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The Effects of Alcohol Use

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Understanding Alcohol Abuse
  3. Short-term Effects of Alcohol
  4. Side Effects
  5. Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
  6. Alcohol Dependence
  7. Am I Addicted to Alcohol?
  8. Withdrawal Treatment


Understanding Alcohol Abuse

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Enjoying alcohol in moderation is not just "not bad" for you, but it may have health benefits that could prolong your life. It is when people use alcohol as an escape route for social, personal or career pressures that abuse or alcoholism can result. Abuse of alcohol, or consumption of more alcohol than the body can handle, can lead to liver damage and other debilitating conditions.

Alcohol abuse can also lead to alcoholism—diagnosed as alcohol use disorder in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5)—or alcohol addiction, in which a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol to the point that he or she cannot function without it. Alcohol abuse and addiction can also lead to destructive behavior such as driving under the influence of alcohol and domestic violence.

Alcohol Effects question 1

Short-term Effects of Alcohol

Most adults will experience no detrimental effects from one or two servings of alcohol a day. A serving is a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce can of beer or a 1.5-ounce shot of a distilled spirit. This level of consumption may even decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Short-term effects of doses of alcohol above that safe level, which differs for people depending upon weight and whether they consume on an empty stomach, begin with relaxation and reduced inhibitions. While these effects may be pleasant, they then progress to lowered concentration, lowered reflex and response time and poor coordination, all of which result from a slowdown in the activity of the brain.

Alcohol Effects question 2

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use

  • Slurring of speech.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Emotional changes.
  • Sleep disruption.
  • Lowering of body temperature.

Symptoms of Excess Alcohol Intake

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control.
  • Blackouts, in which a drinker does not remember what happened while he or she was drinking.
  • Temporary loss of consciousness.
  • Coma and death.

Any short-term effect of alcohol can be amplified when alcohol is consumed in conjunction with other mind-alterinxg substances including both legal and illegal drugs. People who are using medication for pain or treatment of psychological conditions should not even consume alcohol in moderation without consulting their doctors.

Alcohol Effects question 3

Side Effects

The side effects of alcohol include the hangover, in which headaches, nausea and vomiting continue after a drinker is no longer actually intoxicated or experiencing the alcohol high.

Weight gain and high blood pressure can result from repeated overconsumption of alcohol, and long-term overconsumption of alcohol can raise the risk for:

  • Depression.
  • Liver damage.
  • Cancer.
  • Depression of the immune system.
  • Reduced sexual performance.

Alcohol Effects question 4

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

A number of medical emergencies can result from prolonged alcohol use, including cirrhosis, pancreatitis and cardiac arrhythmias.

Long-term overconsumption of alcohol causes death of brain cells, which can lead to brain disorders as well as a lowered level of mental or physical function.

Liver damage from alcohol can result in cirrhosis, a severe medical condition that can require a liver transplant to treat.

Long-term overconsumption of alcohol can cause pancreatitis, a very dangerous inflammation of the pancreas, and it can also cause nerve damage.

Tolerance, a long-term effect of alcohol in which the body becomes accustomed to higher and higher doses of alcohol after a long period of overconsumption. This makes it possible for long-term drinkers to consume amounts of alcohol that are dangerous without experiencing short-term effects that might otherwise convince them to stop. Tolerance can lead to dependence and then to addiction or alcoholism in some individuals.

If you or someone you love has been drinking too much for too long, please call our toll-free alcohol abuse and addiction hotline at 1-800-943-0566, so we can recommend ways to help. There is never any fee or obligation for our services, and you can call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Alcohol Effects question 5

Video: Causes of Alcoholism

Credit: Howcast

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, occurs when the body cannot function without alcohol. Alcohol affects certain neurotransmitters in the brain. When the brain becomes accustomed to the way that alcohol affects these brain chemicals, it can no longer send proper signals to the rest of the body without the presence of alcohol.

Once someone has developed a dependence on alcohol, he or she will continue to drink regardless of any serious physical symptoms caused by alcohol. In addition, a person who has developed alcohol dependence will continue to drink even if he or she suffers social or personal circumstances such as the loss of a job or career, breakup of personal relationships, or arrests for behavior related to alcohol consumption.

Am I Addicted to Alcohol?


Alcohol Effects question 6

Withdrawal Treatment

Alcohol dependence is a physical disorder that requires medical treatment, as attempts to withdraw alcohol from a dependent patient will lead to unpleasant and even potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medical treatment for alcohol dependence is known as detoxification, or detox, and it is followed by inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation treatment and therapy that helps patients avoid future alcohol abuse.

According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2013, 18.0 million people age 12 years or older in the US needed treatment for alcohol use (6.9% of Americans age 12 or older).

In a residential rehab center, intensive counseling and therapy that helps patients find positive ways of dealing with the stress and pressures that led them to abuse alcohol begins as soon as the acute detoxification process is over.

Residential treatment programs lasting from 30 days including detox to 90 days and beyond are available at rehab centers that are located in pleasant surroundings where patients can focus solely on recovery.

Once the inpatient phase of treatment is complete, counselors at these centers encourage patients to continue treatment with outpatient addiction professionals as well as by joining self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, you are not alone, and there is help available. For more information on how to help someone addicted to Alcohol, call to talk to a treatment support specialist at 1-888-747-7155.

Need Help Understanding Your Addiction Treatment Options? Call 1-888-747-7155.