21 Ways That Alcohol Effects The Body

“Why a beer a day could actually be good for you”

“Ride wine: a drink to your heart”

“4 Reasons you should drink a shot of tequila every day”

“5 amazing benefits of drinking mojitos”

But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Alcohol’s negative impacts on your body start from the moment that you take the first sip.

Those impacts can range from something as mildly annoying as aging skin to something as sinister as losing 29 years from your life expectancy.

And most importantly these don’t just apply to heavy drinkers

If you are a light or a normal drinker, there are still things that you need to watch out for.

In this blog post we will be breaking down exactly that – the 21 ways that alcohol negatively affects your body & health.

1. Destroys your liver

So we all know about cirrhosis, the irreversible damage to the liver that affects heavy drinkers.

But this damage to the liver is a very slow, gradual process. Cirrhosis is the end stage. By the time you get there, alcohol has already been damaging your liver for years.

You see, the liver is the primary organ that metabolizes alcohol. It breaks it down, so the body can get rid of it.

This breakdown process always generates dangerous byproducts. This is because our body lacks an efficient, safe way to break down the alcohol. We simply haven’t evolved to ingest it.

One of the most harmful products of this process is acetaldehyde. This is actually more toxic than alcohol itself. In response to the acetaldehyde, the liver has to make yet more enzymes to break down it down.

Eventually the acetaldehyde overcomes your liver’s ability to cope, and damage starts to accumulate.

The first stage of liver damage is what doctors call “fatty liver disease”. The liver literally swells up in size from excess fat. Symptoms are mild or non-existent at this stage.

The next stage is “alcoholic hepatitis”. Now the liver becomes inflamed and starts to form scar tissue. The damage to the liver is still reversible, at this point – at least partially.

The final stage of liver disease is cirrhosis, and at this point the damage is irreversible. At that point, life expectancy is only a few years.

2. Mutates your breast cells

For women, one of the most important effects of long-term alcohol consumption is an increased risk of breast cancer.

This is true especially for heavy drinkers. But also to an extent for moderate consumption.

To put it simply, every single unit of alcohol you consume adds slightly to your lifelong risk of developing breast cancer.

The takeaway is, if breast cancer runs in your family, or if you have any other reason to be concerned about this, there is no such thing as drinking in moderation.

3. Upsets your internal reward system

So our brain is hardwired through millions of years of evolution to perceive certain stimuli as rewarding and pleasant.

Two of the most important rewarding stimuli we find in nature are sex and food.

When we have sex and eat tasty food, this activates certain so-called reward circuity systems in the brain.

This is the body’s way of telling us that the stimuli is – well – good.

The way alcohol and other drugs work is by hijacking this neural circuit. Rather than real-world stimuli from our five senses, a glass of alcohol directly stimulates these circuits in our brain. 

The activation is short lived and leaves the drinker wanting more reward. I.e. another drink.

Over time, heavy drinkers develop a tolerance to these effects, and they eventually receive no reward for drinking.

At that point, they are merely sustaining their addiction.

Unfortunately, alcohol’s unnatural activation of the brain’s reward circuits, also interferes with the pleasure drinkers get from naturally rewarding stimuli.

This is part of the reason heavy drinkers often get little enjoyment from activities they once found rewarding.

4. Neuroadapts your brain

If you flood your brain with alcohol on a daily basis, it will be forced to change the way it works. Simply in order to cope.

And if you flood it with alcohol for long enough, these changes will be irreversible. Scientists call these changes neuroadaptation.

We just saw how drinking affects your internal reward system, but there are even more permanent changes.

These can persist for decades after stopping drinking.

One of these relates to the so-called “priming effect”.

The priming effect describes how former drinkers can relapse back into full-blown addiction after one single drink.

This is even if they haven’t a drank in years or decades.

Scientists don’t exactly understand how the priming effect works in our brain.

But the fact that this effect exists in the first place is proof that years of drinking can permanently alter our brain.

Even if outwardly we don’t notice anything unusual in our behavior.

5. Decreases fertility

We all know pregnant women shouldn’t drink.

But chances are you didn’t know women shouldn’t drink if they want to get pregnant

Heavy alcohol consumption lowers women’s so-called ovarian reserve.

This is the fancy name scientists use to describe their fertility potential.

According to some studies, women who consume 5 drinks a week have a 60% probability of getting pregnant compared to non-drinkers. 

For those who drink over 10 glasses a week, this percentage falls to around 34%.

Women who drink more often are also more likely to seek medical help for infertility issues

 Alcohol can also affect male fertility, through sexual dysfunction, sperm changes or both.

6. Mutates the cells in your oral cavity, pharynx and larynx

So we mentioned earlier how drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer, especially for women already at a high risk. 

But this is not the only part of the body where alcohol can cause cancer. 

As the first point of contact of alcohol with your body is the mouth and throat, this is one of the primary sites in the body likely to develop alcohol-related cancer.

Compared to non-drinkers, light drinkers have a roughly 10-15% more chance of developing these types of cancers.

This relative risk increases to nearly two-fold for moderate drinkers, and five-fold for heavy drinkers.

7. Ages your skin

A recent study…

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6715121/

…looked at the skin condition of over 3 thousand women from North America, Europe and Australia.

As you’d expect, a history of smoking was linked to excessive aging.

But alcohol consumption was also an independent factor for premature aging.

In particular, alcohol was linked to under-eye puffiness, midface volume loss, and blood vessels on the cheeks.

The more severe the drinking, the worse the aging.

You can see in this graphic

…how smoking and drinking affect the face in somewhat different ways.

8. Makes you more prone to epilepsy

The idea that heavy drinkers are more prone to epilepsy is not new.

Traditionally, researchers have focused on the seizures that can sometimes happen after an alcoholic stops drinking.

But there is strong evidence to suggest that drinking can cause epilepsy as an independent disease.

Scientists don’t exactly understand the causal relationship, but the evidence at this point is pretty strong.

 A 2010 review found that moderate to heavy drinkers had a 2-to-3-time higher likelihood of developing epilepsy.

The heavier the drinker, the higher the risk:

It is not yet clear if these types of epilepsy are reversible after the person stops drinking.

9. Raises blood pressure

Drinking can also raise blood pressure unfortunately.

There are two timeframes to this.

Firstly, if you have a few drinks in one sitting will raise your blood pressure. But this is only temporary.

Over time, however, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to permanently elevated blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, one of the first thing your doctor will probably recommend is you cut down on drinking. And smoking of course.

Aside from its direct effect on raising blood pressure, alcohol also raises it indirectly, via weight gain. I’ll come on to that shortly.

10. Messes up your sleep

So alcohol’s a bit of a funny one when it comes to sleep.

Research agrees with common wisdom that alcohol can help you fall asleep quicker.

It also helps you stay asleep more during the first half of the night, but has the opposite effect on the second half.

So on a night when you’ve had a few drinks, you’re likely to pass out quickly, but also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep.

And you’ll probably be getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

This is because your body is pulling water from the cells in an attempt to flush out the toxic ethanol

So not only will your sleep suffer, but you’ll probably wake dehydrated in the morning.

A friend of mine describes the feeling as having the blood sucked out of his veins.

Alcohol also affects the quality of your sleep. It messes up your sleep cycles, so you get less deep sleep.

With regards to REM sleep when you see dreams, this is generally suppressed during the first half of the night, but rebounds in the second.


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11. Weight gain

Alcoholic drinks are rich in calories, but most people don’t realize the extent of this.

It’s been estimated that after white bread and sweets, alcohol is the third significant source of energy intake in the United States. In the UK, it’s the fifth.

Pretty shocking when you think about it.

Now if you drink or two units every other day, your body will probably be able to handle this without problem.

But with heavier drinking is where the problems start

Men who drink are generally more prone to weight gain compared to women, probably because they prefer beer over wine, and beer has far more calories per unit.

12. Attacks your pancreas

We usually focus on the liver, but alcohol can actually be even more devastating when it attacks the pancreas.

Heavy, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to an inflammatory condition of the pancreas called pancreatitis.

The primary symptom of pancreatitis is pain in the abdomen. And when I am talking pain, I mean the most debilitating pain imaginable.

If you know anyone suffering from this condition, you will understand what I’m talking about.

In its chronic form, pancreatitis ebbs and flows in intensity, but is generally incurable.

Aside from alcohol abuse, another aggravating factor is smoking.

But advanced pancreatitis is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Autopsies of heavy drinkers show that a majority of them have tissue abnormalities consistent with pancreatitis, even in the absence of noticeable symptoms like pain.

13. Distorts your nose (Rhinophyma)

So, this is the stereotype of the elderly alcoholic with the massive nose and red cheeks.

But is there any truth to it?

Unfortunately, yes.

The medical term for this condition is Rhinophyma, which comes from the Greek words for nose and tumor, though the condition is not cancerous per se. 

The swelling of the nose is caused by a thickening of the skin and enlargement of the sebaceous glands.

The topic is somewhat sensitive and scientists have generally shied away from it.

But a recent study out of France showed a very significant link between this condition and alcohol consumption.

Though alcohol does play a role, a genetic predisposition is probably necessary to develop the condition. 

14. Rosacea

So we covered the big nose, but about the other stereotype, the red cheeks.

Guys, again, unfortunately, this is also true.

Scientifically, the term is rosacea, and it affects predominantly the elderly.

Though there are many people with rosacea who are not drinkers, alcohol consumption is a recognized trigger.

Along with  – drumroll – smoking.

Another risk factor is prolonged exposure to the sun.

15. Depression

So, remember earlier when we were saying how alcohol messes up your internal reward systems?

Well, as you’d expect, the end result is clearly not gonna be a happier version of yourself.

The link between heavy alcohol consumption and depression is well-documented.

For example, a 2005 review in the American Journal of Medicine estimated that people with depression are more than two times more likely to also be problem drinkers.

Problems with alcohol are also linked to worse outcomes to depression, such as committing suicide or being institutionalized.

16. Memory Impairment

One of the most striking effects of heavy alcohol use on the brain is the impact on memory.

Drinking effects our memories in a very specific way. It doesn’t affect your already established memories, but your ability to form new ones.

So things like names, telephone numbers, events, all this can become more difficult to remember. 

This is why former drinkers often describe their drinking days as kind of a haze.

Another effect of alcohol on memory is blackouts.

This is basically complete amnesia, where you don’t’ remember a thing from what you were doing or saying the night before. 

And I’m speaking from experience here.

Blackouts can happen with problem as well as social drinkers, providing they’ve had enough to drink. 

17. Peripheral neuropathy

So we saw multiple ways in which drinking impacts your brain, the body’s central nervous system.

But it can also affect your peripheral nervous system.

That’s all the nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord to more or less every part of the body.

The condition is called peripheral neuropathy.

The core symptoms are usually a feeling of pins and needles, pain, numbness and weakness.

There can also be involuntary muscle spasms and contractions, constipation, diarrhea, incompetence, and even male impotence.

Guys I’m not gonna lie – this can be a pretty scary condition.

Fortunately, it’s partially reversible for those who stop drinking.

18. Irregular heartbeat

Now, the media love talking about how a glass of wine can lower your risk of heart disease.

Who knows, it might be true.

It probably isn’t if you ask me, but let’s say it is.

What the media won’t tell you is all the ways heavier alcohol consumption can damage your heart.

And one of the most obvious ones is arrhythmias – an irregular heartbeat

Doctors have known about this going back even into the 19th century.

A 1902 book referred to this symptom as quote “alcoholic heart disease”.

There’s various types of alcohol induced arrhythmias, but the most common one is atrial fibrillation.

Usually it isn’t life threatening, but can increases your risk of stroke and heart failure.

It’s more common in the early hours of the morning, or after getting up from a binge drinking session.

Some researchers have suggested that 5-30% of atrial fibrillation cases might be alcohol related.

And going back to how that one glass of wine can supposedly protect your heart…

Well, not according to one study that found one drink a day can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation by 16%.

19. Weakens the immune system

Over time, heavy drinking can affect the immune system, increasing your susceptibility to various diseases.

These can range from pneumonia and tuberculosis to HIV and hepatitis

If we look at tuberculosis, for example, studies that follow long term alcohol and drug abusers find that their risk of developing this is 15 to 200 that of the general population

Many researchers also think that drinking can increase the risk of autoimmune reactions, and that these can affect various organs including the liver and kidneys.

20. Effects on the blood

Blood clots happen when the platelets in your blood bond together to form a solid mass in a vessel that isn’t otherwise damaged.

If a clot forms in a major vein of the body this can have potentially very serious consequences, including stroke and death.

And heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of blood clots compared to the blood population.

But the effects of alcohol on the blood go beyond platelets.

Basically any type of blood cell can be adversely affected. 

Alcoholics often struggle with anemia, for example, due to the damage to the red blood cells.

They are also more prone to infections due to white cell damage.

21. Lowers your life expectancy.

So guys, rather unsurprisingly after everything we’ve covered so far, the final effect alcohol will have on your body is to flat out kill you

According to the CDC, alcohol claims the lives of around 95 thousand Americans a year. 

Those who die from an alcohol-related condition lose on average 29 years of their life.

A majority of deaths, 70%, involve men.

More than 80% are with people over the age of 35.

For reference, smoking claims the live of close to half a million Americans a year.

Hope you found this article helpful!

Till next time, this was Leon for Soberclear.  

Leon

Leon

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