ALCOHOL ABUSE

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
 | 
May 22, 2018

If you drink heavily, the effects of alcohol on the body are ugly. Binges are dangerous, too. But a nightly glass of wine with dinner might be good for you.

Go ahead and enjoy wine with your dinner, even every day, as long as you don’t experience any problems. People vary in how much alcohol they can tolerate.

Red wine at dinner may even be helpful for people with diabetes, according to some research. It also seems to lower the risk of heart disease, by as much as 30 percent, which helps explain the low rates of heart disease among the wine-loving French.

Drinking red wine could help ward off Alzheimer’s, probably because of resveratrol, the antioxidant in the grape skin.

White wine and moderate amounts of other kinds of alcohol have also been linked to cuts in heart disease and stroke and other health benefits.

 

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The problem is when people drink too much. You need to learn your own tolerance level, but the general rule is one drink a day for women and two for men. A drink is one 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or a 1.5 oz. shot of distilled spirits. What about on a party night? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women shouldn’t have more than three drinks on any day, and men no more than four. Those levels mean you’re unlikely to have an alcohol problem. Any more and you’re on an official “binge.” If you binge five nights a month, you’re a heavy drinker.

You don’t have to be in college to be binging. If a man has five beers on a Sunday, even spread out over an afternoon and evening, he’s drinking too much.

The effects of alcohol on the body

Alcohol gets into your system through your stomach and small intestine, moving faster on an empty stomach. It flows in your bloodstream to your heart, brain, muscles, and other tissues within minutes. You’ve probably noticed how quickly you react.

It slows down the nerves that pass messages around your body and reduces your self-control and slows your reactions. You may become uncoordinated, see double, and speak in a slur. People can get strong emotions — anger or fits of weeping. They take dumb risks — driving or going home with strangers. It’s not hard if you’re very drunk to make a mistake that can kill you.

The long-term effects of alcohol

The right amount of alcohol may be good for the heart. But drinking too much on any one occasion — or too much over time — damages it. Long-term, overdrinking can contribute to an irregular heart beat and high blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke.

Heavy drinking is a killer for the liver, which has the job of metabolizing the alcohol and filtering out poisons. The most common causes of death among alcoholics are all forms of liver damage.

About 20 percent of over drinkers develop “fatty liver,” which tends to be invisible but moves on to more serious problems if you continue overdrinking. “Alcoholic hepatitis” is an inflamed liver. You might vomit, lose your appetite, and have stomach pain and jaundice. About half of the people with severe cases die of it.

Cirrhosis affects 10 to 15 percent of long-term serious drinkers, probably because of a genetic vulnerability. Your normal tissue is scarred, and the effects can’t be reversed.

Although most drinkers know they’re risking liver damage, they may not realize that the effects of alcohol on the body include a greater risk of several cancers. Mouth, esophagus, throat, breast, and liver cancer are all more common among heavy drinkers, according to the NIA AA.  

A binge night makes you more vulnerable to infection, up to 24 hours after you were drunk. The protective white blood cells in your body don’t attack bacteria the way you should. Over time, chronic drinkers tend to catch pneumonia and tuberculosis more often than non-drinkers.

Regular binges may damage the parts of the brain that make you a responsible person — the executive functions. “Abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct,” a NIAAA says. “Abstinence also can help reverse negative effects on thinking skills, including problem solving, memory, and attention.”

 

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Updated:  

May 22, 2018

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell