possible to reverse the less serious kind with abstinence, but this condition can lead to death if it progresses. According to the American Liver Foundation, as many as 35% of people who drink heavily have this condition.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver. This is hard scar tissue on the liver that can lead to death. It’s a more serious form of liver disease than the other two conditions, and the damage can’t be reversed. The American Liver Foundation says that 10% to 20% of people who drink alcohol heavily develop alcoholic cirrhosis.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18,146 people died from alcoholic liver disease in 2013. This number shows how seriously alcohol can affect your health and your life. If you think you might have one of these conditions, talk to your doctor immediately.

Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

Alcohol doesn’t only impact the body. Long-term alcohol abuse can have many severe effects on mental health as well. The intoxicating substance changes brain structure and function over time, and these changes can cause a number of negative consequences on mood and behavior. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the following mental health disorders commonly co-occur with alcoholism:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

The mental illness might precede the alcohol abuse, or it may be caused by a dependence on alcohol that negatively impacts neurochemistry. For instance, a person who suffers from a psychiatric problem might attempt to self-medicate with alcohol. This action has no therapeutic benefit however, and may only serve to perpetuate the mental illness and lead to addiction. Conversely, some mental health issues might be caused by long-term alcohol abuse: Depressive symptoms often occur during intoxication or withdrawal periods.

It’s important for a mental health professional to examine the timeline of an individual’s symptoms and alcohol abuse in order to determine whether an independent co-morbid psychiatric disorder is present or if it has been induced by chronic alcohol abuse. Comprehensive and individualized treatment is necessary for those suffering from alcoholism and a co-occurring mental health disorder for that person to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Other Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol can have additional long-term health effects on numerous parts of your body. It can affect your mood and cause anxiety. The long-term use of alcohol can negatively affect your immune system and your central nervous system. Furthermore, it can cause you to gain weight and lead to high blood pressure, sexual problems, cancer, stroke, and heart attack.

Nonetheless, it’s possible to correct some of the health problems caused by alcohol abuse before they become too advanced. While it might sound very hard to quit drinking, there are plentiful resources available to help you. Call us today for information.

Effects of Alcohol on Babies

Drinking while pregnant
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb, is a severe and debilitating condition. It falls under the category of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and causes a range of physical and psychological effects.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta to the embryo or fetus and can harm development. It’s recommended that women refrain from drinking alcohol while pregnant due to these harmful health effects.

Some expecting mothers are more likely to consume alcohol while pregnant and thus give birth to a child with FAS. Some risk factors include:

  • Lack of access to healthcare.
  • Having previously given birth to a baby with FAS.
  • Family and personal history of alcohol abuse.
  • Accidental pregnancy.
  • Having been a victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
  • Smoking.
  • Low socioeconomic status.

A baby born with FAS has recognizable facial features, as well as impaired growth and behavioral and cognitive issues. Some qualities of people affected by FAS include:

Abnormal facial features such as:

  • Thin upper lip.
  • Under-sized upper jaw.
  • Big inner eyelid folds.
  • Tiny, up-turned nose.
  • Small head.
  • Smooth cleft above lip.
  • Narrow, small eyes.
  • Stunted growth.

Difficulties with:

  • Coordination.
  • Cognition.
  • Speech development.
  • Social skills.
  • Lack of normal muscle tone.
  • Heart defects such as:
  • Ventricular septal defect.
  • Atrial septal defect.

More broadly, some symptoms present in those with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are as follows:

  • Below average IQ
  • Problems comprehending cause and effect
  • Lack of ability to remember and follow directions
  • Suffering from a learning disability
  • Problems absorbing information
  • Trouble with understanding social cues

FAS can’t be cured, but if it is treated when the child is young, some of the problems can be addressed and minimized. FAS can cause long-term problems for the baby. An article published in June 2006 in the journal Minerva Pediatrica reviewed a number of studies on FAS and found that alcohol can cause problems for the child’s entire life, including:

  • Failing to develop properly physically, intellectually, or socially.
  • Having behavior problems.
  • Having problems with sex and sexuality.
  • Having difficulty with jobs and being independent.
  • Having a higher chance of committing suicide.

These are some of the reasons why doctors, health organizations, and the government advise women against drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Effects of Alcohol on Relationships

An addiction or dependence to alcohol can negatively affect an individual’s personal and professional relationships. One sign of problematic drinking is that of persistent interpersonal or social issues worsened or caused by alcohol consumption. Another sign is that of failing to meet responsibilities at home, school, or work.Failing to meet the demands of one’s job might cause animosity with co-workers or supervisors and increase stress. Failing to complete schoolwork on time or at all can affect relationships with teachers or professors, and it might lead to dropping out or failing.

Someone suffering from an addiction to alcohol might consistently choose alcohol over hobbies or activities with family and friends, potentially damaging important relationships. Some possible consequences of alcohol abuse on family, school, and work relationships include:

  • Excessive absences from work.
  • Job-related accidents.
  • Low productivity.
  • Getting fired.
  • Loss of license to perform job.
  • Divorce
  • Loss of friends.
  • Financial problems or debt.
  • Loss of child custody.

Alcohol abuse, especially when it progresses to the point of dependence or addiction, can cause problems with personal and professional relationships. You might find that alcohol is getting in the way of your relationships with family members and friends. It could also be a problem in your work or school relationships, as long-term alcohol use can affect your job and academic performance. If you’re experiencing an increase in interpersonal problems because of drinking alcohol, you might have an addiction.

There are many potential long-term consequences of drinking, especially if you drink more than a moderate amount for an extended period of time. If you need help for an addiction to alcohol for yourself or a loved one, or even if you need help determining whether you have a problem with alcohol, contact us today. We can help you get private inpatient or outpatient treatment before the long-term effects of alcohol wreak havoc in your life.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

If you’re addicted to alcohol, help is available. Untreated alcoholism can have dangerous and harmful results. Quitting drinking on your own can be extremely difficult and sometimes fatal. Even if the withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening, they’re unpleasant, and discomfort might contribute to relapse.

Fortunately there are different treatment options which can provide you with both behavioral therapies and medical maintenance in order to achieve sobriety, develop healthy coping skills, curb cravings, and prevent relapse, among many other benefits.

Therapy for alcoholicsInpatient treatment centers require that you live at the facility for the duration of treatment, which usually lasts 30, 60, or 90 days, although your stay might be longer if needed. These recovery programs provide you with a number of services, such as:

  • Medically managed detox.
  • Psychotherapeutic interventions such as behavioral therapy.
  • Group counseling.
  • 12-step programs.
  • Family therapy.
  • Relapse prevention training.
  • Medical maintenance.

Many people find residential treatment helpful because it allows them to escape everyday drinking environments in order to focus solely on recovery. Luxury treatment centers are inpatient facilities that offer same services as traditional programs with additional benefits. Typically, the patient-to-staff ratio is lower so that you can receive more individual attention and care. These recovery facilities often resemble resorts and are in desirable, vacation-like settings and locations. The focus on comfort can help greatly as you go through withdrawal and detoxification from alcohol. Luxury recovery programs often have added amenities that traditional rehabs don’t offer, such as:

Luxury rehab massage treatment

  • Golf.
  • Spa treatment.
  • Meditation.
  • Yoga.
  • Swimming.
  • Horseback riding.
  • Private rooms.
  • Gourmet meals.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Aromatherapy.
  • Life coaching.
  • Fitness and nutritional counseling.

The best alcohol addiction rehab facilities will provide you with a psychiatric evaluation in order to assess any co-occurring mental disorders, which may be contributing to or influenced by your addiction to alcohol. The treatment team will create an integrated and personalized treatment plan designed to address the scope of your problems and enhance recovery.

Additionally, there are certain medications that you can be given during your inpatient stay that can help to decrease urges to drink and prevent relapse. When combined with behavioral therapy, medical maintenance such as this can be very beneficial in decreasing or eliminating drinking behaviors.

Rehab placement advisors are standing by to help you find an alcohol rehab program that is right for you and your circumstances. Whether you are experiencing physical or mental withdrawal symptoms, there’s a program that can help you move forward and heal. Call 1-888-744-0789 today for more information.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
  2. Center s for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015.) “Binge Drinking.”
  3. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). “Alcohol’s Damaging Effects of the Brain.” Alcohol Alert.
  4. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.”
  5. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. (2016). MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. “Fetal alcohol syndrome.”
  6. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. (2014). MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. “Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.”
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). “Addressing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.”
  8. Wattendorf, D. (2005). “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.” American Family Physician. 72(2), pp. 279-285.