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Alcohol and Health

Disorders and Diseases Caused by Alcohol

December 27, 2023
21 min read
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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.
December 27, 2023
21 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.
December 27, 2023
21 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.
December 27, 2023
21 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 27, 2023
21 min read

Every night, it’s the same routine: you get home from work, crack open a beer, and plop down on the couch. You’re exhausted from a long day and just need to relax. While this routine may seem harmless, it may be setting you up for a variety of health issues down the road. And that’s not just speculation — there’s science to back it up. 

In this post, we’ll gain insight into how alcohol affects our body by exploring some of the most common alcohol related diseases. We’ll also offer tips for building healthier drinking habits. Let’s dive in!

Common Alcohol Related Diseases

There’s no doubt that alcohol can wreak havoc on our mind and body. In fact, more and more research is showing just how toxic it can be. But what are some of the most common alcohol related diseases?

Liver Disease 

Our liver takes the brunt of alcohol’s effects when it comes to heavy consumption. This is because alcohol is processed in our liver. And as a toxin, our liver gets to work on eliminating it from our body as soon as we start drinking. 

While an occasional drink might not do any harm, regular alcohol consumption can cause liver damage or disease. In extreme cases, it can lead to liver cirrhosis, scarring of the liver that cannot heal. However, prolonged alcohol consumption can also cause fatty liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis, both of which can be managed — and even reversed. 

It’s worth noting that liver damage might not show any signs at first. As the damage progresses, however, it leads to several signs and symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), loss of appetite, drowsiness, confusion, blood in stools, vomiting blood, or swollen ankles, feet, or stomach. 

Thankfully, our liver has a remarkable ability to heal itself — as long as cirrhosis hasn’t developed. In fact, research indicates that fatty liver disease will almost completely heal within about three weeks of stopping alcohol use. This is why it’s important to pay attention to any potential signs of liver damage.

Pancreatitis and Diabetes

Alcohol can also wreak havoc on our pancreas, too, which aids digestion and regulates blood sugar levels. Many people don’t realize it, but alcohol can actually cause low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia, which can result in dizziness, shakiness, and even unconsciousness.

In extreme cases, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, the inflammation of the pancreas. In fact, 70 to 80% of chronic pancreatitis is caused by long-term alcohol abuse. Symptoms typically include stomach pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. 

Chronic pancreatitis also puts us at risk for diabetes. This is because a damaged pancreas doesn’t make insulin as well as it should. In general, drinking heavily can reduce our body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

It’s worth noting that even a single bout of heavy drinking can lead to acute pancreatitis, where our pancreas suddenly becomes inflamed but returns to normal after we stop drinking. Unlike the liver, though, the pancreas does not heal from extensive damage.

Heart-Related Conditions 

Alcohol affects more than just our liver and pancreas. It can take a toll on our heart health, too. 

  • Irregular heartbeat. Consuming alcohol can lead to a condition known as atrial fibrillation (A-fib), which is when our heart beats abnormally. Studies have shown that even moderate drinking can increase the risk of A-fib, which in turn can increase our risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. 
  • High blood pressure. Alcohol can also raise our blood pressure to unhealthy levels. In fact, having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises blood pressure. Over time, heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to long-term increases in blood pressure, known as hypertension, which is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. 
  • Cardiomyopathy. Alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy is a serious condition marked by changes in our heart’s shape due to heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol. A weakened heart muscle is unable to pump blood effectively. As such, it reduces our body’s available oxygen supply, which can lead to a stroke.

In general, research indicates that alcohol misuse can significantly increase our risk of atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and heart attack. 

Stomach Disorders

Alcohol can also do a number on our stomach and gastrointestinal system. Most notably, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to a condition known as alcoholic gastritis — the inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining. This lining protects our stomach from the acids, enzymes, and microorganisms that pass through it every day. Gastritis happens when our immune system detects a threat to this barrier. It can occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or gradually (chronic gastritis).

Research shows that drinking heavily is one of the most common causes of gastritis. It can vary in severity depending on how long we’ve been drinking. Prolonged alcohol misuse can cause alcohol gut inflammation symptoms that can lead to long-term damage. 

In severe cases, and if left untreated, chronic alcohol-induced gastritis can cause additional health issues. For instance, bleeding in the stomach or anywhere along the digestive tract can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by having too few red blood cells in the bloodstream, or the development of gastric polyps, the abnormal growth of cells in the stomach lining. While many gastric polyps are benign, some may lead to tumors and eventually stomach cancer.


Alcohol can also increase our risk of developing gout, which is a form of arthritis that causes severe pain, swelling, stiffness, and redness in one or more joints, typically in the toes. Gout is a condition caused by a high amount of uric acid in the bloodstream. While our kidneys are responsible for excreting uric acid, alcohol disrupts this process and raises the amount of uric acid in our body. 

Research shows that as little as one alcoholic beverage in a 24-hour period can cause gout. And once we get gout, any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of a flare up. Interestingly, while any type of alcohol can trigger gout, studies have found that consuming beer puts us at a higher risk. 


You might be surprised to see cancer on the list, but it’s backed by solid scientific evidence. Research shows that even moderate alcohol use can increase our risk of various types of cancer, including mouth and throat cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.  

The reason alcohol increases our risk of cancer is due to the toxic byproducts from processing our alcohol. Whenever we drink, our body breaks down alcohol — a toxin — into a chemical called acetaldehyde — an even more potent carcinogen. Over time, acetaldehyde can damage DNA and proteins, leading to abnormal cell growth. 

In general, the more we drink, the higher our cancer risk. Some studies show that drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day increases the risk of developing cancer.

Neurological Diseases Caused by Alcohol

So what about our brain? Apart from the more immediate effect of alcohol on our brain that causes impaired judgment and coordination, how does alcohol affect our brain in the long run? Research shows that excessive alcohol consumption can have a profound impact on the neurological system, leading to a range of neurological diseases and disorders.

  1. Alcoholic neuropathy. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause damage to nerves and disrupt signaling between neurons, leading to neuropathy. This is one of the most common neurological complications of chronic alcohol use. In fact, research shows that up to 66% of people who have chronic alcohol use disorder experience some form of alcoholic neuropathy. The condition is characterized by poor muscle control and pain in our extremities, tingling, pricking, or burning sensations. 

  2. Alcoholic myopathy. Alcohol can cause damage to muscle tissue and fibers, leading to myopathy — conditions that affect skeletal muscle structure and function. It can be an acute or chronic condition. In fact, acute myopathy can occur after just one night of binge drinking. Symptoms typically include muscle weakness, atrophy, twitching, and tightness. 

  3. Alcohol cerebellar degeneration. This occurs when neurons in the cerebellum deteriorate and die due to heavy alcohol use. The cerebellum is the part of our brain responsible for helping us walk, stand, and maintain our balance. Researchers are trying to determine if it’s caused directly by alcohol’s effects on the brain or is the result of a thiamine deficiency. 

  4. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is a serious complication of heavy alcohol use caused by low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1). Low thiamine levels can cause brain inflammation that creates dangerous neurological symptoms. If untreated, inflammation can lead to permanent brain damage that leads to psychosis and hallucinations. This condition is characterized by mental confusion, problems with memory, and poor coordination.
  5. Alcohol-induced dementia. It’s no secret that alcohol affects our cognitive abilities. But, over the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol-induced dementia. In fact, people who drink more than 14 standard drinks a week have an increased risk of dementia. Alcohol-induced dementia is characterized by a decline in cognitive function, memory loss, and difficulties with problem-solving and abstract thinking.

  6. Stroke. Heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol also puts us at a greater risk for a stroke, which happens when there is a loss of blood flow to the brain. Alcohol misuse can also lead to complications that increase our risk for stroke, such as cardiomyopathy, A-fib, and high blood pressure. 

  7. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This is a type of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) that results from alcohol exposure during a mother’s pregnancy. Children born with FAS can have multiple issues, such as intellectual and learning disabilities, physical differences in growth and development, and neurobehavioral issues that cause social challenges. Drinking any amount of alcohol at any point in pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. 

6 Tips for Cutting Back on Alcohol

Learning about common alcohol related diseases and brain diseases caused by alcohol can help encourage us to develop healthier drinking habits — or perhaps say goodbye to alcohol for good! Here are six tips for cutting back on alcohol consumption to help protect our health:

  • Identify your “why.” Take the time to think about why you want to cut back on your drinking. Having a why can be an incredibly powerful tool that keeps you motivated and on track. It can also help you rebound if you slip up. For instance, do you want to cut back on drinking because of your health, your happiness, your relationships, your finances, your overall quality of life? Once you have your why, write it down, and put it somewhere you’ll see every day. 

  • Create realistic goals. For those of us who have developed a habit of drinking daily, it’s unrealistic to think or expect ourselves to stop drinking right out the gate. Try identifying some realistic goals that you can improve upon. For instance, maybe you can limit yourself to one drink a day and work your way toward one drink a week — eventually one drink a month. Again, the important thing is to be realistic here, no matter where we’re starting from.

  • Track your drinks. When we’ve created our goals, it’s important to stick to them and stay within our limits. When we do drink, it can be incredibly helpful to start tracking our drinks so that we don’t exceed our limit. Using a notepad in your phone can help you keep track. There’s something about counting your drinks that helps encourage you to stay on track. 

  • Create new hobbies. For many of us, drinking has become synonymous with relaxation and socialization. To change our drinking habit, it can be helpful to find new hobbies and interests — or re-engage in ones we might have forgotten about. Plus, trying new things opens us up to meeting new people and discovering things we might enjoy. For instance, maybe we try a new exercise, volunteer in the community, or take a photography glass.

  • Practice mindfulness. There’s a reason that mindfulness has gotten a lot of attention in recent years — and that’s because it works! Research shows that mindfulness not only helps us better manage stress, but can even help us manage and reduce our cravings for alcohol. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can practice mindfulness by simply drawing attention to your breath and allowing thoughts to come in and out of your mind without judgment.

  • Seek support. We are not meant to journey through life alone, particularly when we’re trying to make an important change. Contrary to popular belief, seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of great strength. Consider telling a close friend or family member about your new goal to reduce your alcohol consumption. They can help keep you on track. We can also consider seeking the support of a therapist or trained mental health provider. There is nothing wrong with that!

Following these tips does more than just protect ourselves from common alcohol related diseases — it boosts our overall well-being and sets us up to live a happier life. 

The Bottom Line

It’s hard to argue with the research: long-term alcohol consumption puts us at a greater risk for many different diseases, from hepatitis and heart disease to cancer and dementia. But no matter how old we are, it’s never too late to make a change or cut back on our alcohol consumption. As the saying goes, better late than never! 

If you’re struggling to manage your alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

Summary FAQs

1. What are some common alcohol related diseases?

Common alcohol-related diseases include liver disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, gastritis, cancer, and neurological diseases, such as alcohol-induced dementia, peripheral neuropathy, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. 

2. How does excessive alcohol consumption affect the liver?

Excessive alcohol intake can overwhelm the liver, leading to liver disease, which progresses through stages like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

3. How does alcohol affect the pancreas? 

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. This inflammation can be acute, meaning it occurs suddenly and lasts for a short period, or chronic, where it persists and causes long-term damage. 

4. How does alcohol affect the heart and cardiovascular health?

Chronic alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.

5. What are the stomach-related problems associated with heavy drinking?

Long-term consumption of alcohol can damage the stomach, leading to conditions like gastritis, peptic ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeding.

6. What types of cancer are linked to alcohol consumption?

Prolonged alcohol use can lead to several types of cancer, including mouth and throat cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

7. What are the neurological diseases caused by alcohol?

Excessive alcohol consumption can have a profound impact on the neurological system, leading to a range of neurological diseases and disorders, such as alcohol-induced dementia, peripheral neuropathy, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and alcohol-related brain atrophy.

8. What are some tips for developing healthier drinking habits?

To protect yourself from alcohol-related diseases, it’s best to limit your consumption of alcohol or eliminate it entirely. If you choose to drink, be sure to set limits, alternate with non-alcoholic options, practice mindful drinking, establish alcohol-free days, learn to say “no,” seek support, and find healthy alternatives to drinking, like exercise or meditation.

Develop Healthier Drinking Habits With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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