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The Long Term Effects of Drinking

by Landmark Recovery

May 23, 2018
A sand clock symbolizing the long term effects of alcohol

Long term effects of drinking-Most of us are aware of the short term, immediate effects of consuming alcohol: Impaired motor control and impulse control, dehydration, reduced inhibitions etc, but not long term… While we may also recognize that long term drinking has negative effects on the human body, the specific effects may not be as widely understood as the short term. Alcohol is associated with cognitive changes, and as such, so are the detrimental long term effects.


Long Term Effects of Drinking

A sand clock symbolizing the long term effects of drinking alcohol

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an organization that conducts an annual survey on substance use in the United States. NSDUH collects information on alcohol use within the past month, binge alcohol use, and heavy alcohol use. Here are some stats from the most recent survey in 2016.

  • For men, binge alcohol use is defined in NSDUH as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.
  • For women, binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days. Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past 30 days.
  • In 2016, 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older reported current use of alcohol, including 65.3 million who reported binge alcohol use in the past month and 16.3 million who reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.
  • In 2016, about 1 in 5 underage individuals aged 12 to 20 were current alcohol users.
  • About 7.3 million people aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month, including 4.5 million who reported binge alcohol use and 1.1 million who reported heavy alcohol use.
  • The percentage of underage drinkers in 2016 was lower than the percentages in 2002 through 2014 but was similar to the percentage in 2015.
  • About 2 out of 5 young adults aged 18 to 25 in 2016 were binge alcohol users, and about 1 in 10 were heavy alcohol users.


Long and Short Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

There a number of long term and short term health risks associated with alcohol consumption. These risks grow even greater the longer that alcohol is used, and have been proven difficult to treat, and in many cases can result in permanent damage to vital organs, along with a increased risk of death. An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually in the United States, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation. The first two are tobacco and physical inactivity. Physicians directly correlate several chronic illnesses with alcohol consumption, recommending giving up alcohol to prevent worsening heart disease, brain impairment, and liver disease. In 2010, alcohol misuse cost the United States over $249 billion.


Short Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

A small clock representing the short term effects of drinking alcohol

  • Reduced inhibition
  • Poor motor control
  • Impaired decision making
  • Memory impairment
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Lower risk of diabetes
  • Reduced number of silent infarcts
  • Increased HDL
  • Decreased thrombosis
  • Reduced fibrinogen
  • Reduced artery spasm from stress
  • Increased coronary blood flow
  • Higher bone mineral density

The short term effects of drinking in low to moderate consumption rates range from a decrease in inhibition and motor functions to euphoria, intoxication, unconsciousness, blackouts (known as ante retrograde amnesia) and also depression of the central nervous system. Because alcohol is capable of permeating cell membranes, it can spread into nearly every cell in your body. Short term consumption is also known to cause or worsen sleep problems, affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. Alcohol quickens up production of sleep chemicals in the brain, but these quickly dissipate after not consuming more. Alcohol disturbs sleep patterns in the brain, causes you to make bathroom tips, and saps the chemicals that help you sleep.


If drinking alcohol while pregnant, you run the severe risk of significantly harming a developing child. Alcohol in the mother’s blood stream passes to the child, and can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and a wide range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: including abnormal facial features, small head size, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and low IQ.


Long Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

  • Impaired brain development/ brain damage
  • Risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Impaired Memory
  • Anemia
  • Liver disease
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • High blood pressure and risk of stroke
  • Risk of mouth and throat cancer
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy
  • Cirrhosis and Hepatitis
  • Chronic gastritis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Increased risk of diabetes type 2
  • Vitamin B Deficiency
  • Ulcers

People who have been drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol for long periods of time run the risk of developing serious brain damage. For example, one common occurrence among alcoholic is a thiamine deficiency, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential nutrient used by all tissues in the body, including the brain. Thiamine is found in foods such as meat, poultry; whole grains, nuts, dried beans, peas, and soybeans. Up to 80% of alcoholics develop a deficiency in thiamine and a number of these people may go on to develop Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome.

This syndrome causes mental confusion, nerve paralysis within the eyes, and overall difficult with muscle coordination. If the condition worsens, which it does for 80-90% of those afflicted, the person will develop a chronic and debilitating learning, motor function, and memory problems. There are also the effects on the liver, the organ responsible for breaking down alcohol into harmless by product. Prolonged liver dysfunction can result in liver cirrhosis, which could further affect the brain.

Overall, long term alcohol use and dependency can cause more than just physical problems in the body. Antisocial disorder, irritability, chronic lying, and inability to maintain jobs or relationships is common among chronic alcoholics. Prolonged use can also lead to engaging in destructive behavior such as promiscuity, driving under the influence, and domestic violence. The body gets used to unbalanced levels of chemicals within it, so attempting to withdraw can result in negative side effects such as shakiness, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, sweating, nausea, headache, depression, and loss of appetite.


Next Steps

Alcohol rehab may be the appropriate treatment program if you or a loved one may have a problem with alcohol. If you’re worried about your own or another’s relationship with alcohol, reach out to someone who’s been there and can help. At Landmark Recovery, we can help you pursue the life you have always dreamed. The journey to sobriety can be tough, but you are capable of anything you set your mind to. The long term effects of drinking will continue to get worse, but you can stop them today. Call our alcohol rehab in Indianapolis today in order to begin your journey to sobriety.

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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.