Alcohol – The Insidious Effects It Can Have

Having a social drink now and then or the occasional glass of wine can be healthy, and a great way to connect with friends and unwind. But when moderate alcohol consumption heads towards the extreme end of the scale, there are long lasting negative effects on the body and in a person’s life. These effects are not always immediately obvious, and sometimes take a few years to become completely evident. Let’s take a look at what some of these effects are…
Alcohol - The Insidious Effects It Can Have

Alcohol in the body:

  • Alcohol enters the blood stream and is distributed very quickly through the body.
  • Eating food while consuming alcohol will slow down the absorption rate of the alcohol.
  • Alcohol easily crosses the blood-brain barrier which causes alcohol concentrations in the brain and the blood to equalize rapidly.
  • The liver is the organ that metabolizes or breaks down all alcohol.
  • An alcoholic drink stays in the body for at least two hours after being consumed. The exact amount of time varies depending on gender, weight and other factors.

Intolerance to alcohol’s effects:

People who drink excessively (are addicted) develop intolerance to the intoxicating effects of the alcohol, either chronically or acutely. The tolerance is caused by molecular changes in the brain. Once the person stops drinking, they can experience neurological signs of withdrawal:

  • tremors
  • distortion of visual, auditory and sensory perceptions, possibly even nightmares and hallucinations
  • convulsions or seizures
  • incoherent thinking and speech

What are some of the short-term effects of alcohol?

  • It causes craving. Excessive alcohol consumption sets up a craving for more alcohol, creating a downward spiral.
  • It encourages people to consume unhealthy beverages that are harmful for the body, like soda or diet soda. These beverages are full of sugar and/or chemicals, have no nutritional value, are very acidic (often causing an acid-alkaline imbalance in the body) and cause many health issues.
  • It can cause the pancreas to produce excess insulin, leading to blood sugar issues, pre-diabetes, diabetes and excessive weight gain. (insulin is the ‘fat storing’ hormone).
  • It can cause malnutrition
    • If alcohol is always consumed with highly refined junk foods that are high in calories and have no nutrition, but fill up the stomach making a person feel full. Alcohol and these foods actually rob the body of proper nutrition.
    • If alcohol is consumed in place of nutritious meals (such as the ‘liquid lunch’ at a pub). Alcohol itself contains empty calories with no nutritional value at all.
  • It causes impaired judgment.
  • It causes impaired social interactions and dysfunctional personal relationships.
  • It causes people to do things they normally would not do. For example: it can lead people to engage in risky sex, increasing the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
  • It causes automobile accidents resulting in serious injury or death.

What negative, long term effects does alcohol have on the body?

  1. Cirrhosis of the liver – a disease where the liver is unable to function due to heavy scarring. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause fatty liver.
  2. Anemia or a low number of red blood cells which can result in shortness of breath, headaches, lightheadedness and fatigue.
  3. Increased risk of cancers: esophagus, throat, voice box, mouth, liver, breast and colorectal cancer.
  4. Increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart and circulatory system):
    1. increased risk of blood clots possibly leading to heart attack or stroke
    2. possible heart rhythm abnormalities or weakening of the heart which could trigger a stroke or cause sudden death.
  5. Dementia – heavy alcohol consumption speeds up the normal age related shrinking process of the brain, affecting certain areas of the brain that affect memory
  6. Depression
  7. Seizures or epilepsy
  8. Gout – alcohol consumption can either cause gout or aggravate an existing gout condition (gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood, which forms crystals that are deposited in the joints)
  9. High blood pressure, which can lead to other health issues such as kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.
  10. Suppression of the immune system, leaving a person susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  11. Neurologic disorders:
    1. Sometimes from nutritional deficiencies (thiamine in particular), especially with long term alcoholism
    2. Sometimes damage to the nerves:
      1. Damage to the brain – alcohol withdrawal syndrome and dementia
      2. Damage to peripheral nerves causing numbness or weakness (neuropathy), or damage to the muscles (myopathy). This can result in incontinence, constipation, erectile dysfunction, pins and needles in the extremities and more.
  12. Stomach irritation or gastritis
  13. Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis causes abdominal pain, digestive issues and persistent diarrhea.

Drinking in moderation may not have all the negative effects listed above. In fact, studies have found that the occasional glass of alcohol, red wine in particular, may have some positive health effects. There are studies which show that resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in grapes (the skins and seeds), is also present in red wine.

When it comes to alcohol consumption and maintaining good health – the key is have a minimal amount of alcohol. The health benefits from drinking alcohol are very minor, compared to the many benefits that can be derived from maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.


Informational Resources:

US National Library of Medicine 

WebMD 12 Health Risks 

NIH National Inst. On Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism


© 2014 Cathy Ormon Health Coach.  All rights reserved.