How Does Alcoholism Affect Your Body?

Alcoholism affects your body in many ways. Consuming large amounts of alcohol over a prolonged period of time can harm virtually every part of your body. Moderate use of alcohol can be enjoyed safely if used with caution, but a person who abuses alcohol can cause serious damage to his or her body. Even if your drinking doesn’t meet the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse, it can still put you at risk for health problems. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, at-risk drinking for men is more than 4 drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week; at-risk drinking for women is more than 3 drinks a day or more than 7 drinks a week.

Health Effects of Alcoholism

Alcohol and the Blood

Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause blood conditions such as anemia and blood clotting abnormalities, and can impair white blood cell function, which makes the abuser more susceptible to infection. Liver cirrhosis, a condition caused by heavy drinking, can also cause varicose veins.

Alcohol and the Brain

Alcohol destroys brain cells, which unlike most types of cells in the body, do not regenerate. Chronic and excessive drinking over a long period of time cause serious problems with cognition and memory, including amnesia and dementia.  Stopping drinking may help reverse some of this damage, but it may take some individuals a long time to recover, and some may never recover full mental function.

Alcohol and Cancer

Alcohol increases the risk of cancer in the liver, breast, pancreas, rectum and pharynx. Half of all cancers of the mouth, esophagus and larynx are linked to alcohol.

Alcohol and Diabetes

Alcohol consumption also raises and lowers blood glucose, especially for people with diabetes.

Alcohol and the Heart

Studies show that light drinking may be good for the heart, but heavy drinking increases the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Even social drinkers who have a habit of binging are at risk for irregular heartbeats.

Alcohol and the Joints and Muscles

Alcohol abuse advances osteoporosis and some forms of arthritis, especially gouty arthritis. Alcohol consumption can also lead to muscle atrophy, which can increase muscle pain and weakness.

Alcohol and the Kidneys

Alcohol enlarges the kidneys and increases the risk of kidney disease and failure. The kidneys are responsible for hormone production. Excessive drinking alters your kidney’s ability to produce hormones and can cause reproductive problems.

Alcohol and the Liver

One in five heavy drinkers will develop a fatty liver, the first stage of liver deterioration in heavy drinkers. This condition can be reversed if the drinking is stopped, but it can lead to death if the abuser continues drinking. Some drinkers with fatty liver will progress to alcoholic hepatitis and, if they continue drinking, will have a 40 percent chance of getting cirrhosis of the liver.  All of these conditions can lead to liver failure and death.

Alcohol and the Lungs

Excessive drinking makes the abuser more susceptible to pneumonia, lung collapse and pulmonary infections.

Alcohol and Malnutrition

Alcohol consumption can lead to malnutrition in several ways. First, alcohol damages the cells lining the stomach and intestines, which blocks the absorption and breakdown of nutrients. Second, alcohol is made up of empty calories. The more calories a person consumes in alcohol, the less likely they are to eat enough food to obtain adequate nutrients. Third, alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to metabolize nutrients.

Alcohol and Psychological Disturbances

Excessive drinking has been proven to cause depression, anxiety, insomnia and other psychological disturbances.

Alcohol and the Reproductive System

In men, alcohol abuse affects the production of sperm and testosterone, which can lead to impotence or infertility. In women, alcohol abuse affects estrogen levels, which can lead to menstrual irregularities and potential infertility.

Alcohol and the Stomach/Small Intestines

Alcohol irritates the stomach and can lead to gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, ulcers and acid reflux. Drinking over a long period of time can erode the stomach lining and cause blood to chronically seep into the stomach.

Reversing the Health Effects of Alcoholism

Excessive drinking can cause a variety of health problems. Thankfully, many of these health effects are reversible if the person stops drinking. Unfortunately, some of these effects are permanent. If you suffer from a drinking problem, get help right away. The sooner you stop drinking, the more likely you’ll be to reverse the damaging effects of your alcohol consumption. Call an alcohol addiction rehab today and start the path to healing.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.