Alcohol’s Short- and Long-Term Effects

September 10th, 2020

Alcohol consumption is very widespread and takes place for many reasons. Often, it is used to celebrate accomplishments, special occasions, holidays, etc. Other times, alcohol is used as a crutch, to escape one’s existing trauma and sorrows. While these are just a cursory look at one’s reasons for partaking in alcohol, there are so many effects from consumption that are important to consider in the event that you a) want to try it for the first time, b) want reasons to quit the habit, or c) want to remind yourself why you abstain. 

Keep in mind that these are just some examples of why someone would want to know alcohol’s effects and are not applicable to all those reading this. Another aspect to note is that alcohol’s effects on the body depend on a variety of factors, including height, weight, age, and sex, just to name a few.  With all this said, let’s dive right into how alcohol affects you in both the short- and long-term.

When you’re starting to drink at the beginning of the night, you’ll first start experiencing lowered inhibitions and body temperature, raised blood pressure, mood swings, and troubled concentration. As time passes and you drink more, you’ll begin to develop more serious symptoms like loss of coordination and critical judgment, dulled vision/perception, and flushed skin. It’s also important to keep in mind that, in this different state, you’re more prone to bad decisions, such as engaging in fights, driving under the influence, or sleeping with someone who may be in the same state of mind, in which case both of you cannot consent. 

Typically, the final indicators of a night filled with far too much drinking are vomiting, anemia, blacking out, and worst of all, alcohol poisoning. Signs of alcohol poisoning include nausea, pale skin, hypothermia, unconsciousness, and seizures. It is important to note that if you believe someone around you is experiencing alcohol poisoning, immediately call 911, as the person can suffer serious brain damage or even death if they’re not helped. 

For the long-term effects, we’ll be breaking it down by an area/specific organ of the body.

For the liver, an immediate first consequence of habitual drinking is liver disease, as alcohol passes through this organ so that it can be detoxified. Over time, the liver will become inflamed and even scarred. Further consequences for this organ include liver cancer, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, fibrosis, and type 2 diabetes. Many of these already debilitating diseases can lead to hepatic encephalopathy, which causes movement issues as well as entire changes in mood and personality. 

For the pancreas, alcohol’s effects on it may not be apparent until it is too late, as unfavorable pancreatic conditions aren’t felt and thereby, aren’t treated in adequate time. From long-time drinking, you are more likely to develop pancreatitis, which in turn can develop into pancreatic cancer. This particular type of cancer is well known to be incredibly dangerous and spread rapidly. 

For the digestive system, alcohol wears down the stomach lining and ups the amount of stomach acid, leading to a higher frequency of ulcers. In addition, continued drinking can weaken nutrient transportation, storage, absorption, breakdown, and excretion, ultimately leading to nutrient deficiencies. Other complications that can arise are impaired blood sugar control and thiamine deficiencies, which poses serious neurological issues. 

For one’s reproductive health, alcohol affects men and women alike. With long-term drinking, both have general reduced fertility. In the case of men, they are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. As for women, irregular menstruation is common. Women who drink while pregnant are at the most risk, with there being increased risks for stillbirth, miscarriage, or birthing a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS typically have long-term behavioral and learning problems, as well as having distinct facial features.

For one’s bones, frequent alcohol use will affect one’s calcium levels, which are pertinent for healthy and strong bones. Drinking also disrupts the body’s ability to produce vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption, eventually leading to an imbalance. As this happens, one’s risk of osteoporosis will increase, meaning that bone fracture will be more likely.  

For the central nervous system (CNS), chronic drinking can lead to general confusion, learning difficulties, impaired coordination, and memory problems. Liver disease also brings harm to the CNS, in that you’ll likely feel personality changes, anxiety, depression, and impaired concentration. Permanent brain damage and Wernicke-Korsakoff (WK) syndrome are also common side-effects of extended drinking. WK is a brain disorder that affects memory and can include nerve paralysis and muscle coordination difficulties.  

As for one’s cardiovascular health, it is first worth noting an important figure— there were an estimated 593,000 deaths globally from alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases in 2016. Drinking long-term leads to many intermediary issues, such as hindering oxygen and nutrient channels within the body. Another effect would be having increased levels of triglycerides, a fat inside your blood. Repeated alcohol use leads to higher blood pressure, blood clots, cardiomyopathy, stroke, irregular heartbeat, anemia, diabetes, blood pumping issues, and worst case, heart attacks.  

Ultimately, for many, it is simply not worth it to drink, given all of what can transpire from abuse. If you are in a position to drink, please do further research, as many people are predisposed to alcoholism in their families. There is great value in alcohol moderation and so much of these debilitating issues can be avoided with the right understanding and implementation.