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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol’s Long-Term Effects on the Body Adverse Outcomes To Be Aware Of

Published:
June 30, 2023
·
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 30, 2023
·
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 30, 2023
·
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 30, 2023
·
11 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
June 30, 2023
·
11 min read

After another night of overindulgence, we likely wake up with that “I should probably do this less often” feeling in the morning and just feel plain awful. In addition to wondering if we drunk dialed our ex — or (yikes!) our boss, we might be thinking: How does alcohol affect the body in the long haul? What happens when you drink alcohol every day?

Effects of Alcohol on the Body: When Alcohol Overstays Its Welcome

Consider alcohol like an over-ambitious tenant in our bodies. It rents a small space but insists on rearranging the whole house — the liver, the brain, the heart, as well the digestive and reproductive systems. The impact of long-term, habitual drinking can lead to serious health conditions, including liver disease, cognitive issues, heart diseases, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Here’s a deeper look at each of alcohol’s long-term effects on our bodies.

Liver: The Tireless Workhorse

When we talk about alcohol and its effects, the liver often takes center stage — and for good reason. As our body's primary detoxification center, the liver is the frontline worker that tackles the aftermath of our alcoholic indulgences.

In the short term, the liver can usually handle this job — it dutifully metabolizes the alcohol, breaking it down into substances our body can safely get rid of. However, when we drink excessively or too frequently, we're essentially asking our liver to sprint a marathon — an unrealistic and unfair demand.

Over time, the stress of metabolizing alcohol can take a serious toll on the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, is usually first. Symptoms can include nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and jaundice — a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

If the drinking continues, fibrosis — or scarring of the liver tissue — can develop. Long-term effects of alcohol eventually lead to cirrhosis — the stage where the liver is so scarred it can no longer function properly. This level of damage is serious, and can lead to life-threatening complications. The liver can repair itself from most damage, but cirrhosis isn’t reversible. 

Brain: The Misguided Navigator

Our brain, the hub of cognition and control, isn't immune to alcohol's impact either. While we're aware of the temporary fogginess that alcohol can bring about — those infamous "brain farts" — its long-term impact on our brain and nervous system goes far beyond the occasional memory lapse or slower reaction time.

Chronic alcohol intake can actually change the brain's structure and function. It can shrink brain mass, disrupt the neurotransmitters that the brain uses to communicate, and even impact its ability to create new cells — the process known as neurogenesis. Heavy drinking can switch our brain's autopilot mode into a turbulent, unpredictable ride. Along with these changes, alcohol can also do a number on our mental health, causing depression and anxiety.

Alcohol’s effects on the brain can include more severe memory loss, making existing mental health disorders worse, and even lead to permanent alterations to the brain's structure. It's like converting the sophisticated navigation system of your brain into a malfunctioning GPS that keeps missing its turns.

Outside the brain, alcohol can have a significant impact on our peripheral nervous system, leading to numbness, abnormal sensations, and even changes in motor functions. In severe cases, this can lead to a condition called alcoholic neuropathy — a painful and debilitating disorder that can severely impact quality of life.

Heart: The Silent Sufferer

Our heart bears the brunt of our alcohol indulgence, too. Prolonged drinking can lead to hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. It's as if our heart is on a battlefield, relentlessly being attacked without any protective shield. Short-term effects of alcohol on the heart include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as irregular heartbeats.

Pancreas: The Sneak Attack

Just like a behind-the-scenes tech crew at a concert, our pancreas diligently manages our blood sugar levels and aids digestion. But when alcohol enters the scene on a regular basis, it causes a system overload.

Over time, alcohol can provoke the pancreas into overproducing enzymes, leading to inflammation — also known as pancreatitis. If it goes on too long, this inflammation can turn chronic, causing malnutrition and diabetes. Severe pancreatitis can even result in hospitalization.

Kidneys: The Subtle Balance Disruptors

Our kidneys — the diligent filtration organs of the body — aren't immune to alcohol's impact either. Long-term drinking can interfere with the normal function of kidneys, affecting their ability to filter blood and maintain balance of bodily fluids.

Chronic alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, a common cause of kidney disease. It's akin to clogging our plumbing system with inappropriate waste, which eventually disrupts the entire water flow in our house.

Stomach: Not Just a Sour Taste

Moving down the bodily systems, let's address our stomach. While we might associate heavy drinking with temporary discomfort such as nausea or vomiting, alcohol's impact on our stomach goes far beyond that. Social drinking is less fun when vomit is involved.

Prolonged alcohol consumption can damage the stomach lining, leading to gastritis, and also increase the risk of stomach ulcers and cancer. Over time, those "few glasses" add up and can really do a number on your digestive system.

Reproductive System: An Unexpected Intruder

Now, let's discuss an aspect of alcohol's impact that is often overlooked — its effects on the reproductive system.

In individuals assigned male at birth, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to low testosterone levels, resulting in impotence and reduced fertility. As for individuals assigned female at birth, regular drinking can disrupt the menstrual cycle and even lead to fertility issues. Plus, alcohol consumption during pregnancy carries the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects the healthy development of the fetus and can cause long-term cognitive impairment.

Skin: More Than Skin Deep

Finally, let's not forget our skin. After all, it's our largest organ and our first line of defense against the outside world. Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the skin, making it lose its plump, healthy appearance. Over time, this can lead to an aged, dull complexion and an increased risk of skin conditions, such as rosacea.

Think of it like this: overindulging in alcohol is like sunbathing without sunscreen. It might feel good at the moment, but it leaves lasting, visible damage.

Taking the Reins

Here are some steps to to make mindful drinking a bit easier:

  • Buddy system. Engage a friend or family member in your journey to moderate drinking. It's not about policing each other, but rather providing mutual encouragement.
  • Alternate drinks. For every alcoholic drink, have a glass of water. This will slow down your drinking pace and keep you hydrated.
  • Go for lower alcohol options. Try drinks with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume), or dilute your drinks to make them last longer.
  • Set drinking boundaries. Limit your drinking days and define your sober days. This creates a routine where alcohol isn't the main feature.
  • Re-evaluate your rituals. If alcohol is the center of your relaxation or socialization, it's time to explore other avenues. These could be movie nights, hikes, yoga sessions, or book clubs.  

Remember, it's not about transforming overnight. Small, consistent steps lead to impactful, lasting changes. We have the power to keep alcohol in check and ensure our bodies remain our own.

After another night of overindulgence, we likely wake up with that “I should probably do this less often” feeling in the morning and just feel plain awful. In addition to wondering if we drunk dialed our ex — or (yikes!) our boss, we might be thinking: How does alcohol affect the body in the long haul? What happens when you drink alcohol every day?

Effects of Alcohol on the Body: When Alcohol Overstays Its Welcome

Consider alcohol like an over-ambitious tenant in our bodies. It rents a small space but insists on rearranging the whole house — the liver, the brain, the heart, as well the digestive and reproductive systems. The impact of long-term, habitual drinking can lead to serious health conditions, including liver disease, cognitive issues, heart diseases, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Here’s a deeper look at each of alcohol’s long-term effects on our bodies.

Liver: The Tireless Workhorse

When we talk about alcohol and its effects, the liver often takes center stage — and for good reason. As our body's primary detoxification center, the liver is the frontline worker that tackles the aftermath of our alcoholic indulgences.

In the short term, the liver can usually handle this job — it dutifully metabolizes the alcohol, breaking it down into substances our body can safely get rid of. However, when we drink excessively or too frequently, we're essentially asking our liver to sprint a marathon — an unrealistic and unfair demand.

Over time, the stress of metabolizing alcohol can take a serious toll on the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, is usually first. Symptoms can include nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and jaundice — a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

If the drinking continues, fibrosis — or scarring of the liver tissue — can develop. Long-term effects of alcohol eventually lead to cirrhosis — the stage where the liver is so scarred it can no longer function properly. This level of damage is serious, and can lead to life-threatening complications. The liver can repair itself from most damage, but cirrhosis isn’t reversible. 

Brain: The Misguided Navigator

Our brain, the hub of cognition and control, isn't immune to alcohol's impact either. While we're aware of the temporary fogginess that alcohol can bring about — those infamous "brain farts" — its long-term impact on our brain and nervous system goes far beyond the occasional memory lapse or slower reaction time.

Chronic alcohol intake can actually change the brain's structure and function. It can shrink brain mass, disrupt the neurotransmitters that the brain uses to communicate, and even impact its ability to create new cells — the process known as neurogenesis. Heavy drinking can switch our brain's autopilot mode into a turbulent, unpredictable ride. Along with these changes, alcohol can also do a number on our mental health, causing depression and anxiety.

Alcohol’s effects on the brain can include more severe memory loss, making existing mental health disorders worse, and even lead to permanent alterations to the brain's structure. It's like converting the sophisticated navigation system of your brain into a malfunctioning GPS that keeps missing its turns.

Outside the brain, alcohol can have a significant impact on our peripheral nervous system, leading to numbness, abnormal sensations, and even changes in motor functions. In severe cases, this can lead to a condition called alcoholic neuropathy — a painful and debilitating disorder that can severely impact quality of life.

Heart: The Silent Sufferer

Our heart bears the brunt of our alcohol indulgence, too. Prolonged drinking can lead to hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. It's as if our heart is on a battlefield, relentlessly being attacked without any protective shield. Short-term effects of alcohol on the heart include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as irregular heartbeats.

Pancreas: The Sneak Attack

Just like a behind-the-scenes tech crew at a concert, our pancreas diligently manages our blood sugar levels and aids digestion. But when alcohol enters the scene on a regular basis, it causes a system overload.

Over time, alcohol can provoke the pancreas into overproducing enzymes, leading to inflammation — also known as pancreatitis. If it goes on too long, this inflammation can turn chronic, causing malnutrition and diabetes. Severe pancreatitis can even result in hospitalization.

Kidneys: The Subtle Balance Disruptors

Our kidneys — the diligent filtration organs of the body — aren't immune to alcohol's impact either. Long-term drinking can interfere with the normal function of kidneys, affecting their ability to filter blood and maintain balance of bodily fluids.

Chronic alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, a common cause of kidney disease. It's akin to clogging our plumbing system with inappropriate waste, which eventually disrupts the entire water flow in our house.

Stomach: Not Just a Sour Taste

Moving down the bodily systems, let's address our stomach. While we might associate heavy drinking with temporary discomfort such as nausea or vomiting, alcohol's impact on our stomach goes far beyond that. Social drinking is less fun when vomit is involved.

Prolonged alcohol consumption can damage the stomach lining, leading to gastritis, and also increase the risk of stomach ulcers and cancer. Over time, those "few glasses" add up and can really do a number on your digestive system.

Reproductive System: An Unexpected Intruder

Now, let's discuss an aspect of alcohol's impact that is often overlooked — its effects on the reproductive system.

In individuals assigned male at birth, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to low testosterone levels, resulting in impotence and reduced fertility. As for individuals assigned female at birth, regular drinking can disrupt the menstrual cycle and even lead to fertility issues. Plus, alcohol consumption during pregnancy carries the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects the healthy development of the fetus and can cause long-term cognitive impairment.

Skin: More Than Skin Deep

Finally, let's not forget our skin. After all, it's our largest organ and our first line of defense against the outside world. Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the skin, making it lose its plump, healthy appearance. Over time, this can lead to an aged, dull complexion and an increased risk of skin conditions, such as rosacea.

Think of it like this: overindulging in alcohol is like sunbathing without sunscreen. It might feel good at the moment, but it leaves lasting, visible damage.

Taking the Reins

Here are some steps to to make mindful drinking a bit easier:

  • Buddy system. Engage a friend or family member in your journey to moderate drinking. It's not about policing each other, but rather providing mutual encouragement.
  • Alternate drinks. For every alcoholic drink, have a glass of water. This will slow down your drinking pace and keep you hydrated.
  • Go for lower alcohol options. Try drinks with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume), or dilute your drinks to make them last longer.
  • Set drinking boundaries. Limit your drinking days and define your sober days. This creates a routine where alcohol isn't the main feature.
  • Re-evaluate your rituals. If alcohol is the center of your relaxation or socialization, it's time to explore other avenues. These could be movie nights, hikes, yoga sessions, or book clubs.  

Remember, it's not about transforming overnight. Small, consistent steps lead to impactful, lasting changes. We have the power to keep alcohol in check and ensure our bodies remain our own.

Ready To Rethink Your Relationship With Alcohol?

The Reframe app is here to help! While it might not be a magic wand for alcohol use disorder (AUD), it's a handy tool in helping you reconsider alcohol's role in your life, all thanks to the power of neuroscience. Countless folks worldwide have found our method a big help in shaping up their drinking habits — we're positive it can be a game-changer for you, too!

Reframe’s mission is to give you the know-how and skills not just to cope with less alcohol, but to really thrive on this journey. We serve up daily nuggets of insight supported by research, offering a peek into the neuroscience of alcohol, as well as a Toolkit stuffed with useful resources and activities to help you leap over every roadblock.

Join our 24/7 Forum chat, where you can draw motivation from other Reframers around the world who get what you're going through. Don't forget to check in with our certified coaches for tailored tips and guidance.

We're always sprucing up our app with cool new features to make your experience even better. The latest whiz-kid on the block is Melody, an in-app chatbot supercharged with top-notch AI tech, ready to lend a hand as you transition to a life with less booze — or none at all. Plus, we spice things up with engaging monthly challenges like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. Join in with fellow Reframers or fly solo — you call the shots!

Give Reframe a whirl with a seven-day free trial. No strings attached, so why not dive in? Ready to grab the wheel and explore a life beyond alcohol? Let's get started — download our app today!

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