three people holding up glasses of liquor
Alcohol use is deeply ingrained in American culture and has even become a staple of many national holidays. Memorial Day barbeques and 4th of July celebrations that lack alcohol often take a backseat to those that have full coolers of beer and more. Binge drinking on an individual’s 21st birthday is often considered to be a rite of passage for most young adults. 

While many people can have a glass of wine with dinner a few nights a week, or a few beers at a barbeque, and not have a problem, this isn’t the case for everyone. Many people that begin drinking find the effects of alcohol use too pleasurable to give up, causing them to drink larger quantities or to drink more often. This lays the groundwork for potential alcohol use disorder.

Your Health and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol consumption has a dramatic effect on your health, even when drinking in relative moderation. There are significant short-term effects of alcohol that can be felt or experienced nearly immediately, and there are long-term effects of alcohol that may take weeks, months or even years to fully develop or become noticeable. This is especially important to remember since many people who only drink on occasion may feel that they are protected from such effects.

The effects of alcohol on your health can include dramatic changes to how your body normally operates. You may experience dramatic shifts in your blood sugar levels, leading to potential complications in diabetics. There are also inflammatory issues that can result from the inevitable liver damage, up to and including liver disease, scarring, and cirrhosis.

Finally, one of the most dramatic and potentially serious effects that alcohol can have on your body is on your central nervous system. Alcohol is a powerful depressant, which means it slows the communication speed between your brain and your body via the central nervous system. This can result in significant damage to neurotransmitter levels, and even damage to your digestion, preventing proper nutrient absorption.

What is Considered Heavy Drinking?

While alcohol can be dangerous in nearly any setting, there are often levels of drinking that can be considered relatively normal. Some people can drink “socially” while others simply cannot control their alcohol use. It’s also worth noting that simply because someone isn’t abusing alcohol, doesn’t mean they are immune from the effects of alcohol use. 

Alcohol use is a far-reaching term that encompasses a wide range of alcohol-related behaviors. It includes both binge drinking as well as chronic heavy drinking behavior. Binge drinking is often considered any alcohol consumption that brings your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, up to the legal limit of 0.08%. 

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Short-term effects of alcohol are often considered to be the effects that are felt or experienced while drinking, though they can last for several days following heavy drinking episodes or binge drinking. Some of the more common short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Feelings of giddiness, bliss, or euphoria
  • Significant mood swings, often from manic “highs” to deep, depressive “lows”
  • Reduced judgment and tendency to act impulsively
  • A high degree of relaxation or even drowsiness
  • Vision difficulties
  • Changes in hearing or perception
  • Reduced coordination and motor skills
  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Difficulty maintaining focus
  • Reduced decision-making abilities
  • Damage to memory functions, sometimes resulting in a “blackout”
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Headache

Many of these effects are due to the nature of alcohol technically being treated like poison by the body. Others are largely a by-product of the tendency of alcohol to dehydrate the individual. While these effects may not last long, they can be very uncomfortable, and no less significant than many long-term effects.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Chronic long-term alcohol use or constant binge drinking can lead to some incredibly severe effects and conditions that may not only affect the individual’s physical health but their mental health as well. Long-term effects of alcohol use can include:

  • Disruption of sleep cycles, including insomnia
  • Persistent alterations of the individual’s mood
  • Increased anxiety, panic, irritation, and even hostility
  • Damage to the immune system can lead to more frequent or more serious illnesses
  • Reduction in libido, sex drive, and sexual function
  • Sudden or gradual changes in appetite and weight
  • Consistent memory lapses
  • Issues focusing or maintaining concentration 
  • Higher occurrence of tension and conflict in the family, personal, and romantic relationships
  • Brain damage, including “wet brain”
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Long-term damage to neurotransmitter levels and production

Serious Health Risks

There are some serious health risks associated with alcohol use, and they can be incredibly dangerous if left unaddressed. 

These risks can include:

  • Sexual and reproductive side-effects: Alcohol will result in the lowering of sexual desire and inhibition of sexual response.
  • Circulatory system damage: Alcohol use can damage the heart, leading to irregular heartbeat, stroke, and increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
  • Digestive system damage: Heavy drinking can damage the tissues of the digestion system, which can lead to a failure to absorb adequate nutrients from food. This can even lead to bloating, diarrhea, painful elimination, hemorrhoids, and even ulcers.
  • Endocrine system inflammation: Digesting alcohol can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, and elevated pancreatic enzymes can cause pain in the abdomen.
  • Central nervous system changes: The constant depression of the CNS by alcohol can lead to a variety of risks, including motor skill impairment, and even nerve damage.
  • Reduced immune functionality: The suppression of immune function can lead to higher rates of infection.
  • Psychological conditions: Many mental conditions can be caused or worsened by alcohol use.

When to Seek Treatment

It can be difficult when to decide to get treatment if you feel you have an alcohol use disorder. The best sign that you should speak to a professional is when you feel that you may have a problem. This initial suspicion may be nothing, but it may be the perfect opportunity to talk to someone who can help you reach a diagnosis. Contacting a local expert when you have concerns about yourself or someone close to you, can be a powerful first step to successful treatment and recovery.