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:
- Age at drinking initiation
- Amount of alcohol consumed
- Duration of the drinking habit
- Family history of alcoholism
- 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:
- loss of coordination
- memory loss
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:
- blood pressure increases, causing heart disease, heart attack, or stroke
- brain cells die, decreasing brain mass
- 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.