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Many people assume that, since alcohol is legal, it doesn’t have many negative effects on your health. They might know of the negative effects that alcoholism can have on someone over the long-term, but don’t know how even single or short-term use can affect your body.
If you think that you or a loved one might be heavy drinkers, it’s important to know the effects it can have. Use our guide here to learn the effects of alcohol use so that you can understand the importance of drinking in moderation.
Table of Contents
- How Is Alcohol Consumption Measured?
- What Are the Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use?
- How Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Treated?
How Is Alcohol Consumption Measured?
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the effects of alcohol depend on how you drink. Specifically, it depends on the amount you drink combined the frequency with which you drink excessively.
For example, they define one drink as:
- 12 oz of beer with 5% alcohol
- 5 oz of wine with 12% alcohol
- 1.5 oz of hard liquor with 40% alcohol
- 8 oz of malt liquor with 7% alcohol
These are calculated so that one serving has the exact same 0.6 ounces of alcohol in it for all of the above. How each serving of alcohol affects someone depends on a number of factors such as their genetics, having a full or empty stomach, how quickly they consume multiple servings, and so on.
In general, the more servings you have in a single drinking session, the more you are likely to feel the more severe effects of alcohol. In addition, the more frequently you drink heavily over a long period of time, you are more likely to experience severe long-term effects of alcohol abuse.
Specifically, the NIAAA classifies “binge drinking” when a man has 5 or more servings of alcohol, or when a woman has 4 or more servings.
What Are the Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use?
Even if you are not someone who has abused alcohol in the past, alcohol can have an effect on you in the short-term. How it affects you depends on how many servings you have, as well as other factors mentioned above.
Here are some of the short-term effects of alcohol use that you can encounter even after a single night of drinking.
This is the most common short-term effect of drinking, where you begin to feel “tipsy”, “buzzed” or “drunk”. Some people can begin feeling the milder effects of intoxication after only one serving of alcohol, including feeling more relaxed, less alert, and less reserved.
For the general population, it would likely take 2 to 4 servings of alcohol for them to really notice the signs of being drunk, including:
- Reduced mental judgment
- Slurred speech
- Reduced perception
- Low level of physical coordination
- Reduced levels of concentration
- Feeling lethargic and drowsy
Some of the more severe symptoms of intoxication might not be felt by some people until after 5 or even 7 drinks — this is especially true for heavy drinkers, who may have to drink more to feel the same levels of intoxication.
The average person consuming 8 to 10 servings of alcohol, or more, is in danger of alcohol poisoning. This is when you go far beyond intoxication, and the drinking starts to affect things like your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and consciousness. If you consume too much alcohol it can even lead to death.
Here are the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
- Confusion and severe disorientation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
- Irregular and/or slow breathing
- Extremely pale skin, maybe even tinged blue
- Lower body temperature leading to hypothermia
- Falling unconsciousness or even comatose
Other health effects
Most people will know about getting drunk or even getting alcohol poisoning, but they might not know that even without getting drunk you may still feel the following effects of alcohol:
- Mood swings
- Lower body temperature
- Increased blood pressure
- Non-restful sleep
- Anemia (fewer red blood cells)
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use?
For people who are heavy drinkers or binge drinkers over a long period of time, they may start to develop more long-term effects of alcohol use.
Central nervous system
One of the biggest issues with long-term alcohol abuse is its effect on your central nervous system, especially your brain. These effects include:
- Memory loss
- Nerve damage
- Reduced motor skills
- Reduced mental health
- Loss of consciousness / becoming comatose
While it is possible for the brain to heal itself if you go to rehab and stop drinking altogether, some of the effects can be permanent. In addition, it can take a long time for some of the effects to heal and disappear. The best time to stop drinking is always now.
Your liver is also seriously damaged by long-term alcohol abuse. Your liver is what breaks down the alcohol in your system to slowly remove it from your blood. When you drink heavily, it overwhelms the liver and causes it to become “fatty”. Like the brain, it can slowly heal itself over time if you let it. However, people with long-term alcohol use disorder never allow that to happen.
Having a fatty liver means that it builds up bad fats in the organ, which can contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and liver failure. Being in that state for a long period of time can lead to things like hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. All of those conditions require serious medical attention and treatment, and in the case of cirrhosis and liver disease, it could be fatal.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause significant damage to your heart, leaving it in a greatly weakened state. It is less able to deliver oxygen or important nutrients to your other organs to keep them healthy. It may also lead to high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, potentially causing heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Other health issues
In addition to the issues mentioned above, there are a number of other health-related issues that heavy drinkers can develop over the long term. They include:
- Multiple types of cancer (throat, mouth, pancreas, liver, colorectal, and more)
- Stomach ulcers
- Reduction in vitamin B1, which can lead to amnesia and disorientation
If you want to avoid damage to your health by abusing alcohol, the only way to prevent it is by quitting alcohol altogether. There are no drugs or treatments that are able to prevent these effects from happening while still consuming alcohol. There are some treatments to reverse some of the damage, but not all of it. You can’t escape going through the stress it puts on your mind and body.