Addiction Alcohol Use Short- and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 30, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Basak Gurbuz Derman/Moment/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Short-Term Risks Long-Term Risks Who Should Avoid Alcohol People have been drinking alcohol for its psychoactive effects for centuries. If you’ve ever had an alcoholic drink, you’re probably familiar with some of these effects. However, it’s important to note that drinking alcohol, whether occasionally or frequently, can take a major toll on your health. Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in over 200 types of health conditions and injuries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO also notes that globally, alcohol consumption plays a role in over 3 million deaths every year. Drinking alcohol can be harmful not only to your health, but also to your work, studies, relationships, and community. This article explores the short-term and long-term effects of drinking alcohol. Short-Term Risks and Effects of Alcohol Consumption According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are some of the short-term risks of alcohol consumption, particularly if you binge drink and consume excessive amounts of alcohol: Alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency caused by excessive alcohol consumption Violence, including intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide, and homicide Unprotected sex, which can cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancies Injuries, as a result of risky behaviors or accidents such as falls, burns, drownings, and road accidents Fetal harm, in the case of pregnant people, which can include fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), miscarriage, or stillbirth The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol Long-Term Risks of Alcohol Consumption Alcohol use can affect many of the organ systems in your body and lead to several different health conditions. Listed below are some of the health issues that you may face in the long-term as a result of alcohol use, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Brain Damage Alcohol can disrupt the brain’s communication pathways. Over time, it can cause brain damage that can change the way your brain looks and functions. These are some of the health effects you may experience as a result: Impaired ability to focus, which may lead to learning difficulties and memory problemsDifficulty with balance, coordination, and movementsChanges in mood and behavior, which can lead to mental health conditions such as mood disorders and anxiety disorders Heart Problems Drinking alcohol regularly or even drinking excessively on a single occasion can damage the heart and lead to heart conditions such as: High blood pressureArrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)Heart diseaseStroke Liver Diseases The liver plays an important role in metabolizing alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is therefore associated with liver conditions such as: Fatty liver diseaseLiver cirrhosisLiver fibrosisAlcoholic hepatitis Digestive Issues Alcohol affects the pancreas, causing them to produce toxic substances. This can lead to a condition known as pancreatitis, which is characterized by swollen and inflamed blood vessels in the pancreas. Pancreatitis can cause you to experience digestive difficulties. Reduced Immunity Alcohol impairs your immune system and interferes with your body’s ability to ward off diseases. Even drinking on a single occasion can weaken your immunity, sometimes for a few days afterward, increasing your chances of falling sick. Long-term alcohol use can make you more prone to infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, among others. Cancer Alcohol is considered a carcinogenic substance, because drinking alcohol regularly can lead to several types of cancer. These are some of the types of cancer associated with alcohol use: Liver cancer Breast cancer Bowel cancer Colorectal cancer Esophageal cancer Head and neck cancer (including cancer of the pharynx, larynx, and oral cavity) Diabetes According to a 2014 study, alcohol use can have a detrimental impact on diabetes. Alcohol can interfere with diabetes medications and cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), which can be dangerous. Alcohol Use Disorder Drinking alcohol can cause you to become dependent on it, and develop a substance use disorder known as alcoholism. You may find yourself experiencing strong cravings for alcohol and needing to drink more and more each time. When the effects of the alcohol wear off, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as sweating and shaking. Other Risks of Alcohol Consumption These are some of the other risks related to long-term alcoholism: Work-related problems, which may lead to unemployment and homelessnessRelationship problems, which can lead to family problems and divorceSocial problems, which can affect your reputation and standing in the community People Who Should Not Drink Alcohol According to the CDC, alcohol may be especially harmful to certain groups of people. The CDC therefore recommends avoiding alcohol if you are: Below the age of 21 Pregnant or trying to conceive Driving or planning to drive shortly Intending to use heavy machinery Planning to perform any other activity that requires focus, skill, and coordination Taking any medications that may interact with alcohol Suffering from a health condition and have been advised not to drink by your healthcare provider Recovering from alcoholism and have difficulty controlling yourself when you drink 9 Ways to Help Someone With Alcohol Use Disorder A Word From Verywell Alcohol use can be harmful to you in a number of different ways. While the risks increase with long-term use, it’s important to note that even a single occasion of alcohol use can lead to negative consequences. The CDC therefore recommends avoiding alcohol altogether, or drinking in moderation if you’re an adult over the age of 21 and don’t belong to one of the groups listed above. The recommended limit is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. 10 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. World Health Organization. Alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s effects on the body. World Health Organization. Harmful use of alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding alcohol use disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol use and your health. Castillo-Carniglia A, Keyes KM, Hasin DS, Cerdá M. Psychiatric comorbidities in alcohol use disorder. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(12):1068-1080. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30222-6 Shield KD, Parry C, Rehm J. Chronic diseases and conditions related to alcohol use. Alcohol Res. 2014;35(2):155-171. American Diabetes Association. Alcohol and diabetes. National Health Service. Alcohol misuse. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moderate drinking. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.