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Alcohol Effects On The Body

by Landmark Recovery

June 25, 2019

Alcohol use disorder is a serious issue across the nation that can impact many nearly every organ in the body, in fact, alcohol effects can cause many debilitating and chronic problems in the body. Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances in the country. However, alcohol use, on a single occasion or over time, can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health.

Using alcohol excessively and over time can lead to many issues that affect your brain, heart, lungs, liver, and more. While each organ is affected differently by the presence of alcohol, they are all at an increased risk of cancer.

If you or a loved one is dealing with some sort of problem related to alcohol use, learning more about how alcohol affects each different part of the body can help you understand the need for change.


Alcohol affects a number of different organs in the body, with the brain being one of the most important. Alcohol affects the brain by causing your neurotransmitters to relay information too slowly, which can make you feel extremely drowsy. Alcohol disruptions in neurotransmitter balance can lead to a number of different behavioral, physical, and emotional changes. For example, drinking can lead to things like depression, agitation, memory loss, and seizures.

Long-term, heavy drinking will also lead to issues in neurobiological makeup of the brain. It can lead to alterations in neurons, like the reductions in the size of brain cells. Due to this, and other changes that can occur from drinking, the brain mass will shrink and the brain’s inner cavity will begin to get bigger. These physical changes to the brain can lead to problems with motor coordination, temperature regulation, sleep, mood, and many cognitive functions, including learning and memory.

One specific neurotransmitter seems particularly susceptible to even small amount of alcohol is called glutamate. Glutamate is one portion of the brain that affects memory and it is considered one of the most important transmitters for normal brain function.

Alcohol can affect the brain at any stage of its development, and can even cause an impact before birth. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect a full range of physical, learning, and behavioral aspects.


Alcohol abuse increases the risk of acute lung injury following major trauma like a motor vehicle accident and other incidents that required hospitalization. Moreover, the lungs can be affected by alcohol use disorder by damaging certain pathways in the lungs.

The intoxicating effects of alcohol and the risk of secretions into the trachea and lungs are component in the development of alcohol-associated lung disease.

It is not recognized that disruptions in lung function can occur in young and healthy individuals before they begin to develop clinical signs of alcohol-induced organ damage like liver disease. Based on this, the idea of alcoholic lung has begun to emerge. Alcoholic lung refers to a number of different problems that affect the organ including alterations in host defenses of the upper and lower airways, disruption in lung barrier integrity, and immune dysfunction.

It is characterized by severe chronic imbalance in the lung cell that alone may not cause detectable lung impairment but makes them more prone to lung infections.


Binge drinking and heavy long-term drinking can lead to a number of different issues in the heart. Stroke is one of these problems, in fact, studies have shown that people who binge drink are about 39 percent more likely than people who never binge drink to suffer from a stroke over 10 years. Alcohol exacerbates the problems and symptoms with strokes, including hypertension, arrhythmia’s, and cardiomyopathy.

Chronic alcohol use can cause high blood pressure, something referred to as hypertension. Blood pressure is used to measure the pressure your heart creates as it beats as well as the pressure inside your veins and arteries. Alcohol use causes certain hormones in the body to cause the blood vessels to constrict. This works to elevate blood pressure.

Binge drinking and long-term drinking can affect how quickly a person’s heart beats. To keep the heart pumping consistently and at the correct speed, the organ depends on an internal pacemaker system. The use of alcohol can disturb and interfere with the pacemaker system in the body and cause the heart to beat either too rapidly or too irregularly. Irregular heartbeats are referred to as arrhythmia’s. It should be noted that not only will these problems occur by drinking in excess, it can be especially problematic if you generally don’t drink very often.

Long-term heavy drinking is something that weakens the heart muscle and can cause a problem in the cardiovascular system called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. A weakened heart can droop and stretch and cannot contract effectively. When this happens, it leads to the blood not pumping enough to sufficiently nourish the organs properly. Blood flow shortage can cause severe damage in certain organs and tissues in the body. Some symptoms associated with cardiomyopathy include shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen legs and feet, and irregular heartbeat.


The liver is one of the most vital and underappreciated organs in the human body. While many of us can recognize that the liver is important, many don’t fully realize what it does. But the liver plays a very important role in dealing with vulnerabilities, particularly in regard to alcohol.

The liver performs over 500 functions in the body that are essential to our health. However the primary role of the organ is to filter out all the blood in the body and break down and eliminate toxins. The liver produces enzymes that break down fats, manufactures proteins, and works to store a number of vitamins and minerals.

Excessive alcohol can impact the human body, and the liver specifically, in a number of ways. Heavy chronic drinking causes the liver to become fatty which can lead to dangerous inflammation and alcoholic hepatitis. With continued drinking, persistent inflammation that causes prevents the necessary blood supply from reaching the liver cells. If the problem continues, liver cells will eventually die and are replaced with scar tissue which creates a problem known as cirrhosis. In mild cases of cirrhosis, the liver can repair itself and continue to function properly but for advanced cirrhosis cases, it can lead to deterioration and liver failure.

It should be noted that lifestyle changes can help treat alcohol-liver problems. Abstaining from alcohol and other lifestyle changes like exercise, nutrition, and quitting smoking can all help to prevent the injury from getting worse. If the problem becomes severe enough, a liver transplant might be the primary treatment option.


Kidney function is directly affected by binge drinking and chronic alcohol use. Furthermore, the problem can become worse if the liver is already affected by alcohol use. The blood that flows through the kidneys is normally tightly controlled. This is done so that the plasma in the blood can be properly filtered and other substances that are in the body like electrolytes are reabsorbed in the right circumstances. Liver disease impairs this controlled mechanism in the body and and reduces the rate of plasma flow and filtration.

As we drink, alcohol can have a diuretic effect on increasing urine volume which can, in turn, lead to a change in the body’s fluid levels and disrupt the balance of electrolytes in the body. These problems can be even worse for chronic alcohol users, they may demonstrate advanced dehydration.


As we all know, the stomach is used to process and transport food, but it is something that can be adversely affected by excessive alcohol use. After ingestion, alcohol travels down the esophagus into the stomach it is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Despite this, some alcohol does not become absorbed and instead moves through the gastrointestinal tract. A majority of it will enter the small intestine and get absorbed into the bloodstream through the folds and walls of the small intestine. However, some alcohol stays in the stomach which can cause irritation.

If alcohol stays in the stomach, it can act as an irritant and increase digestive juices that are secreted by the stomach lining. Moreover, intoxicating amounts of alcohol can actually halt the digestive process and take away vitamins and minerals that are in the body. If the problem is severe enough it can lead to damage of the stomach lining.

It should be noted that drinking alcohol and taking medication can cause stomach irritation. Even medication like aspirin can cause stomach inflammation, severe bleeding, and ulcers.


One of the main functions of the pancreas is to send enzymes out to the small intestine to help metabolize food. However, when alcohol is introduced into this process it can cause issues with digestion. Alcohol can cause the pancreas to secrete its digestive juices internally rather than sending them to the small intestine.

The enzymes, and acetaldehyde, are harmful to the pancreas. If you consume alcohol regularly and excessively over a long period of time, it can cause inflammation and swelling of the body tissues and blood vessels.

The inflammation can lead to a condition called pancreatitis which prevents the pancreas from working properly. Pancreatitis occurs as a quick and sudden attack known as acute pancreatitis. However, if excessive alcohol use continues inflammation can become a constant problem known as chronic pancreatitis. All of these problems are also a known risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer.

While some of the signs of pancreatitis may be hard to spot before it is too late, there are a number of symptoms associated with acute pancreatitis, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating

Chronic pancreatitis causes these symptoms and and others including significant reduction in pancreatic function and digestion and blood sugar problems. Chronic pancreatitis will slowly destroy the organ and can lead to diabetes or even death.


As you can see, alcohol can have disastrous effects on many different parts of the body. Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. Alcohol is also a known human carcinogen and can lead to an increased risk in cancer. Evidence shows that the more alcohol a person drinks, and particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher their risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer is. Some known alcohol associated cancers include:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Based on data from 2009, alcohol-related cancer is somewhat prevalent. In fact, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, almost 20,000 deaths, were all alcohol-related.

It should also be noted that drinking too much alcohol can effectively weaken your immune system and make your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot, even on a single occasion can slow your body’s ability to ward off infections.

Next Steps

Alcohol use disorder is a serious issue that affects millions of Americans across the nation. Excessive and long-term alcohol use leads to a number of different problems and can have many harmful effects on the body. Some of the alcohol effects include cardiomyopathy, pancreatitis, kidney failure, liver failure, and an array of different types of cancers. While alcohol use can lead to these long list of problems, not to mention addiction, there are always treatment options that are available to help anyone struggling with alcohol abuse.

Landmark Recovery of Indianapolis is one Indiana treatment center that is available to help patients overcome their abuse problems. Landmark offers patients access to a detoxification program, behavioral therapies, and a discharge plan. The detox program is especially important for those dealing with alcohol use disorder because of the way that alcohol effects the body and the withdrawals it can lead to. All of these features will work together to give you or your loved one the tools, resources, and information that they need to accomplish long-term sobriety and avoid relapses. If you are interested in learning more about a personalized treatment plan, you can visit our website and reach out to our admissions team today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.