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The Short and Long Term Impact of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is something that is commonly consumed during social events, celebrations, and gatherings. With a reputation for helping people relax, loosen up, and have a good time, it’s a popular choice among people who struggle with feelings of shyness, anxiety, or wanting to escape. Despite its popularity, not many people do not realize the effects of alcohol on the body. Alcohol affects every part of the body, including the liver, heart, lungs, immune system, and brain.

The Impact of Alcohol on the Body

How alcohol affects the body will depend on the amount consumed, as well as how quickly it is consumed. The larger the amount and the quicker it’s consumed, the more damaging the effects can be. Additionally, the effects of alcohol on the body will also be dependent upon the user’s weight, hydration levels, and tolerance. As MedlinePlus explains:

 In the United States, a standard drink is one that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of distilled spirits or liquor (40% alcohol content)

Even though there may be “standard” levels of alcohol, it affects everyone differently at different rates. Some people can drink higher amounts of alcohol without feeling the effects, while others feel impaired by smaller amounts. Whether or not you feel the effects of alcohol, it still affects your body.

How Alcohol Damages the Heart and Stomach

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains, “Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

In addition to affecting the heart, alcohol can also severely impact the stomach. As the NIAAA highlights, “Alcohol affects the digestive tract, allowing bacteria to escape and circulate in the bloodstream, potentially causing disease. Even a single episode of binge drinking can cause gut leakage.” Furthermore, NIAAA confirms that “alcohol misuse, acutely and/or chronically, can cause stomach irritation, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers, and bleeding.”

How Alcohol Impacts the Immune System

NIAAA also explains, “Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.” As a result, NIAAA states that people who regularly consume alcohol are more likely to contract pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink regularly.

Additionally, alcohol has been reported as a human carcinogen, which means it has been known to cause cancer. The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services confirms, “Consumption of alcoholic beverages has been shown to cause cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.”

Similarly, the National Cancer Association has also verified that continued alcohol consumption has been associated with the following cancer diagnoses:

Effects of Alcohol on the Body and Brain

One of the most obvious ways alcohol impacts the body is seen in the way the brain responds. MedlinePlus explains that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that it slows down the normal functions of the brain. Thus, alcohol use can alter:

NIAAA explains, “Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works.” Moreover, “Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.”

One example of alcohol severely impairing brain functions can be seen in the laws against driving under the influence. Even if a small amount of alcohol has been consumed and the perceived effects are minimal, it can significantly impair someone’s ability to drive safely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that even a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02 can result in a “decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention).” Whereas a BAC of .08, which is the legal limit in most states, typically results in loss of, “Concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search), impaired perception.”

How Alcohol Impacts Mental Disorders

Substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is typically a symptom of something deeper, like a mental disorder. Those who seek out substances often do so to numb internal pain, discomfort, anxiety, or depression. When SUD co-occurs alongside a mental health disorder, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders. Meanwhile, which mental disorder drives the AUD will be dependent on each person’s medical history, trauma history, genetics, and family history.

NIAAA reports, “Many clinical features of AUD have significant overlap with other psychiatric disorders, including sleep disturbances and negative emotional states such as worry, dysphoria, sadness, or irritability that often occur during cycles of alcohol intoxication, withdrawal, and craving.”

How the Effects of Alcohol on the Body Can Be Healed

Though alcohol can have severe impacts on the body, there is hope for healing. Treatment centers, like Sage Recovery, have clinicians who are experts in helping people heal healthily from alcohol and substance use.

The amount of treatment required, as well as the duration of treatment, will vary depending on each person’s needs and the treatment center’s requirements. For example, Sage Recovery’s residential treatment program typically lasts 35 days, while our outpatient program lasts for 21 sessions.

Here at Sage Recovery, we understand how difficult it can be to heal from alcohol use. That’s why we offer customizable treatments, so you can find a healing path that fits your unique needs. We base all of our treatment approaches on evidence-based techniques, such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, and group therapy. We also pride ourselves on innovative approaches, like equine therapy, art & music therapy, nature immersion, acupuncture detoxification, and more. Whether you require outpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or residential treatment, we can help. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 when you’re ready to begin your healing journey. We’re here to walk alongside you every step of the way.