Short- and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption

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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

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 problems
  • Difficulty with balance, coordination, and movements
  • Changes 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 pressure
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Liver Diseases

The liver plays an important role in metabolizing alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is therefore associated with liver conditions such as:

  • Fatty liver disease
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Alcoholic 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 homelessness
  • Relationship problems, which can lead to family problems and divorce
  • Social 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

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.

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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.
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