Alcohol is associated with more than 60 adverse health consequences and hundreds of physical and mental conditions. Alcohol affects health in a variety of ways; virtually every system can be damaged in the body by its harmful consumption.
Fedirko, V., et al (February 2011)., ' Alcohol drinking and colorectal cancer risk: an overall and dose–response meta-analysis of published studies ' Annals of Oncology, vol 22.
This is why even the leading British researcher who supports the notion of a protective effect in relation to heart disease still states that “the balance of harm and benefit does not weigh in favour of making a recommendation to the public to drink in order to prevent coronary heart disease”. Heart: Although a small amount of alcohol may reduce the risk of a heart attack, for many drinkers alcohol actually increases the risk of heart disease.
As a result, people who drink heavily may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density declines. If bones aren’t strong, there is a greater possibility of fractures. Alcohol also affects the endocrine system by interfering with how the body absorbs calcium, a chemical needed for strong bones.
Corrao, G., Rubbiatai, L., Bagnardi, V., et al (2000), 'Alcohol and coronary heart disease', Addiction, 94, pp. 649–663.
If the heart isn't pumping blood throughout the body effectively, other organs may suffer from lack of oxygen or nutrients. Large amounts of alcohol can affect how the heart works, and in turn, the rest of the body.
Heavy drinking over a period of years can damage the liver, causing inflammations such as steatosis (fatty liver) alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis. Liver: One organ that is particularly affected by alcohol is the liver because it is the main organ that processes alcohol.
Alcohol is metabolised in the body using 2 processes:
This occurs by the penetration of the blood-brain barrier, which otherwise prevents or slows the passage of some drugs and other harmful substances from the blood into the central nervous system. These disruptions can change mood and behaviour, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Brain: As a depressant of the central nervous system, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways. The degree to which brain activity slows down depends on how much, and how fast, a person drinks.
Figure 1: Effects of high-risk drinking.
Science NetLinks, ' Alcohol and the Human Body ', Circulatory System.
Men or boys who drink large amounts of alcohol can experience the loss of testosterone, the hormone that regulates male sexual function and semen. As a result, they could experience erectile dysfunction and emotional changes.
This is in line with much scientific evidence showing that the risks from drinking compared with non-drinking appear to begin increasing significantly at an intake of around 3 drinks per day for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx; oesophagus; larynx; breast; liver; colon; and rectum, liver cirrhosis, essential hypertension, chronic pancreatitis, injuries and violence. Cancers: A recent meta-analysis found that compared with nondrinkers or occasional alcohol drinkers ( ≤ 1 drink/day, equivalent to ≤ 12.5 g/day of ethanol), heavy drinking ( ≥ 4 drinks/day, equivalent to ≥ 50 g/day of ethanol) was associated with a 52% increased risk for colorectal cancer.
Anderson, 'The Risk of Alcohol'.
Heavy drinking is already known to be a possible cause of infertility, but a Danish study found that even small amounts of alcohol can affect fertility. Exposure to alcohol can affect pregnant women too. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a term commonly used to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.
505–510. Jensen, Tina Kold., et al (August 1998)., 'Does moderate alcohol consumption affect fertility?', BMJ, vol 317, pp.
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can cause and aggravate heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscle) and arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), and may also lead to strokes and high blood pressure.
For all types of alcohol-related harm, risk increases the more an individual drinks. The effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the mind and body are illustrated in Figure 1.
This can result in psychological or behavioural problems at birth, and physical symptoms such as an abnormally small head, defective development of mid facial tissues, minor outer ear abnormalities, abnormally small eyes, and heart and genital defects. By crossing the placental barrier, alcohol can affect a foetus by stunting its growth or weight, creating distinctive facial stigmata, and damaging the structure of the central nervous system in development.
Science NetLinks, 'Digestive system'.
One way to help prevent the increase of acid is by eating while drinking, as food slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed by the body. Digestive and endocrine systems: Alcohol is not digested like other foods; it avoids the normal digestive process and goes straight into the bloodstream. About 20% of the alcohol consumed is absorbed in the stomach, and about 80% is absorbed in the small intestine. Alcohol increases acid in the stomach, which in alcohol abusers can lead to severe stomach pain or sores in the intestines.
Anderson, Peter (2003), 'The Risk of Alcohol', PhD Thesis, Nijmegen University; The Netherlands.
Over time, chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than those who do not drink above the recommended guidelines. Immune system and impaired sensations: From having frequent colds to numbness, heavy or hazardous drinking on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
565–8. Marmot, M., Brunner, E (September 1991), 'Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease: The status of the U-Shaped Curve', British Medical Journal, vol 303, pp.
Science NetLinks, 'Digestive system'.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2002), 'Alcohol consumption and problems in the general population: Findings from the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey'.
This is because it takes alcohol longer to be metabolised, leading to a higher blood alcohol concentration. Women using oral contraceptives may not become intoxicated as quickly as they would otherwise, because of the contraceptive's ability to delay the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Some women find that they are more affected by alcohol while ovulating or when they are premenstrual.
According to one report, a drink every second day gives almost all the protection that alcohol has on reducing the risk of a heart attack; above 2 drinks a day, the risk of death from heart disease also increases. Whether consumed as wine, beer, or spirits, it is the alcohol content that matters; a glass of wine, 250ml of ordinary strength beer and a single measure of spirits are all equal in their impact on health.
17.3. The ICAP Blue Book, ' Module 17: Alcohol dependence and Treatment ', p.
Source: Babor, Thomas F., Higgins-Biddle, John C., Saunders, John B., and Monteiro, Marisa G (2 nd edition; June 2006)., ‘ The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test: Guidelines for use in primary care ’, WHO, Management of substance abuse : Alcohol.
Heavy steady chronic drinking at sufficiently high levels can also lead to the physiological changes that result in alcohol dependence. Dependence: The risk of dependence jumps dramatically for men who exceed 7/8 drinks per occasion, for women 5/6 drinks per occasion (aka binge drinking levels). References.
Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue and the liver, which needs unrestricted blood flow, doesn't work as it should. Some of this damage comes from free radicals, a group of molecules that are highly reactive. These molecules can attack the nearest stable molecule, leading to a dangerous chain reaction that can result in a disease called cirrhosis of the liver.
Drinking heavily can cause a steep rise in blood sugar, to which the pancreas responds by producing insulin to lower the blood sugar. Alcohol can impair both the functions of the glands that release hormones and the tissues to which they are being sent. They must be released at the right time, to the right tissues in the body. The action of hormone release is complex. But if it rises too steeply, the resulting overproduction of insulin can actually lead to low blood sugar, a condition called hypoglycemia. This is especially dangerous for diabetics, especially those taking certain drugs to lower their blood sugar.
Consumption patterns are just as likely to have an adverse impact on a drinker's mental and physical health as the amount of alcohol consumed. The biochemical changes that might reduce the risk of heart disease result equally from every last unit of alcohol derived from the beverage.
Some effects people experience include: altered speech; hazy thinking; slowed reaction time; dulled hearing; impaired vision; weakened muscles; and foggy memory.
Alcohols effects body alcohol health