Short- and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol, whether as a single occurrence or over time, can be detrimental to your overall health.1 This article will go over the short- and long-term effects of alcohol use, alcohol withdrawal, and how to get help for alcohol addiction.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use
Alcohol consumption can create several short-term effects of alcohol on the body that at first may be perceived as fun and relaxing. However, beyond these perceived “benefits,” the intoxicating effects of drinking can quickly become dangerous as levels of alcohol in the bloodstream sharply rise. As alcohol consumption continues, the risks of negative psychical, mental, and behavioral effects increase.2
There are several short-term effects that can occur as a result of alcohol consumption, including:1,2,4
- Poor coordination and balance.
- Slurred speech.
- Impaired judgement and decision-making skills.
- Slowed reaction time and ability to process information.
- Reduced ability to judge distance and movement.
- Increased risk of injury, such as from falls or car accidents.
- Decreased impulse control.
- Increased likelihood of risky sexual behavior such as unprotected sex.
- Increased aggression (in some people).
- Impaired memory.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Alcohol poisoning.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Misuse
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of serious health problems, including chronic conditions that can linger long after drinking has stopped. Long-term effects of alcohol on the body can affect one’s functionality and overall health in all areas of their life.3
Repeated consumption of alcohol in high doses can affect nearly every organ system in the body, including the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the nervous system.4 When alcohol consumption continues, it can lead to the development of long-term health issues such as these, as well as others. Some of these issues can include:1,3,4
- Stomach or duodenal ulcers.
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Liver disease, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
- Cancer in several vital organs, including but not limited to, the stomach, gastrointestinal tract, liver, colon, and mouth.
- Heart disease, including arrythmias and alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
- Chronic hypertension and increased stroke risk.
- Weakened immune system and increased risk of certain pulmonary infections.
- Chronic nutritional deficiencies and related degenerative changes in the brain.
- Worsened mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
- Increased likelihood of alcohol dependence, alcohol withdrawal, and alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder is also considered an “important contributor” to suicide risk during severe intoxication. People with alcohol addiction have an increased risk of suicidal behavior and completed suicide.4
Effects of Alcohol on the Liver
Chronic, excessive alcohol use can take a serious toll on the liver, where alcohol is metabolized in the body.5,6
Alcohol-associated liver disease is the primary cause of liver transplants in the U.S, and in 2021, nearly 50% of all liver disease deaths involved alcohol.7
The process of breaking down alcohol can produce excess fat in the liver, which can ultimately lead to tissue damage. The earliest stage of liver damage is called steatosis (i.e., “fatty liver”), which is usually reversible if the person stops drinking.6
The final stage is cirrhosis or permanent liver damage, which occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, and the organ starts to fail.8
Severe tissue damage can also develop into liver cancer. Additionally, heavy drinking can lead to alcohol-associated hepatitis, which affects the liver.1,6
Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Alcohol directly impacts the brain and may cause both short- and long-term changes to a person’s mood and behavior.1,4,9
Over time, the alcohol-associated changes to brain function can also drive compulsive, uncontrollable use and eventually develop into a devastating cycle of addiction.10
This can be particularly concerning in adolescents, whose brains are still developing and even more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects.11
In young adulthood, alcohol may negatively influence neurological functioning in several key brain regions and signaling pathways, potentially resulting in:11
- Lower IQ.
- Loss of motivation.
- Higher impulsivity and risk-taking.
- Reduced attention span.
Chronic alcohol misuse can lead to a serious and potentially life-threatening brain condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff (WK) syndrome. The condition results from alcohol-associated brain damage and a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1).12
WK syndrome involves two separate disorders that often co-occur, Wernicke’s disease and Korsakoff’s psychosis, and affects the parts of the brain that control vision, coordination, language, sleep, memory, and other key functions.12
Symptoms of Wernicke’s disease can include:12,13
- Eye problems like abnormal movements (e.g., back and forth movements called nystagmus), double vision, misaligned or crossed eyes, and eyelid drooping.
- Profound confusion.
- Poor muscle coordination and balance.
- Low energy.
- Dangerous drop in body temperature (i.e., hypothermia).
- Low blood pressure.
While some of these symptoms may be treatable, others can be permanent.12
If left untreated, Wernicke’s disease may progress to Korsakoff’s psychosis, which can result in severe and potentially chronic memory issues to the point where many people who suffer from it need help managing daily tasks and are unable to live on their own.13,14
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction in Texas
Greenhouse Treatment center provides industry-accredited inpatient rehab near Dallas. Greenhouse prides itself on its exceptional care and a collaborative team of nurses, psychiatric providers, therapists, and case managers.
Offering multiple levels of alcohol addiction treatment, Greenhouse creates an individualized treatment plan suited for the unique needs of each patient.
You can also verify that your health insurance covers rehab through our quick and confidential benefit .
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