Alcohol long term effects

Chronic alcohol abuse can damage the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system. It can also cause severe health effects to all other parts of your body. Read this article and learn about the long term effects of alcohol on the body.

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Alcohol is considered to be a central nervous system depressant; it changes the brain’s function by slowing it down. But, it’s not just your brain that is affected by alcohol. Drinking larger amounts over a prolonged period of time affects all parts of your body, including your heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and even your skin.

What are the specific effects of long term drinking on your body? In this article, we review the harms and dangers caused by alcohol. Then, we invite your questions in the designated section at the end of the page. We try to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries.

Long term effects of alcohol use

First, let’s explain what is considered to be safe drinking. As defined by the NIAAA, men and women have a different standard for “Low Risk” in developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). For women, low-risk drinking is the consumption of no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, on the other hand, low-risk drinking is considered to be the intake of no more than 4 drinks on any given day, and no more that 14 drinks per week.

So, what is heavy drinking then? According to SAMHSA, heavy drinking is considered to be the consumption of five (5) or more drinks during the same occasion, on five (5) or more days in the past 30 days. Consumption at such rate is not recommended, can lead to serious alcohol side effects, and damage your psychological and physical health.

Long term effects of alcohol on the brain

Like all organs affected by heavy and long term exposure to alcohol, the brain is also vulnerable to injury from alcohol. However, the risk of brain damage and related neurobehavioral deficits varies from person to person. Effects are diverse and are influenced by a wide range of variables, such as:

  1. Age at drinking initiation
  2. Amount of alcohol consumed
  3. Demographics
  4. Duration of the drinking habit
  5. Family history of alcoholism
  6. Genetic background

In order for the brain to function normally, it requires a careful balance of chemicals that are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are small molecules involved in the brain’s communication system that help regulate the body’s function and behavior. Alcohol intoxication can alter the delicate balance among different types of neurotransmitter chemicals and trigger mood and behavioral changes, including:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • drowsiness
  • euphoria
  • loss of coordination
  • memory loss
  • seizures

Further, long-term, heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in the size of brain cells. As a result of these and other changes, brain mass shrinks and the brain’s inner cavity grows bigger. Plus, when you have alcohol present in your body for a longer period of time, the brain seeks to compensate for its effects. In order to restore a balanced state, the function of certain neurotransmitters begins to change so that the brain can perform more normally in the presence of alcohol. These long-term chemical changes are believed to be responsible for the harmful effects of alcohol, such as alcohol dependence.

Long term effects of alcohol on the body

Let’s break down the effects of alcohol by different organs in the body that are influenced by chronic drinking. Keep in mind that drinking too much is harmful for everyone, but if you have a health condition that involves any of the following organs, alcohol is much more dangerous for you.

Alcohol effects on the heart

Long-term heavy drinking causes weakening of the heart muscle and a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Both binge drinking and long-term heavy drinking can lead to strokes, even in people without coronary heart disease. Long term alcohol use can cause high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Alcohol effects on the liver

Chronic heavy drinking causes the liver to become fatty. This condition makes the liver more vulnerable to dangerous inflammation, such as alcoholic hepatitis and its associated complications. Cirrhosis is a common condition among long-term heavy drinkers.

Alcohol effects on the pancreas

A pancreas that is affected by alcohol secretes its digestive juices internally, rather than sending the enzymes to the small intestine. These enzymes along with acetaldehyde are very harmful to the pancreas.

Alcohol effects on the stomach

Alcohol is taken into the body through the mouth. From the mouth it travels down the esophagus and into the stomach, where a portion of it (about 20%) is absorbed. A larger amount of alcohol (about 80%) is absorbed from the smaller intestine into your bloodstream. When drinking amounts larger than what the body can digest, any excess alcohol remains unabsorbed. The unabsorbed alcohol continues to move through the gastrointestinal tract. Some of it will get absorbed into the bloodstream, while other amounts of alcohol can stay in the stomach and cause irritation. Chronic irritation can damage the lining of your stomach, and lead to gastritis and/or ulcers.

Alcohol effects on the kidneys

Using alcohol chronically can have serious effects on your kidney function. One of the main functions of the kidneys is to regulate both the volume and the composition of body fluid, including electrolytes, such as: sodium, potassium, and chloride ions. But alcohol use can have a diuretic effect and increase the urine volume. These urinary fluid losses are increasing the concentration of electrolytes in blood serum while causing dehydration.

Furthermore, the normal rate of bloodflow that passes through the kidneys is tightly controlled, so that plasma can be filtered. In this way, substances the body needs, such as electrolytes (electrically charged particles, or ions) can be reabsorbed. Alcohol use can lead to liver disease, which impairs this important balancing act by either greatly augmenting or reducing the rates of plasma flow and filtration through a mass of capillaries called the glomerul.

Long term effects of alcohol on a fetus

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause serious damage to a developing fetus. If you are drinking alcohol during pregnancy beware that every time you have a drink, your unborn child has one too. Alcohol, just like the carbon monoxide from cigarettes, passes easily through the placenta from your bloodstream and into the baby’s blood putting it at risk of developing a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Alcohol can cause different parts of the fetus to develop abnormally. It can also disrupt the way nerve cells develop, function, and travel to form different parts of the brain. By constricting the blood vessels, alcohol interferes with blood flow in the placenta, which hinders the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. If you are pregnant and have a drinking problem you should know that drinking at any time during pregnancy can harm the fetus.

Long term effects of alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse is a term used to describe frequent use of alcohol even after feeling negative consequences. Alcohol abuse also means drinking and consuming alcohol in a dangerous and unhealthy quantity. Here are some of the long term effects of alcohol abuse:

  • alcoholism
  • blood pressure increases, causing heart disease, heart attack, or stroke
  • brain cells die, decreasing brain mass
  • death
  • disrupted normal brain development
  • fetal alcohol syndrome in unborn children
  • liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver
  • lower levels of iron and vitamin B, causing anemia
  • male sperm production impairments
  • stomach and intestinal ulcers

Long term effects of alcohol addiction

After long term use, alcoholics have little to no control over the amount they consume. Alcohol use becomes the main focus in their life. Here we number several effects and signs of alcohol addiction, so check the list to detect whether your or your loved one’s drinking habits may be risky and require professional alcoholism treatment. Signs and symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • continuing to drink, even when health, work, or family are harmed
  • decrease in home, work or school performance
  • loss of control over drinking
  • melancholic and indifferent behavior
  • memory lapses after heavy drinking
  • needing more and more drinks to feel “drunk”
  • neglecting to eat or eating poorly
  • related illnesses such as chronic liver diseases
  • shaking in the morning
  • tolerance to regular alcohol effects
  • turning violent when drinking
  • withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety between drinking episodes

Can alcohol long term effects damage you permanently?

Yes, alcohol use can really harm you. Daily use of alcohol over a longer period of time will seriously affect your physical health by damage your organs. Long-term alcohol use increases the risk of many heart and liver-related diseases, as well as increasing the risk for developing cancer.

Also, long term alcohol use can suppress both, the innate and the adaptive immune systems. Chronic alcohol use reduces the ability of white blood cells to effectively engulf and swallow harmful bacteria. Excessive drinking also disrupts the production of cytokines,causing your body to either produce too much or not enough of these chemical messengers. An abundance of cytokines can damage your tissues, whereas a lack of cytokines leaves you open to infections.

Reference Sources: NIH: Alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain
College drinking prevention: Interactive Body Content
NIH: Alcohol and neurotransmitter interaction
SAMHSA: Effects of alcohol on a fetus
Courtinfo: Short and Long Term Effects of Alcohol Use
NIH: Beyond Hangovers
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Really a nice blog. The author raises a very severe issue and discusses its side effects. There should some laws that control those addictions because if we will not stand up against this issue, the users of alcohol and other drugs will increase.

  2. Hi! Great post! This is a very informative article that provides detailed information about the effects of alcohol in our body. Often because alcoholic beverages are consumed on a regular basis and is a socially acceptable practice it is difficult to accept that one is already an alcoholic.

  3. Thank you for the very informative post, Im glad that people are not ignoring the issue of alcoholism and bringing to light.

  4. My father was an alcoholic. My sister is an alcoholic. One of my three daughters is an alcoholic and one has a “drinking problem.” I am not an alcoholic and do not have a drinking problem. Yes, I drink a beer (just one, never more than one) once or twice a month. My question is why has this disease affected so many of my family members and skipped me?
    My sister refuses to give up alcohol. Her doctor has said she is a functional alcoholic. She loves alcohol and it is killing her. What can I do to help someone who refuses help?

  5. sometime i really want to know the reason that drive people to alcohol use or abuse.and i wonder that do not realize how it destroy them.

    1. Hi Gogba. To begin, most people drink because they like the way it feels. It begins with the rewards they receive when drinking, the pleasurable feeling it gives them. To be more technical, the brain releases natural ‘reinforcers’ (opioid-like transmitters) which raise circulating dopamine levels and create a feeling of satisfaction. With increased exposure, a person will continue to seek out this feeling and this can lead to needing a little more of the pleasurable thing, in this case alcohol, to create it. This in turn creates a greater tolerance to alcohol, which in itself propels the need for greater amounts….but this is not so simple as there are genetic, environmental, and biological factors that contribute to a person’s risk of developing addiction to alcohol.

      And, yes. They do realize that it is causing a lot of damage to their health, relationships, finances, life…but the reasons for not ‘just stopping’ are also complicated. This is a brain disease, not a personal choice or a character flaw.

  6. Thanks for your feedback, everyone!

    Addiction Killer, what Ayurvedic treatments have been used in addressing problem drinking? I’m interested in learning more.

  7. It is right that, excessive drinking can have harmful effects on your health. Many people enjoy having a drink, but they not realise how alcohol can affect their physical, social and mental health.

  8. alcohol is an important issue in our society, it effectively have several effects on body and when people are addict it is difficult quit. it is believe that it is impossible to escape from trap of alcohol, so then this article gives hope that alcohol abusers can be saved. Ignorance is a danger that send individual to death. all illness enumerated above can be considered like death itself. furthermore, it take away people who are addicted dignity because they already lost the sens of real life.

  9. Its true that moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t do any harm to your body. But the problem is that most us don’t keep track of where we start to get out of our ‘normal’ alcohol threshold. Gone worse, this situation leads to what we call chronic alcoholism – that brings in long term effects like you’ve discussed in this post. Balance is essential in every aspect of our life, and drinking alcohol is no exception. Period.

    – James

  10. Good job, very informative post!!
    It’s true that alcohol abuse cause many long term effects for one’s health and relationship. But, you would love to hear that alcohol addiction treatment is possible with Ayurvedic remedies. This effective natural cure has enabled millions of addicts in India to overcome their issue and get back their happiness. Ayurvedic herbal supplements let them to control their craving for alcohol without delivering any side effects.

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