How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Well, how does alcohol affect the body? We all know the obvious physical effects of alcohol, things like slurred speech and nausea, but what about the more subtle ones?
First and foremost, any discussion about the physical effects of alcohol needs to make something very clear – alcohol is a poison! Ethyl alcohol, the type of booze humans drink, is a poison and neurotoxin that, over time, breaks down tissue and cells.
When trying to answer the question “how does alcohol affect the body,” it’s also important to make clear the distinction between body and brain. Yes, the brain is a part of the body. After all, it regulates the central nervous system and human beings would be lost without it!
That being said, the physical effects of alcohol are much different on the brain than they are on the body. For this reason, we won’t be discussing how booze affects the brain or the central nervous system. Find a separate article detailing that in the near future.
Still interested in learning how alcohol affects the body? Then read on and learn why this simple chemical is one of the most harmful substances around.
Effects of Alcohol: The Pancreas
Heavy drinking has been linked to an increase in toxic chemicals released in the pancreas. In turn, these chemicals inhibit proper pancreatic functioning and lead to inflammation. This is called pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is a potentially deadly medical condition. If left unchecked, it will cause the pancreas to die. Trust me when I say you don’t want that to happen.
When the pancreas is inflamed or damaged, whether from pancreatitis or the general strain alcohol places upon it, hyperglycemia is also common. Hyperglycemia is when the body has dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood. It’s no fun and can lead to diabetes.
So, how does alcohol affect the body? When it comes to the pancreas, alcohol affects it very badly.
Effects of Alcohol: The Liver
Alcohol is deadly for the liver. No surprises there. Why is ethyl alcohol so bad for the human liver though? Well, the main reason is a little something called alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic hepatitis is when the liver is saturated with fatty tissue due to alcohol abuse. Over time, this fatty tissue leads to liver inflammation. Over time, this liver inflammation leads to cirrhosis (scarring and dead liver tissue). Over time, this cirrhosis causes the liver to actually die.
Once the liver is either dead or extremely marginalized, well, things get bad fast. The body can’t process toxic substances any longer. Jaundice is a common sign during this stage of alcoholic hepatitis. Once you’re at this stage, there are two choices – get a liver transplant or die.
A slightly less extreme, though no less dangerous, way alcohol affects the liver is through hypoglycemia. Much like hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia deals with blood sugar and insulin. This time, though, it’s dangerously low blood sugar. This can result in a coma.
So, how does alcohol affect the body? When the liver’s involved, alcohol affects the body in a potentially life-threatening manner.
Effects of Alcohol: The Cardiovascular System
When it comes to the heart, veins, and blood cells, the physical effects of alcohol are interesting. This is due to how booze can, in moderation, actually help the heart function. If men have no more than two drinks per day, and women have no more than one, alcohol actually lowers the chance of developing heart disease. That’s kind of neat, right?
Unfortunately, the rest of alcohol’s effects on the heart aren’t positive. Heavy drinking usually leads to high blood pressure. High blood pressure, in turn, increases an individual’s risk of heart disease.
Alcohol abuse can also lead to cardiomyopathy (when the heart is actually poisoned), stroke, anemia, arrhythmia, low blood sugar, cardiac arrest, or even full-blown heart failure.
So, how does alcohol affect the body? When the cardiovascular system enters the picture, alcohol affects the body in a very serious manner.
Effects of Alcohol: Immune System
Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk for many different types of cancer. Of particular note is how drinking increases the risk for the following cancers: mouth, throat, liver, colon, and breast.
Alcohol also plays a major role in how the body’s immune system fights off infections. A night of heavy drinking can result in decreased immune functioning for up to an entire day. Due to this, alcoholics are at increased risk for developing diseases like pneumonia.
Again, how does alcohol affect the body? When it comes to the immune system, alcohol affects it badly.
Effects of Alcohol: Stomach & Digestive System
Alcohol abuse and addiction touch almost every area of the digestive system. This is true of the mouth, throat, stomach, pancreas, and liver. Because we touched on the pancreas and liver earlier, I’ll leave those out of this section.
Upon taking a sip of booze, alcohol irritates the tongue, gums, teeth, and even salivary glands. Over time, this irritation can actually turn to damage. It’s not uncommon for late-stage alcoholics to lose their teeth due to gum disease caused by their drinking.
When alcohol travels down the throat, it irritates the esophagus. Again, over time, this irritation turns to damage. Heavy drinking can leady to esophageal ulcers. These ulcers can then cause internal bleeding.
Upon entering the stomach, alcohol can cause acid reflux and nausea. It can also cause inflammation of the stomach lining and stomach ulcers. Alcohol can hinder the stomach’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, control natural bacteria, and absorb B vitamins.
This last point, trouble absorbing B vitamins, can actually lead to something called the wet brain. A wet brain is an irreversible form of brain damage caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin B1.
So, how does alcohol affect the body? When it comes to the digestive system, alcohol affects the body in numerous ways, none of them good.
Effects of Alcohol: Reproductive System
Let’s talk about sex. All Salt-N-Pepa jokes aside, the physical effects of alcohol on the reproductive system are extreme.
Starting with the less serious side effects, alcohol can, and often does, cause erectile dysfunction in men. Alcohol abuse can also lead to decreased testicular function, decreased hormone production, and even infertility (in both men and women).
Heavy drinking has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, stillborn birth, and early delivery. Heavy drinking can also make a woman stop menstruating.
What about alcohol’s effect on fetuses? Well, there’s a reason women are told not to drink during pregnancy. Booze leads to an entire range of problems called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. These disorders include impaired cognitive function, difficulty learning, birth defects, and severe emotional issues.
How does alcohol affect the body? When the reproductive system is involved, let’s just say that things don’t end well.
Effects of Alcohol: Skeletal System
The physical effects of alcohol on the skeletal system are slightly less severe than many of those we touched on above. That isn’t to say that alcohol abuse doesn’t damage your skeleton and muscles though.
Long-term alcoholism decreases the body’s ability to make new bones. This leads to osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures. Alcohol abuse can also destroy muscle tissue.