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What Effects Does Alcohol Have on the Body & Brain?

By Sheri Kay

When you drink alcohol, it's quickly absorbed into your blood and then carried throughout your body. Within a few minutes, you can feel the effects of alcohol on your brain. While you might enjoy alcohol consumption in the moment, excessive long-term alcohol intake can have negative effects on your liver, heart and pancreas.

Your Brain

Alcohol affects the part of your brain that controls speech, movement and memory. It also impacts your judgment, which can lead to some bad decisions when you are under the influence. Signs of drunkenness include slurred speech, bad behavior, trouble walking and difficulty performing manual tasks. Long-term heavy use of alcohol can shrink the frontal lobes of your brain, which is the part of your brain you need for thinking, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Liver Damage

Alcohol is especially taxing on the liver because the organ must break down harmful substances, including alcohol. People who drink heavily for long periods of time might develop steatosis, a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver and causes fatigue and abdominal pain. This can lead to more serious liver damage. Other liver disease can develop, as well, including hepatitis, which is an inflammatory condition of the liver, or cirrhosis, which involves liver damage and scar tissue. Liver diseases can lead to an early death.

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Helping or Hurting Your Heart

Alcohol can be both good or bad for your heart, depending upon how much you drink. Moderate drinking, which is one or two drinks per day for men and one drink for woman, might actually lower your chances of developing heart disease. However, heavy drinking can damage your heart by causing cardiomyopathy, a disease where your heart muscle gets larger but is ineffective. Heavy drinking can also cause potential problems with the rhythm of your heart beat. Long-term use of alcohol can also lead to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart disease, says NIH.

Painful Pancreas

As part of your normal bodily functions, your pancreas makes insulin, bicarbonates and digestive enzymes. Alcohol triggers your pancreas to make toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, or the inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. Digestive enzymes, which are normally inactive until they reach the small intestine, begin to work on the tissues of your pancreas, causing damage that can lead to infection, bleeding and permanent damage.

Immune System and Cancer

Drinking too much alcohol can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of getting infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Consuming too much alcohol also increases your risk of developing certain cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast.

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