Effects of alcohol: long-term effect and short-term effect
Table of content
- What are the short-term effects of alcohol?
- 1. Sensations of calmness or drowsiness
- 2. A feeling of pleasure or excitement
- 3. A feeling of happiness or giddiness
- 4. Changes in mood
- 5. Lowered inhibitions
- 6. Sluggish speech
- 7. Feeling vomiting and nausea
- 8. Gateway drug
- 9. Coordination problems
- 10. Changes in hearing, vision, and perception
- 11. Having headache
- 12. Having diarrhea
- 13. Dehydration
- What are the long-term effects of alcohol?
- 1. Increasing conflict and stress in love and family relationships
- 2. Trouble concentrating
- 3. Mental health problems
- 4. Changes in sexual desire and function
- 5. Weak immune system
- 6. Insomnia
- 7. Changing appetite and weight
- 8. Liver disease
- 9. Heart disease
- 10. Cancer disease
- 11. Brain damage
- 12. Inflammation of the pancreas
- What are the complications of alcohol?
- What are the treatments available for alcohol addiction?
Effects of alcohol are the reactions and changes in the body that occur when a person drinks, whether it’s low to moderate or heavy drinking. These can be short-term and long-term effects.
The long-term effect of alcohol is the persistent, sometimes irreversible consequence of drinking. These effects include growing conflict and stress in relationships or problems with loved ones, difficulty concentrating, and mental health problems. Other long-term effects of alcohol include changes in sexual desire and function, weak immune system, insomnia, changes in appetite and weight, liver disease, heart disease, cancer, brain damage, and inflammation of the pancreas.
The short-term effect of alcohol is the acute change that people experience upon alcohol consumption. They are usually reversible but may become permanent if a person doesn’t stop drinking. Short-term effects of alcohol include calmness or drowsiness, pleasure or excitement, happiness or giddiness, changes in mood, lowered inhibitions, sluggish speech, vomiting and nausea, gateway drug, coordination problems, changes in hearing, vision, and perception, headache, diarrhea, and dehydration.
Treatment of alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence consists of brief interventions, outpatient and inpatient programs where people receive therapy and guidance on their way to sobriety. It is possible to achieve successful recovery with these treatments.
What are the short-term effects of alcohol?
Short-term effects of alcohol are the immediate effects, which occur upon consumption of alcohol. Depending on the strength of the alcoholic drink, the short-term effects can occur within 10 minutes even if a person doesn’t notice immediately, Healthline reports. The effects of alcohol depend on the amount of alcohol consumed, how often a person drinks, age, health status, and family history, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The short-term effects of alcohol are listed below:
- Sensations of calmness or drowsiness
- A feeling of pleasure or excitement
- A feeling of happiness or giddiness
- Changes in mood
- Lowered inhibitions
- Sluggish speech
- Feeling vomiting and nausea
- Gateway drug
- Coordination problems
- Changes in hearing, vision, and perception
- Having headache
- Having diarrhea
1. Sensations of calmness or drowsiness
Sensations of calmness or drowsiness are the absence of feelings of worry, stress, or anxiety and feeling more sleepy than normally. Calmness can be described as peace of mind. People strive to achieve calmness in many ways such as meditation, yoga, prayer, deep breathing, or relaxation training. Drowsiness isn’t a state that people aspire to achieve, but it occurs as a result of depression, stress, anxiety, drugs, or prescription medications. Alcohol can cause sensations of calmness or drowsiness as well.
Sensations of calmness or drowsiness become the short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. As a depressant, alcohol slows down the brain and its processes thereby changing the way a person thinks, acts, and feels. At low doses, alcohol makes a person feel relaxed and even more social, according to the April 2022 post “Does Alcohol Reduce Stress? The Link between Drinking and Stress” on GoodRx Health. When experiencing stress, people tend to turn to alcohol because it produces feelings of relaxation or calmness. However, as per National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this effect of alcohol is short-term only.
The sense of relaxation or calmness a person feels when drinking alcohol can be attributed to their blood alcohol content (BAC), the amount of alcohol in the blood that develops from drinking alcoholic beverages. A person’s BAC levels can range from 0% (no alcohol) to 0.4%, which is potentially fatal. According to Cleveland Clinic, a person may experience changes in mood and increased relaxation when BAC is around 0.02%.
Drowsiness associated with alcohol use, as mentioned above, stems from its depressant or sedative effects. Alcohol makes a person feel sleepy because it enhances the functioning of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down brain and body’s activity. With the increased function of GABA, the brain’s activity slows down and a person becomes sleepy (drowsy) and tired.
A paper titled Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use from the February 2001 issue of Alcohol Research and Health suggested that in non-alcoholics who drink alcohol occasionally, both high and low doses improve sleep initially. That said, high alcohol doses may result in sleep disturbances. This means that for a short period of time, alcohol could be the reason a person feels drowsy or sleepy, but with chronic, heavy intake the effects become much worse. One of those effects is insomnia, which is elaborated on in detail further in this post.
The drowsiness effect makes alcohol incredibly dangerous as it puts a person at a higher risk of accidents and injuries. Dr. B.S. Oken and M.C. Salinsky from the Oregon Health and Science University published a paper in the September 2007 issue of Clinical Neurophysiology where they reported that alcohol is the most prevalent risk factor for car accidents. The same paper also emphasized that the effects of sleepiness (drowsiness) and alcohol interact to produce a dangerous driver. Drowsiness doesn’t occur from alcohol only, it can stem from sleep loss or medical conditions such as sleep apnea. In a study by S. Garbarino et al. in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, BAC values were strongly associated with sleep propensity i.e. readiness to transit from wakefulness to sleep and could increase the risk of car accidents.
2. A feeling of pleasure or excitement
A feeling of pleasure or excitement is the sensation of satisfaction, enjoyment, and the state of being full of joy, upheaval, and exhilaration. Pleasure is driven by the release of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine. This neurotransmitter, alongside serotonin, is also implicated in the development of excitement in the body.
Pleasure and excitement are generated by a wide range of factors including sexual intercourse, shopping, eating good food, sports, beautiful sunsets, or scoring tickets to see the favorite band. People experience pleasure and excitement due to alcohol as well.
A feeling of pleasure or excitement becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because it triggers the release of endorphins, the chemicals that make a person feel good.
J.M. Mitchell et al. published a study in the January 2012 issue of Science Translational Medicine where they explained how alcohol produces positive feelings such as pleasure and excitement. The study confirmed the release of endorphins is the main culprit. To test that idea, the researchers first injected 13 heavy drinkers and 12 controls with a drug that binds to opioid receptors. The reason is simple; endorphins work like opioids in the brain. By administering the drug that binds to opioid receptors, the researchers could identify their location. Then, the participants were instructed to have a drink upon which they were injected with the drug again. The results showed that the release of endorphins was associated with participants reporting feelings of pleasure. Endorphins were released in the brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in pleasure and reward.
All addictive substances produce the feeling of pleasure, which reinforces their use and increases the chance of repeated use, according to Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health published in 2016 by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Office of the Surgeon General.
Alcohol triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, as mentioned above, and one of those chemicals is dopamine. A paper Alcohol-Induced Alterations in Dopamine Modulation of Prefrontal Activity from the December 2015 issue of Alcohol confirmed that alcohol temporarily enhances the release of dopamine. This neurotransmitter is most notably involved in producing the sensation of pleasure as part of the brain’s reward system, Harvard Health Publishing explains. The term dopamine rush is used to describe the release of this neurotransmitter as a response to stimuli, such as alcohol or drugs. R.A. Bressan and J.A. Crippa from the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil published a review in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica Supplementum 2005, where they confirmed that dopamine is associated with the ability to feel pleasure and its role could be motivational as well.
Dopamine is also the neurotransmitter that causes excitement. That explains why people may feel excited or energetic upon drinking alcohol, but this effect is only temporary.
Speaking of the connection between pleasure or excitement and alcohol, it’s useful to address brain areas that regulate these functions. The orbitofrontal cortex regulates pleasure coding whereas the hypothalamus participates in a wide range of functions, including excitement. This matters because alcohol acts on these specific brain regions. The orbitofrontal cortex is strongly activated by alcohol-related cues in people who drink, as per a paper by Dr. David E. Moorman from the University of Massachusetts Amherst published in the December 2018 issue of Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.
Alcohol can stimulate neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus to release corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and arginine vasopressin, which are parts of the stress response pathway. Useful is to mention that CRF belongs to a family of neuropeptides and receptors and plays a role in arousal (excitement) and emotionality.
3. A feeling of happiness or giddiness
A feeling of happiness or giddiness is a sense of wellbeing, contentment, and joy. People feel happy or giddy when they are satisfied and fulfilled. These feelings come in many forms. Reasons for happiness or giddiness may vary from person to person. However, the fundamental components of happiness are the balance of emotions and life satisfaction, according to Very Well Mind.
The well-known ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that there are two types of happiness: hedonia and eudaimonia. Hedonia is a type of happiness that derives from pleasure and is usually linked to doing what feels good. Eudaimonia is a type of happiness that derives from seeking meaning and virtue. People feel happy due to various reasons such as getting a job promotion, spending time with family or loved ones, eating a delicious cake, and even as an acute effect of alcohol.
A feeling of happiness or giddiness becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. When a person drinks alcohol, their body produces more dopamine. Dopamine travels to reward centers in the brain and makes a person feel good or happy, according to Alcohol Change UK. That’s why the first couple of drinks are likely to induce happiness or giddiness thereby motivating a person to keep drinking.
Alcohol’s ability to make a person feel happy has been long established. A good example is a paper from the August 1985 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence where C. Baum-Baicker suggested that low and moderate doses of alcohol enhance overall affective expression, euphoria, pleasant and carefree feelings, and happiness. This isn’t the case for heavy, chronic alcohol use. For instance, in May 2016, Science Daily reported findings of researchers at the University of Kent who confirmed that people are momentarily happy when drinking alcohol, but they aren’t more satisfied with their life. The absence of satisfaction is particularly observed with more long-term use of alcohol.
Happiness with alcohol intake is present in the context of social drinking as well. A review titled The Effects of Alcohol on Emotion in Social Drinkers from the January 2017 issue of Behaviour Research and Therapy reported that people who drank in groups experienced changes that were mainly emotional e.g. they felt less unhappy. At the same time, people who drank alcohol in isolation reported physiological changes mainly such as dizziness.
Happiness response originates in the limbic cortex, which contains a set of structures including the amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus, or hippocampus. As mentioned above in this post, alcohol acts on the hypothalamus. It can also influence the hippocampus, which is why people also experience blackouts. Moreover, alcohol acts on the limbic cortex where it activates the dopaminergic reward pathway, according to a post from Psych Scene Hub, which was last updated in 2020. This further explains why alcohol can produce a temporary feeling of happiness or giddiness.
Happiness is also mediated by another neurotransmitter – serotonin. When levels of this neurotransmitter are normal, a person feels happier and more emotionally stable. Acute intake of alcohol increases serotonin levels in the brain, according to a paper Serotonin’s Role in Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain from the February 1997 issue of Alcohol Health and Research World.
4. Changes in mood
Changes in mood, also known as mood swings, are sudden changes in emotional state. A person may feel happy and their mood quickly changes to sadness or anger. They are a natural part of a person’s life. Common causes of mood swings, according to Medical News Today, are a major life change, being stressed or overwhelmed, premenstrual syndrome, sleep deprivation, unhealthy diet, and taking medications that affect sleep or mood. Alcohol can also contribute to mood swings.
Changes in mood become a short-term effect of alcohol due to chemical imbalances that occur upon alcohol intake. Alcohol acts on brain regions that control inhibition and produces positive feelings such as happiness, but as chemicals and their balance change, a person may experience more negative feelings. These negative feelings may include anger, depression, or irritability. Alcohol acts as a depressant that acts on the central nervous system and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Although a person feels an initial boost after an alcohol drink, soon after that their mood changes to depression or irritability. That happens because the levels of these neurotransmitters reduce after acute increases, according to HSE (Health Service Executive) public health service from Ireland.
Alcohol appears to be a mood modulator, especially among persons who are prone to anxiety. However, the mood-modulating effects of alcohol may reinforce drinking behavior and potentially lead to chronic use. The short-term effect of alcohol on mood explains why people tend to use alcohol to cope and feel better, as per S.M. Gorka et al. who published their paper in the April 2017 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Dr. Rajita Sinha from the Yale University School of Medicine explained in her post from the January 2022 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews that one or two standard alcoholic drinks exhibit a stimulating and physiologically excitatory or arousing effect. The excitatory response to alcohol is related to a sense of being energetic and stimulated. It is also connected to increased sociability. As a person drinks more alcohol in one sitting, alcohol begins stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When that happens, the levels of stress hormone cortisol go up. Moreover, alcohol stimulates brain emotion and stress pathways including the amygdala, under stressful and emotionally arousing states. These changes affect a person’s mood and explain why a person goes from happy or cheerful to irritable and grumpy mood quite fast.
S.K. Blaine et al. reported in their paper from the March 2016 issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry that alcohol consumption has historically been linked to increased adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, and norepinephrine levels, all of which affect a person’s mood. Acute intake of alcohol is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, which is responsible for the regulation of sex hormones. The presence of these hormones, such as testosterone, in the bloodstream, contributes to the release of neuroactive steroids from gonads into the circulation. Neuroactive steroids are metabolites of the hormones testosterone and progesterone. These metabolites directly affect the neural tissue and are very powerful. They can influence the function of the neurotransmitter GABA, which plays a role in stress, anxiety, and fear. Through its actions on stress pathways and regions that control emotions, alcohol causes mood swings and a person’s behavior. Even positive effects, such as good mood, are short-term only. Chronic use of alcohol leads to many complications with mental health, which are discussed further in this post.
5. Lowered inhibitions
Lowered inhibitions are the act of becoming less self-conscious. The Psychology Dictionary explains that the term inhibition refers to the process of restraining impulses and desires. Inhibition may occur on a conscious or unconscious level, or both at once. A person may deliberately suppress or inhibit the urge to speak out against their friends, coworkers, or strangers online. In this case, the process of inhibition is conscious. On the flip side, if a person is unable to stand their ground or engage in any kind of conflict, their inhibition is on an unconscious level.
The paper Inhibition of Action, Thought, and Emotion: a Selective Neurobiological Review from the December 2007 issue of Applied and Preventive Psychology explains that inhibition is the key concept in psychology mainly because a lot of successful behavior depends on it. In order to focus on a task at hand, it’s necessary to inhibit distracting information. In order to make adaptive choices, a person needs to inhibit habitual responses. Lack of inhibitions may be a result of mental health disorders, a person’s effort to become less self-conscious, but alcohol intake is one of the biggest factors.
Lowered inhibitions become the short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol depresses the brain’s cerebral cortex. When that happens, the way a person’s senses profess information slows down. As a result, the person’s inhibitions reduce and it becomes more difficult to think clearly, DrinkWise explained.
In their paper from the August 2010 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, M. Field et al. reported that alcohol impairs inhibitory control and changes implicit alcohol cognitions such as attentional bias and implicit associations. Alcohol intoxication changes mood states and impairs psychomotor performance as well as cognitive processes. However, inhibitory control is impaired at alcohol doses that don’t lead to global impairment in cognitive functioning. Not only does alcohol lower inhibitions in terms of motor response, but it also includes increased impulsivity in behavior. The same paper suggests that a moderate dose of alcohol, which produces a BAC level of 0.06%, impairs inhibitory control. The impaired inhibitory control and changes in automatic control cognitions are important aspects of the alcohol priming effect. The term alcohol priming effect refers to an increase in alcohol-seeking behavior following alcohol administration. The relationship between the effects of alcohol on inhibitory control and alcohol-seeking behavior was also confirmed by J. Weafer and Mark T. Fillmore whose clinical trial was published in the December 2008 issue of Psychopharmacology.
The abovementioned paper by Field et al. discusses the myopia model which suggests that alcohol causes narrowing of attentional focus (myopia) in a way that the dominant cues become the center of attention while peripheral cues are neglected or ignored. This model becomes apparent in the presence of peripheral cues that encourage the suppression of potentially undesirable behaviors. When that happens, a person fails to respond to the inhibiting cues when under the influence of alcohol.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine found that even a low dose of alcohol is capable of interrupting the relationship between the amygdala and regions of the prefrontal cortex. The interruption of communication could explain why alcohol lowers inhibitions. People who drank alcohol were unable to distinguish between the different emotions that were shown to them in the pictures. During alcohol intoxication, the brain doesn’t properly process emotional cues that signal threat because the amygdala isn’t working as it should, it was reported on the university’s website UIC Today in August 2013.
As mentioned above, lowered inhibitions are associated with impulsivity. A.M. Herman and T. Duka published a paper in the November 2019 issue of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews where they explained that impulsivity and alcohol use have a bidirectional relationship. Impulsivity is a risk factor for the initiation of alcohol use. At the same time, impulsive behavior is a result of both acute intoxication and long-term alcohol abuse. Alcohol intake is associated with risk-taking behavior, which is also a form of impulsivity and lowered inhibitions. Common risky behaviors associated with alcohol use are driving while intoxicated, drinking until blacking out, increased aggression and violence, sexual risk-taking, and actions that lead to injuries, reported S.J. Johnson et al. in a paper from the May 2021 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
6. Sluggish speech
Sluggish speech, or dysarthria, is a weakness or difficulty controlling the muscles used for speech. Other names for sluggish speech are mumbling and slurred speech. Sluggish speech is slow and can be difficult to understand. Mayo Clinic explains that common causes of sluggish speech are nervous system disorders, certain medications and diseases that result in facial paralysis or throat or tongue muscle weakness. Stroke, brain injury/tumor, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis are well-established causes of sluggish speech. Problems with speech can contribute to depression and social difficulty. Alcohol can cause sluggish speech as well.
Sluggish speech becomes the short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol slows down brain activity and how the brain communicates with the body. David B. Pisoni and Christopher S. Martin reported in their paper from the August 1989 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical, and Experimental Research that alcohol consumption produces changes in speech, which are often used by law enforcement personnel and even bartenders as signs of motor impairment due to alcohol intoxication. Alcohol use may increase response latency, particularly for the less frequently used words. The amplitude of speech reduced as the blood alcohol level increased, as per the paper. People are more likely to make sentence-level, word-level, and sound-level errors when using alcohol. More precisely, alcohol consumption mostly affects the phonemes /r/, /l/, /ts/, /s/, and /ʃ/. The paper continues that alcohol slows down speech and it becomes lower in amplitude, and more negatively judged in subjective perceptual tests.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, alcohol causes slurred speech, slowed thinking, and reduced reaction times at BAC levels of 0.10%. This level of alcohol intoxication makes the tongue work less efficiently. As a result, the speech sounds slurred or fuzzy. A person who drinks high amounts of alcohol may omit words, revise them, or break up suffixes as they are trying to coordinate their tongue, voice box, and mouth so other people in their social circle such as friends can understand them.
Alcohol acts on GABA, as established above. An insufficient amount of GABA in the brain makes neurons fire too quickly. However, in cases of high levels of GABA, the neurons start firing more slowly. High levels of GABA in the brain make it difficult to process information the body’s attempting to send. In turn, movements become slower, time perception changes, and speech becomes slurred. When it comes to brain chemicals, alcohol suppresses the production of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that enhances excitement and energy. Suppression of glutamate produces sedating effects on the brain, which could translate to speech as well.
Additionally, alcohol affects the Purkinje neurons, which control muscle coordination and memory. These specific neurons are located in the cerebellum, which is also affected by alcohol use. The Purkinje neurons work in a way that they convert repeated motions into muscle memory. In a paper from the April 2015 issue of BMC Neuroscience, the author Michael D. Forrest from the University of Warwick in the UK concluded that alcohol ingestion corrupts motor coordination by acting on the Purkinje neurons.
What makes the cerebellum particularly interesting is that although it accounts for only 10% of brain volume it consists of around 50% of the total number of neurons in the brain, Psychology Today reported. For that reason, it’s clear why alcohol’s action on this brain area may lead to slurred speech.
Alcohol may also act on Broca’s area, the motor speech area. This particular area regulates breathing patterns while speaking and vocalizations necessary for normal speech. Broca’s area is located in the inferior frontal gyrus. While the studies on alcohol’s effects in Broca’s area are lacking, consumption of alcohol can affect the frontal lobe, which is also confirmed in a pamphlet, How Alcohol Affects the Brain released by the Talk2Prevent program in New York State.
The effects of alcohol on speech are short-term, but with chronic or heavy intake, there can be long-term damage.
7. Feeling vomiting and nausea
Feeling vomiting and nausea is a forceful discharge of stomach contents and a feeling of sickness with an inclination to vomit. Nausea doesn’t always lead to vomiting. The causes of nausea and vomiting are similar. They include motion sickness, early pregnancy, intense pain, stress, food poisoning, indigestion, smells and odors, and exposure to chemicals and toxins, according to Cleveland Clinic. Alcohol use is also among the factors that lead to nausea and vomiting.
Feeling vomiting and nausea becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach. As alcohol irritates the stomach lining, it causes the accumulation of acid and a person feels nauseated. Nausea leads to vomiting. Additionally, vomiting is the body’s protective reflex against toxins from alcohol, such as acetaldehyde. This chemical is harsh and may induce tissue damage, according to the paper “Overview: How is Alcohol Metabolized by the Body?” in the April 2006 issue of Alcohol Research and Health.
When a person drinks a low amount of alcohol, the liver neutralizes acetaldehyde with a substance called glutathione. The body processes the two compounds and a person is fine. However, upon heavy alcohol intake, the liver is unable to produce sufficient amounts of glutathione to keep up. At that point the body realizes the liver can’t tackle acetaldehyde on its own, which is why it attempts to get rid of the chemical through vomiting, Healthline explained. Yet another function of the liver is to convert acetaldehyde into acetate so the body can remove it by converting the chemical to water and carbon dioxide. When levels of acetaldehyde are high, the liver can’t do its job properly which leads us back to the other elimination route – vomiting.
Nausea and vomiting related to alcohol use can be associated with alcohol poisoning, as per Medical News Today. Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks too much alcohol within a short timeframe and it is considered a medical emergency.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, people may experience nausea and vomiting when their BAC level is 0.15%. Individuals with a BAC level that goes from 0.15% to 0.30% may vomit and experience drowsiness. While nausea and vomiting are short-term effects of alcohol, people can experience long-term damage as well because chronic use can jeopardize the health and function of the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system.
8. Gateway drug
A gateway drug is a drug or substance whose use may lead to the use and potential dependence on more dangerous drugs. Gateway drugs are usually socially acceptable substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and even cannabis. The concept behind gateway drugs implies that by simply using a specific substance, a person will automatically develop an addiction to more severe drugs. Even though the most well-known gateway drug today is marijuana, alcohol is one such substance too.
Gateway drug becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because people who drink are more susceptible to using other substances including cannabis. They may do so hoping to achieve the same or enhance the pleasurable effects they experienced with alcohol.
A study called Alcohol as a Gateway Drug: a study of US 12th Graders in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of School Health found that alcohol represented the gateway drug. In the study, alcohol led to the use of marijuana, tobacco, and illicit substances. Students who used alcohol were more likely to use both licit and illicit drugs.
A study by S. Nkansah-Amankra and M. Minelli published in the December 2016 issue of Preventive Medicine Reports revealed that smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using illegal drugs were all associated with a higher chance of marijuana and illegal substances such as cocaine. Exposure to cigarette smoking and alcohol was linked to later use of illegal psychoactive substances. In fact, moderate and heavy alcohol drinkers in adolescence were more likely to use cocaine later on. L. Degenhardt et al. reported in their paper from the April 2010 issue of the Drug and Alcohol Dependence that the use of cannabis may be preceded by the use of alcohol and tobacco.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that gateway drugs such as alcohol work to prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs such as marijuana. For that reason, alcohol is typically used before a person moves to more dangerous substances such as heroin. The CDC reports that people who abuse alcohol are two times more likely to use heroin or become dependent on it.
9. Coordination problems
Coordination problems are uncoordinated movements due to a muscle control problem. People with impaired coordination are unable to move easily or think clearly. They may appear lost in space or lose their balance. Health problems can lead to coordination problems. Good examples are vitamin deficiencies, infections in the brain, head trauma, strong medications, and even alcohol use.
Coordination problems become a short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol interferes with communication pathways in the brain and affects how the brain works. Disruptions caused by alcohol make it difficult for a person to move with coordination.
Lack of motor coordination in people who drink alcohol may stem from damage to the cerebellum, according to an older study by E.V. Sullivan et al. in the February 1995 issue of Alcohol Health and Research World. T. Brumback et al. reported in their study from the November 2007 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence that acute alcohol intoxication impairs psychomotor skills which impairs performance on motor tasks such as tapping, tracking, reaction time, and body sway. The sensitivity to the impairing effects of alcohol is associated with the complexity of the psychomotor task. For instance, more demanding tasks are hindered by alcohol at lower levels than easier tasks.
Loss of coordination is associated with the effect of alcohol on GABA neurotransmitter. Alcohol amplifies the inhibitory effects of this neurotransmitter. The result is sluggish movement and reaction time that make a person lose coordination and appear clumsy.
Alcohol intake may interfere with hand-eye coordination, stability in gait and balance, and speeded performance. While these effects are short-term, they can be problematic in the long-term as well. Even when a person with alcohol use disorder becomes sober, they are still at a high risk of falling due to problems with gait and balance, as reported by E.V. Sullivan et al. in a paper from the January-February 2010 issue of Alcohol Research and Health. The same journal published a paper in April 2004 issue where authors S. Hiller-Sturmhofel and H. Scott Swartzwelder confirmed that alcohol impairs an individual’s ability to perform tasks that require balance and motor coordination such as standing still or walking in a straight line. Motor coordination is among the primary functions of the cerebellum. Interestingly, even though adolescent brains are still developing, teenagers could be less sensitive to the effect of alcohol on the cerebellum and subsequent coordination problems than adults, but more research on this subject is necessary.
Through coordination problems, alcohol use increases the risk of injury. The abovementioned drowsiness effect of alcohol could further aggravate a lack of coordination among people who drink alcohol.
10. Changes in hearing, vision, and perception
Changes in hearing, vision, and perception refer to changes in senses and how a person perceives the world around them. Factors that affect hearing, besides aging, include loud noise, illnesses, or medications. Vision is affected by sun exposure, too much screen time, overuse of eye drops, smoking, stress, medications, and contact lenses. A person’s perception is influenced by culture, expectations, motivation, and emotion. Alcohol causes changes in all three; hearing, vision, and perception as well.
Changes in hearing, vision, and perception become the short-term effect of alcohol because it acts as a depressant that slows down communication in the brain and its activity. When a person drinks alcohol, blood flow to the inner ear increases and causes tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Although tinnitus due to alcohol use is temporary and goes away on its own, chronic alcohol intake could make the problem permanent. Alcohol use also contributes to “cocktail deafness”, a term that refers to noise-induced hearing loss that occurs when a person is drinking alcohol in a loud bar. Hearing Doctors explains that cocktail deafness is a reversible problem.
Upon persistent alcohol use, the auditory cortex may shrink. The auditory cortex is responsible for processing sounds. Reduced volume of the auditory cortex could make it difficult to process sounds and hear them. This damage isn’t just a result of binge drinking or heavy alcohol intake. Even if a person drinks moderate doses of alcohol, assuming they are safe, the risk for auditory cortex damage persists.
In their study from the September 2007 issue of BMC Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders, T. Upile et al. confirmed that alcohol use blunts lower frequencies, usually 1000 Hz. This particular frequency is the most crucial frequency for speech or vowel discrimination. Alcohol disrupts the auditory threshold by acting peripherally through a direct toxic or osmotic effect. Alcohol can also act more centrally thereby disrupting the processing of auditory information. Moderate amounts of alcohol may alter central auditory processing under difficult listening conditions.
High alcohol consumption may damage inner hair cells thereby making it difficult for sounds to reach the brain. When that happens, a person may experience changes in hearing. This kind of hearing problem isn’t reversible, but it is useful to mention how dangerous alcohol use can be for a person’s hearing.
When it comes to vision, even moderate alcohol use can impair it. Alcohol intoxication may cause problems such as blurred vision, abnormal eye movement, impaired color perception, and sensitivity to light. These effects on vision are short-term and stem from the alcohol’s influence on the central nervous system, Medical News Today explained. In a paper Alcohol and the Eye from the April-June 2021 issue of the Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research, S. Karimi et al. explained that abnormal eye movement is the main feature of alcohol intoxication. Chronic alcohol use may lead to more serious, permanent vision-related problems such as acute optic neuropathy.
J.B. Santana Silva et al. published a study in the October 2017 issue of PLoS One where they revealed that moderate doses of alcohol could change eye movements. The same study discussed that vision changes could be due to alcohol’s effect on GABA. The main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain is also found in the retinal ganglion and visual cortex, which is in charge of processing visual functions including the ocular movement control.
Frequent binge drinking was strongly associated with visual impairment in adult subjects, according to a study that S. Young Han et al. published in the February 2022 issue of Nutrients. The researchers theorize that alcohol induces oxidative stress, which could also contribute to visual impairment.
Since alcohol compromises peripheral vision and causes a person to develop tunnel vision, it can be difficult and dangerous for a person to drive or react well to headlights. This is yet another reason why a person who drinks alcohol should not drive.
Alcohol can affect the way a person perceives reality and its surroundings. The term person perception involves processes such as categorizing people and their behavior or making predictions about people. A clinical trial by B.D. Bartholow et al. in the October 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that alcohol impairs person perception by changing the nature of valenced information processing. During alcohol intoxication, people tend to overestimate or underestimate time i.e. their time perception is also impaired. Faulty time perception is particularly evident when certain cognitive tasks are depleted, according to a review that F.M. Nuyens et al. published in the August 2021 issue of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. Changes in perception could occur due to the depressive effect of alcohol on the brain and the way it perceives reality or processes information and stimuli.
11. Having headache
Having a headache is the feeling of pain in the head or face that can be described as pressure that is throbbing, sharp, dull, or constant. Headache can occur gradually or suddenly and it can affect one or both sides of the head.
According to Mayo Clinic, headaches can be primary or secondary. The latter is a symptom or a consequence of a wide range of factors including concussion, brain tumor, dehydration, panic attack, stroke, or hangover. Primary headache results from overactivity of pain-sensitive structures in the head or the problems affecting them. While headaches can be overwhelming and frustrating, they are manageable. One factor that plays a role in headaches is alcohol.
Having a headache becomes a short-term symptom of alcohol due to its diuretic properties that may lead to dehydration. Alcohol contributes to excessive urination, which can make a person dehydrated. Dehydration alone can cause headaches, as per a paper Dehydration and Headache in the July 2021 issue of Current Pain and Headache Reports. That explains why a person may have a headache even after a small amount of alcohol.
Additionally, alcoholic drinks contain the chemical ethanol, which functions as a vasodilator i.e. it dilates blood vessels in the body. The process of vasodilation can cause painful headaches and migraines, especially for people who are prone to these problems even without alcohol. Alcoholic beverages also contain chemicals called congeners, which can trigger migraines as well. Alcoholic drinks such as red wine contain histamine, which can cause vascular headaches.
In a paper from the April-June 2016 issue of the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, author Dr. Alessandro Panconesi from San Giuseppe Hospital in Italy confirms that vasodilating properties of alcohol and its inflammatory function could be responsible for headaches, especially in people with migraine.
Headache and other hangover symptoms such as nausea and vomiting can occur due to the accumulation of acetaldehyde. The body is unable to process and eliminate this substance, which is why it keeps building up, which may cause headaches and even vomiting.
12. Having diarrhea
Having diarrhea is a condition indicated by loose, watery stools three or more times a day. Diarrhea can be acute or chronic. People often have diarrhea alone, but it can be present with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain as well. Diarrhea may result from a wide range of causes such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, medications such as antibiotics, lactose intolerance, artificial sweeteners, surgery such as partial intestine or gallbladder removal, and other digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and celiac disease. Alcohol can cause diarrhea as well.
Having diarrhea becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because alcohol can induce inflammation and irritate a delicate digestive system. Upon contact with alcohol, the gastrointestinal tract may develop inflammation. At the same time, excess acid production can increase inflammation and irritation, which can lead to diarrhea.
In the presence of alcohol, the large intestine fails to work properly and is unable to pull liquids out of stool before passing them out of the body. As a result, a person may experience diarrhea and dehydration. Moreover, alcohol use may speed up digestion due to its agitating effect. When that happens, muscles located in the colon start contracting more frequently meaning they push stools faster than they normally do. This faster process may lead to diarrhea because the intestines don’t have enough time to digest food properly.
Yet another mechanism of action through which alcohol causes diarrhea, according to Medical News Today, is bacterial imbalance. Alcohol disturbs gut microbiota by killing both good and bad bacteria, which can lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea.
One of the biggest alcohol-related culprits for diarrhea is beer due to a higher level of carbohydrates compared to other drinks. The body finds it difficult to process or break down excess carbs while a person is drinking alcohol.
A paper Alcohol-Related Diarrhea from the April 2000 issue of Addiction Biology explained that diarrhea is a common complaint among acute and chronic alcoholics alike. Acute morphological changes such as inflammatory cell infiltrations, erosions, and microvascular changes are observed in the stomach and small intestine of acute alcoholics. Acute administration of alcohol may inhibit the absorption of nutrients and fluids, thereby stimulating the secretion of electrolytes and water. The paper suggests that the deleterious effect of alcohol on the central nervous system could cause similar acute and chronic effects on the enteric nervous system (a division of the autonomic nervous system whose component neurons are situated in the walls of organs of the digestive system). In turn, such an effect could affect motility and transit.
Alcohol use may induce mucosal damage in the digestive tract, suppress the gastrointestinal immune system, and increase the transport of toxins across the mucosa. At the same time, alcohol can inhibit digestion, absorption, and secretion, thus contributing to diarrhea and reducing the transfer of nutrients to the rest of the body, according to a review Effect of Alcohol Consumption on the Gut from the March-April 2005 issue of Digestive Diseases.
Dehydration is when the body loses more fluid than a person takes in. In turn, the body doesn’t have a sufficient amount of water and electrolytes to function properly. The most common causes of dehydration are diarrhea and vomiting, excessive sweating, fever, and increased urination. When left unmanaged, dehydration can cause serious complications such as seizures, urinary and kidney problems, and low blood volume shock. Drinking alcohol can also cause dehydration, however.
Dehydration becomes a short-term effect of alcohol because it is a diuretic. As a diuretic, alcohol causes excessive urination. The consequence of excessive urination is loss of vital fluids and electrolytes. Alcohol-induced dehydration is influenced by several factors such as drinking on an empty stomach, appetite suppression, and kidney function.
Drinking on an empty stomach leads to alcohol going straight to the bloodstream instead of being absorbed more slowly through the stomach and small intestine. For that reason, a person may become dehydrated. Appetite suppression contributes to dehydration because alcohol can make a person eat less when drinking, which speeds up the absorption of alcohol. In the presence of alcohol, the ability of kidneys to filter the blood and maintain the balance of fluids and electrolytes is impaired. Furthermore, alcohol may suppress vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone. The role of this hormone is to control the amount of water the kidneys will retain or reabsorb. Upon suppression of this hormone, fluid retention is reduced and excessive urination ensues, Medical News Today explained.
A paper by K.C.M.M. Polhuis et al. in the July 2017 issue of the journal Nutrients confirmed that alcohol increases urine output and contributes to dehydration. The acute diuretic response to alcohol is associated with alcoholic concentration. Alcohol also produces urine flow within 20 minutes after consumption, according to a paper titled Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function in the January 1997 issue of Alcohol Health and Research World.
Alcohol can cause vomiting, which further contributes to dehydration. At the same time, being dehydrated makes a person more likely to develop headaches.
What are the long-term effects of alcohol?
Long-term effects of alcohol are consequences that last for a long time e.g. for months or years. These effects occur with excessive or long-term alcohol intake and tend to be persistent or chronic, not acute or temporary. For that reason, the long-term effects of alcohol are serious and have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and their wellbeing, especially among people with alcohol use disorder. The long-term effects of alcohol are listed below:
- Increasing conflict and stress in love and family relationships
- Trouble concentrating
- Mental health problems
- Changes in sexual desire and function
- Weak immune system
- Changing appetite and weight
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Cancer disease
- Brain damage
- Inflammation of the pancreas
1. Increasing conflict and stress in love and family relationships
Increasing conflict and stress in love and family relationships refers to frequent arguments and strained relationships with loved ones due to their concerns regarding the individual’s drinking problem. Healthy love and family relationships are important for a person’s quality of life and mental health and wellbeing. Various factors can affect these relationships ranging from dishonesty to alcohol abuse.
Increasing conflict and stress in love and family relationships become a long-term effect of alcohol due to denial and the inability of individuals to function in relationships. Love partner or family members often express their worries about alcohol and try to encourage their loved one to get help or stop drinking. However, a person who drinks a lot of alcohol is often in denial and refuses to acknowledge the existence of a problem. This puts a lot of stress on relationships and the overall quality of life of everyone involved.
Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with lowered relationship satisfaction, increased risk for marital distress, and more negative interactions between partners, according to a paper that A. Khaddouma et al. published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of College Student Development. The main reason for poor relationship quality is the increased stress that occurs when a person engages in hazardous alcohol use. People who engage in heavy alcohol use, the article continues, are more likely to take part in dangerous behaviors such as intimate partner violence, illicit drug use, or driving while intoxicated thereby putting their and loved one’s lives at risk. This may negatively affect the functioning of the relationships. The growing concerns regarding alcohol use may lead to frequent verbal exchanges or arguments and negative affect on the partner. When it comes to relationship problems due to alcohol use, people who engage in heavy drinking are also less likely to work on improving their relationships.
Alcohol causes stress in relationships because it contributes to domestic violence. The link between alcohol use and domestic violence was confirmed in a paper by D. Gadd et al. published in the September 2019 issue of The British Journal of Criminology. Additionally, R. Mayshak et al. published a paper in the Feb 2022 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence which found that 24% to 54% of family and domestic violence incidents reported to the police in Australia were alcohol-related. The alcohol-related domestic violence incidents were twice as likely to include severe physical violence and life-threatening injuries as other causes, such as socioeconomic disadvantage. Unfortunately, alcohol-related domestic violence incidents also carried a higher risk for recidivism, which is the tendency of a perpetrator to re-offend.
Alcohol use can cause conflicts and stress in relationships that are so severe and lead to broken families or divorce. A useful study to mention is the one that S.B. Scott et al. published in the June 2013 issue of Couple and Family Psychology, which found that out of 52 participants, 34.6% revealed that substance abuse was a factor in separation. Substance abuse was a significant factor in cases when the partner refused to acknowledge the presence of the problem and get help to resolve it. In research by K. Gravningen et al. in the March 2017 issue of PLoS One, reasons for divorce included drinking, drugs, gambling, high levels of conflict, and arguing in addition to financial problems and domestic violence.
Heavy alcohol use can affect family dynamics and negatively affect children. This is primarily important because children of people with a drinking problem are at a high risk of developing alcohol abuse later on. Moreover, the source of conflict and stress in relationships (family or love) goes beyond a person’s refusal to admit they have a problem. Heavy alcohol use may lead to financial problems, poor spending habits, and increased debts, all of which puts strains on relationships.
2. Trouble concentrating
Trouble concentrating is difficulty thinking clearly, focusing on a task, or maintaining attention. Good concentration allows us to better use our resources and approach to solving-problem more efficiently. When a person is concentrated or focused, they are less likely to miss an important piece of information. Staying concentrated allows for memorizing information more easily.
The human ability to concentrate is influenced by factors such as environment and lifestyle. Common reasons behind poor concentration include a messy workplace, lack of sleep, too much screen time, noise, stress, poor time management, a sedentary lifestyle, and an unhealthy diet. Alcohol use is also a factor that causes trouble concentrating.
Trouble concentrating becomes the long-term effect of alcohol because heavy alcohol use leads to disorganized thoughts and confusion. In the study by L.H.M. do Canto-Pereira et al. in the April 2007 issue of Human and Experimental Toxicology, alcohol intake was associated with impairment associated with visuospatial attention. The term visuospatial attention refers to the capacity of an individual to attend to and process stimuli in their surrounding space. Examples of tasks that involve visuospatial attention include making a bed, buttoning a shirt, drawing, constructing models, or assembling furniture.
When it comes to the effect of alcohol on concentration, it’s important to keep in mind that the prefrontal cortex is part of the brain that regulates concentration or attention as well as other tasks such as memory, personality, and temper. Very Well Mind explains that brain areas in charge of executive function (prefrontal cortex) and postural stability (the cerebellum) are particularly vulnerable to the long-term effects of alcohol. For that reason, long-time alcoholics may develop deficits in the executive functioning of their brains. These deficits can cause issues with problem-solving, multitasking, and working memory. The negative impact of alcohol on executive functioning was also confirmed by a study that R.J. Houston et al. in the January 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors. Alcohol use also causes nutritional deficiencies that have an adverse effect on the brain.
Alcohol may alter the activity of the prefrontal cortex through ion channel disruption, Science Daily reported. The term ion channel refers to gates in the neuron membrane that allow it to get in or out of cells when appropriate. The prefrontal cortex neuron NMDA receptors are particularly sensitive to concentrations of alcohol. When the prefrontal cortex is impaired, so are the functions that are associated with it. Besides concentration, the prefrontal cortex also helps a person decide whether they should take action or not.
A.G. Salinas et al. published a study in the January 2021 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology wherein they suggested that long-term alcohol intake has a negative impact on the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is important because dopamine, which regulates the brain’s reward system, also helps with concentration and memory, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Since alcohol acts on many neurological pathways and functions in the brain, it makes it difficult for a person to concentrate on a task at hand. Their productivity may suffer as a result. M.M. Thorrisen et al. found a link between alcohol and impaired work performance in the study they published in the July 2019 issue of BMJ Open.
Heavy alcohol use may contribute to problems with concentration and focus through other mechanisms such as mental health problems and insomnia. For example, depression is associated with impaired cognitive functions such as problems with attention and concentration, according to the paper Core Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder: Relevance to Diagnosis and Treatment from the September 2008 issue of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. At the same time, it’s also worth mentioning that trouble concentrating is one of the most common daytime complaints among individuals with insomnia, as per a review by J.A. Brownlow et al. in the March 2020 issue of Sleep Medicine Clinics.
3. Mental health problems
Mental health problems, also known as mental illnesses or mental health disorders, are health conditions that involve changes in mood, emotion, thinking, and behavior, or a combination of these. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that mental disorders are indicated by a clinically significant disturbance in a person’s cognition, behavior pattern, and emotion regulation. Mental health problems are common and, according to the WHO, they affect one in eight people in the world. A mental illness is linked to distress or impairment in several areas of functioning such as social or occupational.
There are different types of mental health problems such as anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder), and psychotic disorders (schizophrenia, delusional disorder). People can also develop disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders, personality disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Mayo Clinic explains that mental health problems occur due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Mental illness is more common among people whose blood relatives also have it due to genetic predisposition. Exposure to environmental stressors, toxins, inflammatory conditions, drugs, and alcohol contributes to development. Impairments in brain chemistry can lead to mental illnesses, as well.
In June 2012, the American Psychological Association published an article titled The Roots of Mental Illness, which provided an interesting explanation of the development of mental illnesses. The article quoted Eric Kandel, MD, a Nobel Prize laureate and a professor of brain science at Columbia University, who said that mental illness is all about biology. Dr. Kandel explained that all mental processes are brain processes, meaning all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases.
One of the major causes of mental health problems is alcohol. That’s why mental illness is a long-term effect of alcohol intake, especially among people who have alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Mental health problems become the long-term effect of alcohol because drinking too much can influence processes in the brain and make a person vulnerable to symptoms of mental illnesses.
The adverse, long-term effect of alcohol on mental health has been scientifically confirmed on multiple occasions including a paper by R. Shivani et al. in the February 2002 issue of Alcohol Research and Health. The paper confirmed that alcohol abuse can cause signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, psychosis, and antisocial behavior both during intoxication and withdrawal. Around 80% of people with AUD experience mood disturbances and may develop bipolar disorder.
In their paper from the December 2019 issue of The Lancet Psychiatry, A. Castillo-Carniglia et al. revealed that AUD is associated with personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. This relationship operates through behavioral disinhibition primarily because persons with impulsive and antisocial traits tend to have lower thresholds for deviant behaviors. The same paper showed that the prevalence of the major depressive disorder in people with alcoholism ranges from 4% to 22% and their relationship is complex. The link between alcohol use and depression could be a two-way street as per the abovementioned paper. For example, depressive symptoms increase the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence. A person with depression may start drinking alcohol to alleviate the symptoms they experience. On the flip side, depressive symptoms may develop due to the social and biological consequences of AUD.
The abovementioned paper suggested that AUD can affect psychological mechanisms used to cope with traumatic events, thereby increasing a person’s vulnerability to anxiety symptoms, including PTSD.
The June 2017 issue of the journal PLoS One published a study by C. Tembo et al, who found that higher intake of alcohol among university students was associated with poorer mental health outcomes and academic performance.
The Mental Health Foundation from the UK explains that alcohol may induce chemical changes in the brain that cause negative feelings such as depression, anxiety, and anger, regardless of the mood. Additionally, alcohol slows down how the brain processes information thus making it more difficult for a person to comprehend what they’re really feeling and the potential outcomes of their actions. Speaking of long-term effects, alcohol uses up and decreases the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. The proper balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin is necessary for mental health and prevention of mental illnesses such as depression.
When it comes to neurotransmitters, it is important to mention the January-March 2014 issue of the Indian Journal of Human Genetics that published a paper titled Neurotransmitters in Alcoholism: A Review of Neurobiological and Genetic Studies. The paper confirmed that alcohol use affects neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Alcohol also inhibits the activity of glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters. For example, alcohol can cause panic due to its effects on GABA, which is a neurotransmitter with a relaxing effect, Drinkaware from the UK reported.
Alcohol misuse can cause symptoms of psychosis such as delusions and hallucinations. In fact, psychosis associated with alcohol can result from acute alcohol intoxication, alcohol withdrawal, and chronic alcohol use. H.A. Stankewicz et al. explained in their post on the website of the National Library of Medicine, last updated in February 2023, that increase in central dopaminergic activity and dopamine receptor alterations could be associated with hallucinations in patients with AUD. Serotonin may be involved in this process, as well. The same post explained that alcohol might cause amino acid abnormalities and thereby reduce brain serotonin while increasing dopamine activity and lead to hallucinations.
To sum up, alcohol misuse can affect neurotransmitters and impair processes in the brain that impair a person’s mental health, how they feel, respond to negative stimuli, and perceive reality. The relationship between alcohol and mental illness is complicated. Mental illnesses can increase the risk of alcohol use because people consume it to relieve their symptoms. At the same time, those who drink alcohol a lot develop mental illnesses due to the reasons explained above.
4. Changes in sexual desire and function
Changes in sexual desire refer to changes associated with interest in sexual activities and sexual performance or response to sexual stimuli. Sexual desire is influenced by the hormones testosterone and estrogen, but factors such as age, medications, chronic conditions, and lifestyle also play a role. Sexual desire and function are associated with attitudes, opportunity or partner availability, and mood, as well.
Sexual desire and function fluctuate. When a person is stressed out, for example, they may have a lower libido or problems with sexual function. Alcohol intake can also induce changes in sexual desire and function and have a negative impact on a person’s sex life.
Changes in sexual desire and function become the long-term effect of alcohol because chronic alcohol consumption leads to hormone imbalances and impairs processes that are involved in sexual function.
A hospital-based cross-sectional study by J. Rohilla et al. in the January-June 2020 issue of the Industrial Psychiatry Journal finds that 58.6% of men with alcohol dependence have sexual dysfunction. Areas of sexual functioning most affected by alcohol were arousal (62.8%), desire (61.4%), and erectile function (70%). In a paper titled Prevalence of Sexual Dysfunction in Male Subjects with Alcohol Dependence, from the April-June 2007 issue of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, sexual dysfunction was found to be common in subjects with alcohol dependence. The most common problems were premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and low sexual desire.
Chronic, heavy alcohol intake lowers libido because alcohol reduces the levels of the hormone testosterone. This hormone participates in many functions including regulation of sex drive, strength, and muscle mass, according to the National Institutes of Health. Low levels of testosterone are associated with problems such as erectile dysfunction and decreased sexual desire, as per a paper The Relationship between Testosterone Deficiency and Men’s Health in the August 2013 issue of The World Journal of Men’s Health. The main problem is that chronic alcohol consumption may increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, thereby reducing the levels of testosterone in the body. Healthline explains that the long-term effects of alcohol also include damage to Leydig cells in the testicles, which are in charge of testosterone production.
Since alcohol causes hormonal imbalance, sexual desire and functions such as erection may suffer. Alcohol causes erectile dysfunction both in the short- and long-term.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and slows down the transmission of information between the brain and the penile area. As a result, the sensitivity of the penis is decreased. Additionally, due to its diuretic properties, alcohol may contribute to dehydration, which increases levels of angiotensin, a hormone that narrows blood vessels. Blood flow to the penis is limited and a man struggles to achieve an erection. Good erectile function needs healthy blood flow. Healthline explained that the testosterone-lowering properties of alcohol contribute to erectile dysfunction because the levels of nitric oxide also become lower. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator which in erectile function serves to dilate blood vessels and thereby allow more blood to flow to the penis.
Chronic intake of alcohol damages nerves and blood vessels thus impairing erectile function. It’s also useful to mention that long-term alcohol intake is associated with high blood pressure. Men with high blood pressure are more susceptible to erectile dysfunction, Healthline elaborated.
Drinking alcohol decreases sensation in the genitals, which could mean a person may take longer to achieve an orgasm. The ejaculatory function is influenced by alcohol as well. A man may take longer to ejaculate or ejaculate too quickly i.e. experience premature ejaculation. This is related to loss of sensation in the genital area, but other factors may play a role such as low testosterone. Studies suggest low testosterone is associated with premature ejaculation, but further research on this subject is necessary, according to a paper Premature Ejaculation and Endocrine Disorders: a Literature Review in the January 2022 issue of The Journal of Men’s Health.
Heavy alcohol use also affects female sexual function, not only males. A systematic review by N. Salari et al. in the May 2023 issue of BMC Women’s Health confirmed that alcohol intake raises the likelihood of sexual dysfunctions in women by 74%. In a study by A. Jenczura et al. in the August 2018 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, alcohol consumption was associated with impairments across different domains of female sexual function such as sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, lubrication, pain, and satisfaction.
5. Weak immune system
A weak immune system is impaired functioning of the immunity meaning it doesn’t fight off viruses, fungi, and bacteria properly. A person with a weak immune system is susceptible to infections that can be mild to moderate and severe or life-threatening. The function of the immune system relies greatly on white blood cells, which circulate in the body via the bloodstream trying to detect potential issues or invaders. Multiple factors can affect this function and weaken the immune system. These factors include diabetes, cancer, HIV and AIDS, liver and kidney disease, autoimmune conditions, medications such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, and chronic or heavy alcohol intake, Health.com explains.
A weak immune system is a long-term effect of alcohol because it lowers the number of antibodies that fight off infections, affects cells of the immune system, and impairs the balance of bacteria that the immune system needs for proper functioning. D. Sarkar et al. reported in their paper from the February 2015 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews that alcohol consumption affects both types of immunity: innate immunity (defense system with which a person is born) and adaptive immunity (acquired immune system). The combined effects on both types of the immune system strongly weaken the host’s defenses thereby predisposing chronic alcohol drinkers to various health problems such as infections and systemic inflammation. It’s useful to mention that exposure to alcohol in the womb weakens the development of the immune system in the fetus. When alcohol triggers inflammation, it kills normal or healthy bacteria that would otherwise reduce the risk of infection.
The abovementioned paper from Alcohol Research: Current Reviews described how alcohol weakens immune defenses through its effects on the gastrointestinal system. First, it’s important to mention here that 70% to 80% of cells of the immune system reside in the gut, as reported by S.P. Wiertsema et al. who published their review in the March 2021 issue of the journal Nutrients.
Alcohol affects the structure and integrity of the GI tract by altering the concentrations of microbes in the gut microbiome and disrupting communication between these microorganisms and the intestinal immune system. Consumption of alcohol also damages epithelial cells, T cells, and neutrophils in the gastrointestinal tract thereby further disrupting gut barrier function and facilitating leakage of microbiomes into circulation. The leakage of bacterial products from the gut triggers the innate immune system in the liver and contributes to inflammation associated with alcoholic liver disease.
The previously mentioned paper by D. Sarkar et al. reveals alcohol intake weakens the immune system because it acts on the lungs and respiratory system. People who drink alcohol are susceptible to pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis and adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) because alcohol impairs ciliary function in the upper airways and disrupts the function of the immune cells. Additionally, alcohol acts on lower airways and impairs the barrier function of epithelia. For reference, ciliary function refers to cilia, which are small hair-like structures on the surface of cells. The proper ciliary function involves the movement of cilia in a wave-like motion to push mucus, germs, and other pathogens up toward the mouth, where a person can cough or sneeze them out. When the cells that line the airway are damaged by alcohol, the particles such as viruses gain access easily. As a result, the immune cells are unable to do their job properly and can’t protect the body from the infection.
Alcohol weakens the immune system because it forces the body to shift priorities. For instance, when a person drinks alcohol their body prioritizes the metabolism or breakdown of that alcoholic beverage. That happens because the body doesn’t have a mechanism that would store alcohol like it stores fats or carbs. Instead, the body sends alcohol to the liver instantly. The focus here is on eliminating alcohol and other processes such as immune function are neglected. Additionally, alcohol impairs the quality of sleep. This matters because sleep is essential for a strong and functioning immune system, as per a paper by L. Besedovsky et al. in the January 2012 issue of Pflugers Archiv: European Journal of Physiology. Low sleep quality could, then, further weaken the immune system. S. Cohen et al. found in their study from the January 2009 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine that subjects whose average sleep duration was less than seven hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than their counterparts with eight hours of sleep.
Women could be particularly vulnerable to weak immune systems from alcohol intake. Heavy drinking may depress estrogen levels and impair the hormone’s beneficial effects on the immune system. As a result, it weakens the ability of a woman’s immune system to fight off infection, according to a paper that J. Romeo et al. published in the October 2007 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder indicated by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The condition can be short-term or long-term and it negatively affects a person’s daily activities and quality of life. The Sleep Foundation reported that 9% to 15% of U.S. adults have insomnia. Women are 40% more likely to have insomnia than men are.
As per Mayo Clinic, insomnia can be either a primary or secondary problem. More precisely, it can occur on its own or as a result of factors such as stress, sleep-disrupting habits, and life events. Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD may disrupt sleep. Additionally, antidepressants and medications for blood pressure and asthma can contribute to insomnia. Other potential causes of insomnia include medical conditions (cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease), sleep-related disorders (restless leg syndrome), and consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. When left untreated, insomnia can impair performance at work/school, increase the risk of accidents, and make a person more susceptible to substance abuse and mental illnesses or long-term diseases and conditions such as heart disease.
The April 2019 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology published a paper by S. He et al. titled Alcohol and Sleep-Related Problems, which revealed that alcohol disrupts sleep through multiple mechanisms and its relationship with sleep continuity disturbance is bidirectional.
Insomnia becomes the long-term effect of alcohol because moderate doses of alcohol can reduce the duration of REM sleep, particularly in the second half of the night. The term REM stands for rapid eye movement and it is one of five stages of sleep during which rapid brain activity occurs and a person experiences vivid dreams. The paper reveals that heavy alcohol use is linked to a longer time to fall asleep, a lower percentage of time spent in bed sleeping, and a higher wake after sleep onset time. In people with AUD, the prevalence of insomnia ranges from 36% to 91% compared to about 10% in the general population. The abovementioned paper reported that heavy drinking may predict insomnia symptoms in the future while insomnia symptoms may lead to an increased risk of heavy drinking behavior. Insomnia is present in all stages of AUD such as the active drinking phase, acute alcohol withdrawal, and during recovery.
Alcohol use and AUD are associated with circadian rhythm abnormalities. For instance, animal studies such as a comparative study by A.J. Brager et al. in the July 2010 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical, and Experimental Research found that chronic alcohol intake negatively affects photic and non-photic phase-resetting, which is a part of the circadian rhythm. The clinical trial by T. Danel et al. in the July 2001 issue of the American Journal of Physiology, Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology discovered that in healthy adults, alcohol consumption blunts the overall normal diurnal variation in core body temperature rhythm. Alcohol intake induced a hyperthermic effect during the night thus reducing the circadian amplitude of core body temperature by 43%, which could explain sleep disturbances.
Moreover, T.L. Rupp et al. published a paper in the March 2007 issue of the journal Chronobiology International which described that consumption of alcohol reduces salivary melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. In the study, salivary levels of melatonin were reduced by 15% and 19% at 140 and 190 minutes after alcohol administration compared to placebo. Keep in mind that the researchers used a moderate dose of alcohol meaning reduction could be higher in people who engage in heavy drinking.
When it comes to short sleep duration (SSD), its link with alcohol intake is also scientifically confirmed and a good example is a review that S. Chakravorty et al. published in the November 2016 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. For reference sake, CDC reports that short sleep duration is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, for adults. The same paper explained alcohol dependence contributes to other sleep problems such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and sleep-related movement disorder, both of which could lead to insomnia.
The relationship between alcohol intake and OSA was also confirmed by B.P. Kolla et al, who published their meta-analysis in the December 2018 issue of Sleep Medicine Reviews. The meta-analysis found that alcohol consumption worsens breathing-related events in sleep, especially in people with a history of snoring and OSA. In fact, alcohol can contribute to the development of OSA or worsen it in people who already have this condition.
The prevalence of insomnia in people with AUD reduces with abstinence, but persistent insomnia could increase the risk of relapse. Improvement in lifestyle factors, including quitting drinking alcohol, can help remit insomnia, according to a study by C. Janson et al. in the June 2001 issue of the journal Sleep.
To sum up, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which is why it disrupts sleep schedules. People who experience difficulty falling asleep often use alcohol to speed up the process, but this “technique” doesn’t improve the quality of sleep. In fact, it can pave the way to alcohol dependence. The relationship between alcohol and insomnia is bidirectional. Fortunately, it is possible to improve the quality of sleep with abstinence from alcohol.
7. Changing appetite and weight
Changing appetite and weight refers to the changes in the amount of food a person consumes and their body weight. First, it is important to clarify that appetite and hunger aren’t the same things, mainly because people tend to use them as synonyms. Simply put, hunger is physiological and it occurs due to biological changes in the body, which signal that a person needs to eat to maintain their energy levels. Appetite is a desire to eat that can result from hunger and other causes such as environmental and emotional conditions.
Appetite and weight fluctuate, they are never constant, due to multiple factors. Medical News Today explains that appetite is influenced by factors such as diet, mental health, pregnancy, medications (medicines for blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, antipsychotics and antidepressants), and medical conditions such as infection, thyroid disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and kidney disease. When it comes to weight, numerous factors influence it and many of them are out of a person’s control, as per the book Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs published by National Academies Press in 2004. The factors that people can’t control include developmental determinants, gender, genetics, and age. These aren’t the only factors that influence a person’s body weight, however. The book explains that weight is influenced by physical activity, diet, and environmental and social factors.
Alcohol can affect appetite and weight, as well. Multiple studies have investigated the impact of alcohol on a person’s appetite and one of them is a clinical trial that S.J. Caton et al. published in the March 2004 issue of Physiology and Behavior. Appetite and weight changes become the long-term effect of alcohol, as per the clinical trial, because above a specific threshold, alcohol may stimulate appetite partially due to higher levels of subjective hunger. When that happens, energy intake isn’t decreased in subsequent meals. Researchers concluded that alcohol intake contributes to a positive energy balance through appetite stimulation. The term positive energy balance refers to cases when the number of calories obtained through food is higher than the number of calories a person burns. S.J. Caton et al. also published a review in the March 2015 issue of Current Obesity Reports wherein they suggested that alcohol increases energy intake in dieters due to abandonment of restraint i.e. disinhibition. Intake of forbidden items for dieters, such as alcohol, exacerbates the attempts to resist temptation.
Not only does alcohol increase appetite and food intake, but it can also decrease it. Dr. Anna Kokavec from La Trobe University in Australia published a review in the September 2008 issue of Appetite where she suggested that long-term alcohol consumption can reduce the total amount of food consumed when food is freely available and an alcoholic person is often held accountable for irregular eating behavior. It’s also useful to mention that alcohol consumption may lead to overeating episodes, which is why highly impulsive individuals could be at risk of excessive energy intake during or after episodes of drinking, according to C.A. Kase et al. who published their paper in the April 2016 issue of Appetite.
As seen above, the relationship between alcohol and appetite is complex. Ada McVean B.Sc. at McGill University explained in her post from December 2020 that alcohol can decrease how full or satiated a person feels after eating because it inhibits the secretion of leptin. Leptin is a hormone that participates in the regulation of hunger by providing the sensation of satiety. Also, alcohol can reduce the levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone that sends a signal to the brain saying the stomach is empty and ready to eat. McVean adds this shows how complex the influence of alcohol on the appetite really is. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories yet, as per the article, people don’t modulate their dietary intake accordingly. Since calories from alcohol don’t make a person feel full like calories from food, in cases when dietary intake isn’t modified, they act as additive calories. This leads to excessive energy intake and subsequent weight gain.
Since alcohol consumption can induce changes in appetite, it can also affect a person’s weight. For example, alcohol can lead to weight gain and could be a risk factor for obesity. The role of alcohol intake in obesity risk was discussed in a paper titled Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: an Update, which was published in the January 2015 issue of Current Obesity Reports. The paper reported that the risk for obesity could be up to 70% higher among the heaviest drinkers compared to the lightest drinkers. Binge drinking has been associated with higher obesity risk and large waist circumference. Light-to-moderate alcohol intake is less likely to be a risk factor for obesity than heavy drinkers. That means people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, especially if they do so frequently, are at risk of weight gain and obesity.
Alcohol influences weight through several mechanisms of action. As per a paper that Martin R. Yeomans from the University of Sussex in the UK, published in the April 2010 issue of Physiology and Behavior, energy consumed from alcohol is additive to that from food. For that reason, heavy and binge drinking could increase the risk of obesity. Not only does alcohol bring additional calories, but it also makes a person eat more. One explanation for the effect of alcohol is that it can enhance a person’s perception of appetite in response to food stimuli. As mentioned above, alcohol influences satiety and hunger hormones, but it may contribute to increased food intake and weight gain through its effects on functions in the brain. Alcohol can act on serotonergic, GABAergic, and opioid pathways thereby influencing appetite, according to the abovementioned study from the Current Obesity Reports. The same paper suggests that alcohol may inhibit fat oxidation meaning frequent alcohol intake could lead to fat-sparing and higher body fat in the long-term. The same finding is reported in a review titled “Is Alcohol Consumption a Risk Factor for Weight Gain and Obesity?” which was published in the March 2005 issue of Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences. The review showed that alcohol suppresses lipid oxidation and non-oxidized fat is deposited in the abdominal area. While alcohol is high in calories, they aren’t an available source of energy due to the induction of the microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system.
In a study by C. Ramos-Vela et al. in the January-December 2022 issue of the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health, alcohol intake is a predictor of elevated BMI and chronic conditions.
Alcohol intake affects appetite and weight through multiple mechanisms, including increased food intake and also a higher preference for unhealthy salty and greasy foods, according to Better Health Channel from Australia. Abstinence from alcohol could help improve weight management. This is important because being overweight or obese puts a person at a higher risk of chronic diseases and lower quality of life.
8. Liver disease
Liver disease refers to problems affecting the liver, the largest solid organ in the body. The main function of the liver is to regulate most chemicals in the blood and help rid the body of toxic substances. The liver also breaks down most of the alcohol a person drinks. Medical problems affecting the liver include hepatitis A, B, and C, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. As per the American Liver Foundation, over 100 million people in the United States have some form of liver disease with 4.5 million people having a diagnosed liver condition and the remainder not being aware they have it. When left untreated, liver disease can lead to liver failure and cancer.
Mayo Clinic explains that liver disease has many causes, including infection, immune system abnormality, genetics, fat accumulation in the liver, and chronic alcohol abuse. Besides heavy alcohol use, risk factors for liver disease include type 2 diabetes, obesity, family history of liver disease, exposure to certain chemicals and toxins, drug abuse with shared needles, and having tattoos and body piercings.
The liver disease becomes the long-term effect of alcohol, the UK’s NHS Inform explains, because every time the liver filters alcohol, some of its cells die. The liver has the ability to regenerate and develop new cells, but prolonged alcohol misuse reduces this effect. As a result, a person may develop severe and permanent damage to their liver. One of these problems is alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which develops in three stages. The first stage is alcoholic fatty liver disease, the second stage is alcoholic hepatitis, and the third stage is cirrhosis. Alcoholic fatty liver disease refers to accumulation of fats in the liver. Alcohol hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver induced by drinking alcohol. Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver and its permanent damage. In this case, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue and prevents the normal functioning of the liver.
Alcohol itself is harsh to break down, which is why it causes damage, swelling, and inflammation, which can have a serious impact on a person’s liver. Alcohol consumption is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States, according to a post titled Alcoholic Liver Disease on the website of the National Library of Medicine. The post, which was last updated in October 2022, explained that a daily intake of 30g to 50g of alcohol for over five years can lead to ARLD. Fatty liver disease, or steatosis, can affect up to 90% of people who drink over 60g of alcohol a day whereas cirrhosis occurs in 30% of people with a longstanding intake of more than 40g of alcohol a day.
According to the abovementioned post, the metabolism of alcohol increases the production of NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide + hydrogen) and reduces NAD in the body. The NADH produced by the body participates in making energy. The result of this process is the formation of glycerol phosphate, which partners up with fatty acids and thereby becomes triglycerides that accumulate in the liver.
With the cessation of lipid oxidation due to alcohol intake, fat builds up in the liver and leads to fatty liver disease. As a person continues drinking alcohol, their immune system becomes involved too. At that point, interleukins (proteins made by white blood cells) and neutrophils (the most common type of white blood cells) attack hepatocytes (liver cells), thus causing swelling of the liver or hepatitis. In the long-term, this process could lead to damage i.e. cirrhosis.
According to N.A. Osna et al, who published their paper in the February 2017 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, risk factors for alcohol liver disease are the type of beverage consumed and the amount and pattern of drinking, being a woman, older age, genetics, unhealthy diet, substance abuse, obesity, smoking, and viral infections. M. Roerecke et al. published a systematic review and meta-analysis in the October 2020 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology where they confirmed that the risk of developing cirrhosis was higher for female drinkers. However, the confidence intervals were large and overlapped with those for men.
An article titled Exploring Alcohol’s Effects on Liver Function from the January 1997 issue of Alcohol Health and Research World discussed potential mechanisms influencing alcohol-induced liver damage. One mechanism involves oxygen-related factors such as free radicals, antioxidants, and hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the body’s tissues). The paper suggests that a significant portion of the damage that occurs during alcoholic liver disease is due to free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecular fragments that frequently consist of oxygen. Small amounts of free radicals are by-products of metabolic processes, but antioxidants destroy them and protect us from their harmful effects. Excessive production of free radicals, however, can cause the death of the cells. This may also happen if antioxidant defenses are weak. Free radicals are also produced during the breakdown of alcohol in the liver by a membrane protein called CYP2E1. The consequence of free radicals attack is the sequential degradation of cell membranes through the peroxidation process. During this process, the integrity and function of cells is compromised or destroyed. Chronic alcohol intake induces lipid peroxidation. The severity of the peroxidation process relates to the extent of liver injury. The same article reveals alcohol interferes with antioxidant defenses and causes hypoxia through increased utilization of oxygen by liver cells thus lowering the availability of oxygen for other important cellular functions. It also causes a chain of events that induce inflammation and thereby further aggravate liver damage.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is considered reversible if a person abstains from alcohol for at least two weeks. When it comes to mild alcoholic hepatitis, liver damage is reversible if a person stops drinking permanently. However, severe alcoholic hepatitis is a serious and life-threatening illness. Cirrhosis is not a reversible condition, but it can be managed to improve a patient’s quality of life. People with alcohol-related liver diseases are encouraged to stop drinking alcohol to prevent further damage to their liver.
9. Heart disease
Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD), irregular heartbeats such as arrhythmias, congenital heart defects, heart valve disease, and disease of the heart muscle. Heart disease is very common. According to the CDC, around 1 in 20 U.S. adults aged 20 and older (around 5.0%) have CAD and every year about 805,000 people have a heart attack.
Mayo Clinic explains that risk factors for heart disease include age, being male, family history, smoking, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and poor dental health.
Heart disease becomes the long-term effect of alcohol due to multiple reasons; for example, excessive alcohol intake may lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Drinking too much alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Moreover, alcohol intake contributes to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Research presented at Heart Failure 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) in May 2022, suggested that drinking over 70g of alcohol a week is associated with worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure. The research didn’t find any benefits of low alcohol usage. This is important because the study showed alcohol is more dangerous to heart health than previously thought. A common belief is that alcohol in low or moderate amounts could protect the heart, but this study didn’t observe those benefits. Similar were the findings of the study that K.J. Biddinger et al. published in the JAMA Network Open. The study showed that alcohol consumption of all amounts was associated with elevated cardiovascular risk. Low intake of alcohol was linked to minimum increases whereas higher consumption of alcohol was associated with more severe risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Heavy alcohol intake is associated with deleterious cardiovascular outcomes including increased mortality, as per a review by S. Goel et al. in the March 2018 issue of Current Cardiology Reports.
A paper titled Alcohol’s Effects on Cardiovascular System from the February 2017 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews reported that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is linked to transient increases in blood pressure. People who drink a lot of alcohol are at a high risk of developing hypertension, the paper reported. Alcohol increases blood pressure through several mechanisms including impairments in cells that lead to the accumulation of plaque in arteries, disruptions in arterial-vascular function, and hormonal imbalances. Additionally, alcohol may raise blood pressure through oxidative stress and changes in intracellular calcium levels and heart rate.
A review of Alcohol and Atherosclerosis from the March 2001 issue of Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias confirmed that heavy alcohol consumption was associated with systemic hypertension, but it was also linked to arrhythmia and coronary occlusions. The term coronary occlusion refers to the complete or partial obstruction of blood flow in a coronary artery. Alcohol may cause arrhythmia because it interferes with the cardiac conduction system by slowing down conduction, according to a paper by D. Tonelo et al. in the August 2013 issue of the Brazilian journal called Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia.
The findings that alcohol contributes to hypertension are significant because high blood pressure causes a lot of strain and damage to blood vessels. The arteries become narrower and plaque keeps accumulating, thus leading to atherosclerosis. As arteries harden due to plaque, blood clots may form and put a person at a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. For that reason, it’s useful to mention that scientific evidence such as a meta-analysis by K. Reynolds et al. in the February 2003 issue of JAMA confirmed that heavy alcohol intake makes a person more susceptible to stroke.
In a review of Alcohol Use Disorders and the Heart from the September 2019 issue of Addiction, the idea that alcohol could protect the heart is contested suggesting that risks outweigh potential benefits. The risk of premature mortality increases steadily after an average intake of 10g of alcohol a day. Regular alcohol consumption increases blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner and metabolites of alcohol may exhibit toxic effects on cardiac myocytes (muscle cells). For that reason, alcoholic cardiomyopathy accounts for a third of all cases of non-ischaemic dilated cardiomyopathy. There is no safe amount of alcohol for people with cardiomyopathy, which is why abstinence from drinking is necessary.
In alcoholic cardiomyopathy, the heart changes shape due to long-term heavy alcohol use. As the shape of the heart changes, long-term damage may ensue. Cleveland Clinic explains the long-term damage may lead to severe problems including heart failure. The change in shape happens because parts of the heart may enlarge and stretch. The heart becomes weaker and is unable to perform its main function (pumping blood) properly. The left and right ventricles, the muscles that regulate the lower chambers of the heart, are particularly prone to stretching associated with alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Both heavy and binge drinking can cause this serious heart problem.
To sum up, alcohol causes heart disease because it raises blood pressure and oxidative stress, contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, and impairs the overall functioning of the heart, all of which can lead to problems. Also, alcohol may cause heart disease indirectly. A good example is weight gain, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
10. Cancer disease
Cancer disease, or just cancer, is a disease where specific cells in the body grow and multiply uncontrollably and may spread to other sites such as tissues and organs. The process where cancer spreads to other areas is called metastasizing and is a major cause of death from cancer, World Health Organization reports. Cancer-related deaths account for nearly 10 million or one in six deaths worldwide.
When it comes to the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023 there will be around 1,958,310 new cancer cases and 609,820 cancer deaths, reported R.L. Siegel et al. in a paper from January 2023 issue of CA: a Cancer Journal for Clinicians. There are many types of cancer such as those affecting the prostate, breasts, bladder, colon and rectum, liver, kidney, lung, pancreas, thyroid, blood, and skin. Mayo Clinic explains that cancer occurs due to DNA mutations within cells. The process can be congenital or influenced by factors such as obesity, smoking, chronic inflammation, sedentary lifestyle, viruses, and habits such as drinking too much alcohol.
The CDC reports that consuming at least three alcoholic drinks a day raises the risk of pancreatic and stomach cancers. Drinking alcohol may increase the risk of prostate cancer, as well. All alcoholic drinks are associated with cancer risk and their impact could be dose-dependent. More precisely, the more a person drinks alcohol, the risk of getting cancer becomes higher. Cancer disease becomes the long-term effect of alcohol, explains CDC, due to the chemical acetaldehyde. The body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, but this chemical has the potential to damage DNA and prevent the body from repairing it.
According to the National Cancer Institute, even people who have no more than one drink a day are at risk for cancer. Binge drinkers are susceptible to cancer as well. What’s more, around 3.5% or 19,500 cancer deaths are alcohol-related.
The same report explains alcohol is connected to head and neck cancers such as oral cavity and pharynx cancers and larynx cancer. The risk is particularly high among people who both drink alcohol and use tobacco. Moreover, alcohol intake at any level is linked to a higher risk for a type of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, the most prevalent type of esophageal cancer. Individuals who inherit a deficiency in the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol are particularly vulnerable to esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
Besides these cancers, heavy alcohol use is associated with a two-fold risk for two types of liver cancer: hepatocellular carcinoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer whereas intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer that develops in the parts of bile ducts that are within the liver.
In addition to liver cancer, as per the abovementioned report, the risk for breast cancer elevates with increasing alcohol intake. At the same time, moderate to heavy alcohol intake is associated with a 1.2- to 1.5-fold higher risk for cancers of the colon and rectum. The severity of drinking alcohol is best depicted by the fact that alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of second primary cancers. The term second primary cancer refers to the formation of new primary cancer in an individual who has had cancer in the past.
Mechanisms through which alcohol increases the risk of cancer disease go beyond the production of acetaldehyde, the National Cancer Institute continues. For example, alcohol induces oxidative stress, which can also damage DNA, proteins, and lipids. Alcohol may weaken the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients that may protect against cancer. These nutrients include vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, and vitamins C, D, E, and carotenoids. The levels of estrogen may increase in people who drink too much alcohol, which can raise the likelihood of breast cancer. It’s also possible that alcoholic beverages contain carcinogenic compounds due to processes of production or fermentation. Good examples of these compounds are asbestos fibers, nitrosamines, hydrocarbons, and phenols.
Unfortunately, despite the connection between alcohol and multiple types of cancer, the awareness of this issue is low among Americans. In the study by A.B. Seidenberg et al. in the February 2022 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the awareness of alcohol-cancer links was low. Less than a third of subjects were aware that alcohol increases the risk for cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research reported. The awareness of this issue was associated with the subjects’ support for adding warning labels or banning ads associated with alcohol.
11. Brain damage
Brain damage is an injury to the brain resulting from head trauma, infections, intracranial hemorrhage, or inadequate oxygen supply. Damage to the brain is linked to functional or behavioral abnormality. Brain injuries or damage may range from mild to moderate and severe. The risk for brain injury is, according to Mayo Clinic, higher for children, young adults, older adults, and males across all age groups. Alcohol can contribute to brain damage as well.
Brain damage becomes the long-term effect of alcohol because heavy, long-term drinking can lead to shrinkage of the brain and deficiencies in the fibers (white matter) that transport information between brain cells (gray matter), according to a paper Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain published in October 2004 in Alcohol Alert and reported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Since alcohol has such a big impact on the brain, it is important to shed light on alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), a disorder caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. Long-term, heavy alcohol intake causes memory and the ability to think clearly to deteriorate with time. The extent of ARBD or alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) varies from one person to another i.e. it can include small changes in memory and thinking (mild cognitive impairment) or it can become severe. People who drink a lot are also at risk of developing alcohol-related dementia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. As a result of this syndrome, the affected individuals may struggle to perform day-to-day tasks.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, ARBD (which can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease) may develop because too much alcohol consumed long-term can be toxic and lead to the death of brain cells. As mentioned above, brain tissue may shrink too. In turn, there is a shortage of cells to carry out important tasks in the brain. Besides damage to the nerve cells, alcohol causes brain damage or ARBD by damaging blood vessels. Regular alcohol consumption can damage blood vessels and cause hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke which induces serious brain impairments. Moreover, alcohol contributes to the development of ARBD by interfering with the absorption of thiamine (vitamin B1). This vitamin plays an integral role in the maintenance of brain function. It’s useful to mention here that Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome results from thiamine deficiency.
The high risk of head injuries is also a factor that connects alcohol and ARBD. When under the influence of alcohol, a person has a high risk of falls and injuring their head, which may lead to lasting brain damage.
A paper titled Alcoholism and the Brain: an Overview from the February 2003 issue of Alcohol Research and Health reports that areas of the brain particularly vulnerable to alcoholism-related damage are the cerebral cortex and subcortical areas including the limbic system, thalamus, the hypothalamus, and the basal forebrain. These brain areas participate in or regulate important functions. For example, the cerebral cortex regulates higher-level processes such as language, memory, reasoning, learning, thought, decision-making, intelligence, personality, and emotion. The subcortical structures are involved in emotion, memory, pleasure, and hormone production. For instance, the thalamus is necessary for communication within the brain and plays a role in consciousness, memory and learning, and sleep and wakefulness. The hypothalamus helps regulate body temperature, sex drive, mood, sleep, and blood pressure. The basal forebrain is important for cognitive function, memory, learning, attention, and arousal.
The authors of the abovementioned paper, Dr. Marlene Oscar-Bremen from the Boston University School of Medicine and Dr. Ksenija Marinkovic from Harvard Medical School explained the effects of alcoholism on the brain depend on multiple variables. These variables include the amount of alcohol consumed, the age of onset of alcohol consumption, duration of drinking, current age, gender, level of education, family history of alcoholism, genetics, overall health status, and exposure to alcohol before birth.
D. Nutt et al. reported in their paper in the November 2021 issue of Nutrients that loss of grey matter volume is observed in alcohol dependence and its effects are widespread across cortical and subcortical regions. However, the shrinkage is not entirely irreversible because the volume may partially recover with abstinence from drinking. The same paper confirmed that alcohol contributes to neurotoxicity through metabolite toxicity, thiamine deficiency, and neuroinflammation. As a result, alcohol use may induce long-term brain damage in the form of impaired reward processing, increased impulsivity, impaired emotional regulation, and changes in the default-mode network (DMN). The DMN is involved in the processing of self-awareness, negative emotions, and rumination. Alcohol use may lead to reduced responsiveness to external incentives and increased rumination toward alcohol-related cues.
To sum up, alcohol affects the structure and function of multiple brain regions. Since it acts on specific brain areas, alcohol causes problems with the roles they perform. For that reason, alcohol causes brain damage, and memory problems, contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and increases the risk of accidents which may also lead to brain damage.
12. Inflammation of the pancreas
Inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, is redness and swelling in the pancreas, an organ, and a gland. Functions of the pancreas include the production of enzymes necessary for digestion and produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis can be acute and chronic. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, each year around 275,000 hospital visits account for acute pancreatitis, and 86,000 hospital visits are related to chronic pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis results from the activation of digestive enzymes while they are still in the pancreas. When that happens, the enzymes irritate the pancreatic cells and induce inflammation, Mayo Clinic explains. Repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis lead to chronic pancreatitis. Causes of acute, and later chronic, pancreatitis include gallstones, high triglycerides, high calcium levels, abdominal surgery, cystic fibrosis, infection, injury to the abdomen, trauma, obesity, and alcoholism. When left untreated, pancreatitis can cause complications such as kidney failure, breathing problems, diabetes, malnutrition, and pancreatic cancer.
Inflammation of the pancreas becomes the long-term effect of alcohol because alcohol causes increased viscous secretions that block small pancreatic ducts, according to a post that A. Klochkov et al. posted on the website of the National Library of Medicine. The post, last updated in February 2023, explains that upon this process the calculi are formed. As a result, fibrosis and progressive inflammation ensue thereby causing the loss of acinar, islet, and ductal cells. Alcohol can also lead to premature activation of trypsinogen and other lysosomal and digestive enzymes within the acinar cells. This leads to auto-digestion of pancreatic tissue and further inflammation.
The abovementioned post reveals that chronic alcohol intake causes 17% to 25% of acute pancreatitis cases worldwide and is the second most common cause of this condition, right after gallstones. When it comes to chronic pancreatitis, alcohol consumption is responsible for 40% to 70% of cases and it’s the risk factor for pancreatic cancer. It’s useful to mention that chronic pancreatic injury may already exist at the time of onset of acute pancreatitis episode.
A paper titled Pathophysiology of Alcoholic Pancreatitis: an Overview in the December 2006 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse is a painful and potentially fatal condition. Cigarette smoking could have an additive effect with alcohol in causing pancreatitis, as per the same paper. Authors of the paper, Parimal Chowdhury and Priya Gupta from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, suggest that genetics also play a role in a person’s likelihood of developing pancreatitis from alcohol consumption. Exposure to alcohol speeds up pancreatic necrosis, and devitalized pancreatic tissue secondary to pancreatitis. When exposed to alcohol, the pancreas is more sensitive to LPS-induced damage due to amplified sensitivity to necrotic cell death rather than apoptotic cell death, which is yet another mechanism through which drinking leads to pancreatitis. The LPS-induced damage refers to the role of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a large molecule that contains lipids (fat) and polysaccharides. These molecules are bacterial toxins. Chronic alcoholics tend to have higher LPS levels in the body, according to C.S. Schaffert et al. who published their review in the March 2009 issue of World Journal of Gastroenterology.
The abovementioned study by Chowdhury and Gupta also explained that alcohol may cause pancreatitis through oxidative stress and hypoxia. Hypoxia reduces the ability of cells to detoxify free radicals, which leads to tissue damage and functional impairment.
Besides genetics and smoking, factors that increase the risk of pancreatitis in alcoholic individuals include high lipid diet and infectious agents, according to a paper by D.L. Clemens et al. published in the February 2016 issue of the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology.
M. Zorniak et al. reported in their paper from the June 2020 issue of Visceral Medicine that loss of pancreatic function could be induced by mutations in the CFTR gene (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene). The levels of CFTR tend to be lower in the pancreatic tissues of people with chronic and acute pancreatitis. Alcohol inhibits the activity of the CFTR gene, the paper confirmed.
What are the complications of alcohol?
The complications of alcohol are potentially serious consequences that occur upon heavy alcohol use, particularly among chronic users. According to the CDC, long-term health complications of alcohol include cardiovascular changes such as hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. People are also at risk of developing liver disease and digestive problems. Cancer is among the most severe outcomes of alcohol use. Common cancers associated with alcohol use include breast cancer, mouth/throat/esophagus/voice box cancer, and cancers of the liver, rectum, and colon. As a person’s immune system weakens due to alcohol use, they become sick often and are prone to viral infections.
Alcohol can also lead to learning and memory problems that impair work and school performance. People can also experience dementia-like symptoms.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published a post that discussed medical complications associated with heavy alcohol use. The post, which was last updated in April 2023, reveals that alcohol is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality as it contributes to over five million emergency department visits in the U.S. The severity of alcohol and its danger is best depicted by the fact it contributes to over 200 health conditions.
The health complications associated with alcohol are dose-dependent. That means the more alcohol a person drinks, the worse the outcomes. In addition to the abovementioned complications, alcohol use can lead to impairments in immune signaling and wound healing, and it causes disturbances across all components of the endocrine system. Moreover, in individuals with diabetes, alcohol can reduce blood glucose control and thereby contribute to the progression of diabetes-related neurological and cardiovascular complications. In people who don’t have this metabolic condition, alcohol use can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Heavy use of alcohol can cause serious health problems such as anemia, leucopenia (reduced levels of white blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count in the blood), and macrocytosis (enlarged red blood cells). In the musculoskeletal system, alcohol use can cause complications such as skeletal muscle myopathy or weakness, increased risk of fractures, and gout.
Alcohol acts on the central nervous system and thereby causes deficits in cognitive functions, contributes to dementia, reduces brain volume, and causes partially reversible damage. Moreover, alcohol can influence the peripheral nervous system and contribute to the development of complications such as postural hypotension, cardiac arrhythmias, erectile dysfunction, and diarrhea. Alcohol can contribute to and worsen chronic pain thereby further impairing a person’s quality of life.
People who drink heavy amounts of alcohol are at a higher risk of surgical complications and may increase dose requirements for general anesthesia.
The consequences and complications of alcohol go beyond health struggles. They extend to unemployment and financial difficulties, family and relationship issues, and social problems. A person who drinks alcohol, especially if they have AUD, may neglect their responsibilities and spend a lot of time drinking or thinking about drinking alcohol. This may put stress on family dynamics or jeopardize their job position, as team members or managers start noticing problems such as incomplete projects or failing to perform at a required level.
The biggest complication of alcohol is that it leads to the development of alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder. When it comes to AUD, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that in 2021, around 29.5 million U.S. people ages 12 and older had AUD in the past year. That number accounts for 10.6% of the population in the same age group.
How does alcohol affect your body?
Alcohol affects the body through its depressant properties. More precisely, alcohol acts on the brain and changes how it works, processes information, or regulates functions such as digestion. Alcohol’s effects on communication pathways in the brain can change a person’s mood and behavior. A person finds it difficult to think clearly, move in a coordinated manner, and even their speech becomes slurred or sluggish.
When a person drinks a lot of alcohol, they may notice their heartbeat is irregular. That happens because alcohol can affect the heart and bloodstream thus causing arrhythmia. Moreover, alcohol affects the circadian rhythm. That means it can disturb a person’s sleep pattern and contribute to insomnia. Even if a person falls asleep quickly, they wake up soon after and are unable to return back to sleep. That happens because the body processes alcohol throughout the night. Once the short-term effects of alcohol wear off, a person can notice they toss and turn all night in bed.
Alcohol acts on the digestive system too. As an irritant, alcohol can cause the accumulation of acid in the body. When that happens, a person who drinks alcohol feels nauseated and may even vomit. Long-term and heavy alcohol intake can therefore cause gastritis.
Since alcohol affects the gastrointestinal tract, it may cause digestive problems such as diarrhea. People may also notice they have heartburn because alcohol relaxes the muscles that keep acid out of the esophagus.
Alcohol affects almost every part of a person’s body. A combination of its diuretic properties and its impact on kidneys leads to frequent urination. That explains why people who drink alcohol go to urinate so frequently, even if they don’t drink a lot. However, when a person continues to drink alcohol (and urinate as a result) they are at risk of dehydration. Dehydration may cause headaches. Headaches also occur because alcohol can dilate blood vessels in the brain and body. Also, as blood vessels dilate, more blood flows to the skin. This explains why a person who drinks has a flushed appearance. More precisely, they look like they’re blushing.
Alcohol affects our vision and hearing. Indeed, people may experience changes in their hearing when under the influence of alcohol. At the same time, their vision may change. For example, they may find it difficult to recognize color contrasts.
Even though alcohol affects the body in a dose-dependent manner, no level is considered safe and risk-free. For example, alcohol can act on our brains, slow down our reaction time, and thereby increase the risk of car accidents. That’s why a person who drinks alcohol should get informed on alcoholism and avoid driving vehicles, operating heavy machinery, or participating in activities that require balance and proper muscle coordination.
What are the treatments available for alcohol addiction?
The treatments available for alcohol addiction depend on the patient’s needs. According to Mayo Clinic, the treatment for alcohol addiction may include brief intervention, residential or inpatient program, and outpatient program.
The first stage of treatment for alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder is detox and withdrawal. The term detox refers to the abrupt cessation of alcohol intake in persons who have AUD. When a person stops drinking, they experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal syndrome occurs due to abnormalities in glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters. Alcohol generally increases the effects of GABA and decreases glutamate. Heavy and excessive drinking makes it difficult to raise GABA and lower glutamate, which is why a person drinks more alcohol to experience the same effects such as calmness or relaxation. When a person with AUD stops drinking alcohol, they no longer affect these neurotransmitters, but their body keeps producing too much glutamate and insufficient levels of GABA, thereby causing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, shakiness, high blood pressure, seizures, according to Very Well Mind. Detox and withdrawal require medical supervision and they may last two to seven days. Patients with severe alcoholism may receive medications during detox. These may include naltrexone and acamprosate to reduce cravings and relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
When it comes to alcohol addiction symptoms and treatment, an inpatient or residential program is suitable for people with moderate to severe alcohol addiction. This type of program requires a patient to spend a specific period of time e.g. 60 or 90 days in a rehab facility. During this time, patients participate in therapy sessions, both individual and group, and they learn skills necessary to prevent relapse and avoid turning to alcohol in the presence of negative stimuli.
On the flip side, an outpatient program is most suitable for people with mild to moderate alcohol addiction and individuals who have completed an inpatient program and need more structure or support as they’re working on their recovery. The outpatient program doesn’t require a patient to live in a rehab facility. Instead, they can maintain employment and live at their home while attending therapy sessions regularly.
Behavioral therapies are the cornerstone of both inpatient and outpatient programs. The main purpose of behavioral therapies is to empower and encourage a patient to change their behavior and stop drinking alcohol. The most common techniques include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, support groups, and 12-step programs.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps a patient to identify unrealistic or irrational thoughts in order to change them with more realistic and rational alternatives. This type of therapy is based on the premise that thought patterns affect emotions and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with alcohol addiction achieve and maintain sobriety. People with alcoholism also learn skills that help support their recovery.
The effectiveness of CBT for the treatment of alcohol addiction is scientifically confirm and a good example is a meta-analysis by M. Magill et al. in the December 2019 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, which confirmed that CBT was more effective than no treatment, minimal treatment, and non-specific control for alcohol and substance use disorders. In fact, the outcomes were 15% to 26% better than average outcomes in untreated or minimally treated controls. The February 2023 issue of Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation published a paper by M. Magill et al, which showed that CBT is a well-established intervention with demonstrated efficacy in treating AUD.
Contingency management (CM) is a type of behavioral therapy wherein a person is reinforced or rewarded for evidence of positive behavioral change. Prof. Nancy M. Petry from the University of Connecticut Health Center published a paper in the May 2011 issue of The Psychiatrist, where she explained that CM is based on principles of basic behavioral analysis. A behavior that is reinforced in close temporal proximity to its occurrence will be repeated frequently.
In the treatment of alcohol use disorder, the reinforcing consequences or rewards are withheld when patients engage in undesired behaviors such as drinking alcohol. Punitive measures may be imposed instead. For example, abstinence from alcohol may be rewarded with the receipt of vouchers that patients can exchange for retail goods. In cases when a patient drinks alcohol, they don’t receive those vouchers, and their parole officer (if they had been arrested prior) may receive a negative report. Clinicians may implement contingency management through written contracts that describe in detail desired behavioral change, duration of intervention, frequency of monitoring, and potential consequences of a patient’s success or failure in achieving specific behavior changes, according to a paper titled Contingency Management from the February 1999 issue of Alcohol Research and Health.
Contingency management was associated with increased alcohol abstinence, alcohol abstinence duration, and reductions in self-reported days of drinking and drinking problem severity, according to a review that S.M. McPherson et al. published in the August 2018 issue of Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
Support groups are meetings of members who share the same problem and provide help and companionship to one another. People with alcohol use disorder in support groups share their experiences and challenges with recovery and relapse prevention. That way, people in support groups know they’re not alone, and it’s possible to achieve sobriety or get better. Support groups are all about sharing and supporting fellow members. The most well-known support group for people with alcohol use disorder is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Healthline explains that AA offers group sessions and a so-called “sober support” network. More precisely, people who attend AA meets tend to seek a group member who’s been sober for a longer period of time to sponsor them. The role of a sponsor is to provide additional support, and encouragement, and promote accountability.
The concept of 12-step programs originated with Alcoholics Anonymous and refers to directions that are meant to provide members a path to achieve and maintain sobriety. The first and most important step is honesty or acknowledging the existence of a problem (with alcohol). People also need to complete other steps such as taking responsibility for their mistakes, seeking forgiveness, having faith, or admitting they cannot recover alone but with faith and support they can, according to Very Well Mind.
The Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-step programs are superior to other treatment approaches in terms of continuous abstinence and remission. Support groups and 12-step programs also reduce healthcare costs and enhance outcomes for people with AUD, according to a review by J.F. Kelly et al. in the Nov 2020 issue of Alcohol and Alcoholism. These programs can help patients accept treatment and adhere to it, reported M. Ferri et al. in a paper from the July 2006 issue of The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
How long does it take for the effects of alcohol to leave the system?
The effects of alcohol take around 24 hours to leave the system, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or up to 25 hours as per Cleveland Clinic. The half-life of alcohol is four to five hours. The term half-life refers to how long it takes for the body to get rid of half of the substance, in this case, alcohol. A person generally needs five half-lives to eliminate alcohol from their system entirely. For that reason it may take up to 25 hours for alcohol to leave the system, Cleveland Clinic explained.
Multiple factors influence the rate at which the body eliminates alcohol. These include gender as females eliminate alcohol faster than males and age as teens, young and older adults eliminate alcohol slower. Other factors include food or metabolic rate, exercise, time of day when alcohol is consumed, and the presence of alcoholism. Healthline explains that alcohol metabolizes faster at the end of the day and the body eliminates it quicker during exercise. Additionally, heavy drinking increases the rate whereas advanced liver disease reduces it. The amount of alcohol consumed, body weight, tolerance level, and overall health also affect how fast the body can eliminate alcohol. For example, having a disease that affects the liver, kidneys, or stomach can make it difficult for the body to process alcohol.
After a person starts drinking, it takes 60 to 90 minutes for alcohol to reach peak levels, after which the body starts breaking it down. The body is able to process and eliminate one serving of alcohol per hour, Dr. Valerie Anne Jones wrote for GoodRx Health in August 2021. Alcohol remains in the human body for longer than the amount of time a person feels intoxicated. The breathalyzer test can detect the presence of alcohol in the body for up to 24 hours, in urine for up to five days, in blood for up to 12 hours, in saliva for up to 24-48 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days.
Can alcoholism be treated medically?
Yes, alcoholism can be treated medically, but a more comprehensive treatment program is necessary for successful recovery and relapse prevention. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)’s Effective Health Care Program, medications are used with talk therapy and support groups to treat AUD. More precisely, they are not the only treatment method for patients with alcoholism. These medications, AHRQ explains, may include acamprosate (Campral) to rebalance chemicals in the brain that may be impaired by excessive alcohol intake, disulfiram (Antabuse) which causes unpleasant effects such as nausea or vomiting and headache when a person drinks alcohol, naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol) to reduce cravings for alcohol, and topiramate (Topamax, Qudexy XR, Trokendi XR) to rebalance chemicals in the brain and correct the electrical activity of brain cells.
The role of medications in AUD treatment is to restore normal brain functioning, decrease withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the risk of relapse thereby facilitating better engagement in behavioral therapies, according to a paper titled Alcohol Use Disorder: The Role of Medication in Recovery from the June 2021 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. The same paper also explains that behavioral therapies enhance the response to medications by modifying attitudes and behaviors associated with alcohol. For example, talk therapy motivates a person with AUD to adopt healthy life skills thereby helping them stay engaged in the recovery process.
Even though medications in treatment for AUD are effective, only 1.6% of people with this disorder reported using them, as per a study published by B. Han et al. in the June 2021 issue of JAMA Psychiatry. The study showed that 5.6% of adults or 14.1 million people in the United States had AUD in the past year, only 7.3% received any treatment. Of all people with AUD, only 223,000 used medications. People who used medications for AUD were more likely to have received mental health care and to report three or more emergency room visits. That means medications could be associated with more severe AUD. The study emphasized the need to improve access to and the use of medications for AUD since they can be an important tool in the recovery process, the National Institutes of Health reported.
Does inpatient rehab alcohol treatment help?
Yes, inpatient rehab alcohol treatment helps people with alcohol use disorder. Inpatient rehab is the highest level of support a person can receive, which is why it is mainly suitable for people with moderate to severe addiction. People in inpatient programs are more likely to complete treatment than their counterparts in outpatient treatment programs, according to Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Programs for Substance Use Disorder: a Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines within Rapid Response Reports published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health in November 2017.
An observational cohort study from England by B. Eastwood et al, published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment confirmed that a longer duration of alcoholism treatment was associated with better treatment outcomes. The study found that 59% of patients successfully completed treatment within 12 months and didn’t represent more treatment within six months. The same study revealed that positive outcomes for inpatient withdrawal were linked to older age, being employed, and receiving community-based treatment before and after withdrawal. People with housing problems were less likely to achieve a positive outcome. Positive results for residential rehabilitation were associated with paid employment, longer duration of the treatment, community-based treatment following discharge, and self/family/peer referral.
In a comparative study by L. Greenfield et al. in the August 2004 issue of the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, success rates of 68% to 71% were reported among women who spent at least six months in treatment for substance abuse. The same study found that success rates were lower for subjects with a shorter duration of treatment. That means a more structured, long-term treatment approach that inpatient programs provide is effective at helping patients achieve sobriety. The effectiveness of residential treatment in improving outcomes across multiple substance use and life domains was confirmed by a systematic review that D. de Andrade et al. published in the August 2019 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Inpatient programs for the treatment of alcoholism are important because they provide much-needed structure to people with severe AUD so they can learn skills necessary for a sober life. These programs also include medical supervision to manage severe symptoms of withdrawal.