How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect the Body?

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Alcohol is a drug and while long-term heavy use creates severe affects on the body, drinking alcohol in small amounts also carries health consequences. Continued use of alcohol can lead to physiological addiction in addition to other physical impairments. Alcohol is the most commonly abused psychoactive drug in the United States and the world. Beginning with low doses, alcohol immediately impairs coordination and sound judgment, contributing to automobile accidents and other fatal decisions.

Moderate drinking leads to confusion and dizziness, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting. The morning after large amounts of alcohol have been consumed leaves people with headaches, thirst and fatigue. Ulcers, malnutrition and sexual dysfunction can result from long-term alcohol use. Pregnant women who drink can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in their unborn children, causing mental and physical damage.

Liver Disease

One of the leading health risks to the body from drinking alcohol is liver damage. Metabolism of nutrients in the liver is impaired when it must process excess amounts of alcohol. The immune system is compromised and replaced by fatty tissues in the liver. Diseases caused by alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, include liver cancer, hepatitis C and cirrhosis. When the liver becomes impaired, other organs can be damaged as well. A brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy (HE) impairs psychiatric, cognitive and motor functions. Severe liver dysfunction cannot be cured except through a liver transplant. Doctors often are hesitant to perform the procedure on alcoholics for fear that they will continue to drink and destroy the new liver.


Alcohol can poison the body and lead to death, reports the Mayo Clinic. Alcohol poisoning can occur by downing five drinks in rapid succession, also called a binge. When a person ingests too much alcohol in a short period of time, the body responds with rapid heartbeat and slowed breathing and can cause a coma. A person suffering from alcohol poisoning will appear confused and may turn blue or very pale. They may vomit and go into a seizure. Hypothermia and unconsciousness may set in. Death can occur if a person cannot be wakened when unconscious. Gag reflexes also become impaired when alcohol poisoning sets in leaving a person at risk of drowning in their own vomit.