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The Short-Term and Long-Term Health Effects of Alcohol on Your Body

Alcohol use is a part of everyday life for many of us. According to the CDC, around two-thirds of Americans drank alcohol in one year.

And those Americans do so despite the documented health effects of alcohol.

Sure, we’re all familiar with the consequences of overindulging. But too many of us wave those off as just an inconvenience when in reality the short and long-term consequences of alcohol are nothing to shrug at.

Here are some of the ways that alcohol use can impact you, both in the present and later on down the road.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

It doesn’t take years of consistent abuse to feel the negative impact of alcohol use. Many of its effects can be felt within hours of taking your first drink.

Common short-term effects of alcohol include:

Compromised Decision Making

We associate alcohol with lessened inhibitions. And for many enthusiastic drinkers, this is a benefit, not a drawback.

However, this effect can be a double-edged sword.

The same drinks that give you the courage to sing karaoke at the bar can also convince you that you’re good to drive when you’re well past the point of no return.

Reduced Coordination

Alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. That’s why slurred speech is an early sign that someone has had too much to drink.

And the more someone imbibes, the more their coordination is compromised. Past a certain point, walking or even balancing upright can become a challenge.

Digestive Distress

Alcohol is a harsh chemical, and enough of it will send your digestive tract reeling.

Gas and bloating are minor symptoms that often follow a night of heavy drinking. Consistent, heavy drinking can also lead to bouts of frequent diarrhea, a consequence of alcohol damaging the sensitive lining of the intestines.

Depressed Immune System

If you drink heavily, a hangover might not be the only reason you wake up feeling sick.

Alcohol has a noted tendency to hamper the immune system’s ability to function properly. Hence why when alcohol sales spiked during the 2020 pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General and the World Health Organization were both compelled to issue statements warning individuals to cut back on their drinking.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

The short-term effects of alcohol would be bad enough to warrant caution. However, the longer a person abuses alcohol, the better the chances are that they’ll develop more serious complications.

Some of the long-term effects of alcohol include:

Damage to the Brain and Central Nervous System

One of the direst ways that alcohol affects the body concerns its effects on the nervous system.

Even in the short-term, alcohol can impair the brain’s ability to function. Over time though, it can cause permanent brain damage. In extreme cases, actual shrinkage of the frontal lobes of the brain has been documented.

Alcohol abuse can likewise damage parts of the nervous system throughout the body.

A common symptom of long-term alcohol abuse is tingling and numbness in the extremities. This is a sign of permanent nerve damage caused by prolonged alcohol abuse.

Increased Risk for Several Types of Cancer

At the end of the day, alcohol is poison. And along with its immediate negative effects, it carries with it an increased risk of developing cancer.

In particular, it increases the risk of developing cancer in any part of the body that the alcohol directly comes into contact with. For example, alcohol is one of the leading causes of mouth and throat cancer, right up there with smoking.

It is also linked to a number of cancers affecting the digestive system. Both esophageal and colorectal cancer are found in higher percentages among heavy drinkers. And as the liver is responsible for metabolizing this toxin, drinkers are at higher risks of developing liver cancer as well.

And in women, drinking is also linked to increased rates of breast cancer.

Dependence

When drinks heavily over a long period of time, the odds are high that they will develop alcohol dependence.

Because everyone’s body chemistry is a little different from the next person’s, dependence can take many different forms. However, there are a few common symptoms.

The most universal is a strong, consistent craving for alcohol. And depending on the severity of a person’s dependence, more significant symptoms like hallucinations may manifest themselves as the person goes into withdrawal.

Detoxing from alcohol is a challenging process at the best of times, and dangerous at the worst. That’s why a person trying to successfully detox needs to be aware of the common mistakes that can derail their recovery.

Heart Disease

You may have heard that a glass of wine a day was good for your heart health. But the more we learn, the more we realize that may not be the case.

Doctors have known for a long time that excessive alcohol use was linked to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure. But subsequent research has shown that even moderate drinkers may be at risk as well.

Liver Damage

The most significant effect alcohol has on the body is its impact on the liver.

The liver is the first line of defense against toxins and is vital for filtering out harmful substances in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. It’s a tall order even in healthy adults, but when alcohol enters the equation the liver can be pushed to its limits.

Over time, the liver can develop scar tissue that prevents it from functioning properly. In extreme cases, cirrhosis and eventual liver failure can develop.

Don’t Write-Off the Health Effects of Alcohol

Drinking is an accepted, and often even encouraged aspect of American life. And unfortunately, it’s often to our detriment.

The health effects of alcohol can be severe and can catch up to us far sooner than we may think. And for that reason, forgoing alcohol use is one of the best decisions that we can make for ourselves.

But for many of us, quitting is a challenge. Especially since the path to giving it up is littered with pitfalls. If you’ve decided to give alcohol, be sure to familiarize yourself with these common recovery mistakes and how to avoid them.

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