The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is one of the most common drugs in the world, used by millions of people throughout the United States on a regular basis.
 
Alcohol comes in liquid form and is obtainable legally by an adult of 21 years of age or older in the US. Alcohol’s effects on the body are numerous, and it begins to affect the body immediately and even in very small doses. According to Healthline, while a small amount of alcohol can escape the body via urine and breathing, most of the alcohol a person consumes is absorbed into their bloodstream.

The more alcohol an individual consumes, the more of an effect it has on their system. Many people are unaware of what constitutes a standard drink and how to use this to measure their alcohol intake. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), one 12-ounce beer with about 5 percent alcohol content is a good example of a standard drink. Five ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40 percent alcohol) distilled spirits or liquor are also examples of standard drinks.

More than 17 million adults had some kind of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2012, according to the NIAAA. This ranges from alcohol abuse to full-blown addiction and alcoholism. Knowing the definition of a standard drink can be useful in determining whether a person may be drinking too much or even struggling with AUD, as the overall effects of alcohol increase with each drink consumed.

Amount Consumed and Resulting Effects

The effects alcohol has on a person will usually be different as they consume more and more of the substance. As a person ingests more alcohol, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases. Here are the symptoms commonly associated with certain levels of BAC:

  • 02 to 0.03 BAC: mild euphoria, decreased inhibition, and relaxation
  • 04 to 0.06 BAC: increased euphoria, further decrease of inhibition, and exaggerated behavior
  • 07 to 0.09 BAC: subtle impairment of speech and balance, and impaired judgement

* It is within the above range that it becomes illegal to operate a motor vehicle.

  • 1 to 0.125 BAC: noticeable impairment of motor functions, slurred speech, and vision issues
  • 13 to 0.15 BAC: lack of physical control and blurred vision
  • 16 to 0.19 BAC: uneasy feelings and nausea
  • 2 BAC: becoming dazed or disoriented, and trouble standing or walking
  • 25 BAC: serious impairment of motor and sensory functions
  • 30 BAC: general stupor
  • 35 BAC: potential for coma
  • 40 BAC: coma and potential for respiratory arrest and death

Effects on Different Parts of the Body

Alcohol Use and AbuseWhen one thinks about the effect that alcohol can have on a person, behavior is often one of the first things that comes to mind. Alcohol and altered behavior have essentially become synonymous with each another. The reason for this altered state that people under the influence of alcohol experience is how the substance interacts with the brain. Alcohol interferes with how the brain communicates, thus changing a person’s behavior and mood. The ability to think clearly is often inhibited, and enough alcohol consumption can drastically affect motor functioning via its effects on the brain. Common effects on the brain and the rest of the central nervous system (CNS) include slurred speech and issues with coordination.

Alcohol can have more drastic effects on the central nervous system in the long-term. Pain, odd sensations, and numbness in a person’s hands or feet can arise due to the damage done to the CNS over time. It can also have significant effects on the eyes in particular.

The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, and it also happens to be especially susceptible to the effects of alcohol. While heart complications caused by alcohol are most common in people who participate in excessive consumption for a prolonged period of time, drinking too much on a single occasion can have negative effects on the heart as well. Some of the effects alcohol can have on this organ include:

  • Heartbeat Irregularity
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Stretching of the heart muscle

Some research has indicated that drinking very moderate amounts of alcohol can actually improve heart health, but excessive consumption puts a person at risk for complications. Heart attack and heart failure are very serious problems associated with long-term alcohol consumption.

Liver damage is commonly associated with the consumption of alcohol as well. Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition that results in scarring of the liver tissue, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. Scarred tissue cannot perform the proper functions that healthy liver tissue can, such as cleaning the blood and helping to fight infection. Alcoholism is the most common cause of this condition, and it can also result in fatty liver, fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis. In 2013, nearly half of the deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in the United States were due to alcoholism, and it accounted for about three-quarters of deaths from cirrhosis in those aged 25-34.
The digestive system can suffer significantly due to the effects of alcohol. Beginning with the mouth, alcohol can do significant damage to the salivary glands, gums, and tongue. Tooth decay is not uncommon among heavy drinkers. Esophageal problems can arise in the form of ulcers, which can also form in the stomach. The pancreas is affected by alcohol and could experience pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the organ. Infection and permanent organ damage can arise as a result of this condition.

A woman can see the disruption of her menstrual cycle due to alcohol abuse, and menstruation can even stop completely in some cases. Some women become infertile due to alcohol use, and the risk for pregnancy and birth complications increases. A woman drinking while pregnant can lead to a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the child, a range of conditions that can be physical and mental.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 0.2 and 1.5 infants per 1,000 births experience some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome.

An individual’s immune system is often affected by alcohol use as well. This can make a person more susceptible to a wide variety of viruses and illnesses, ranging from common to very serious.

Long-term alcohol use can put one at a greater risk for certain conditions, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and even cancer.

Alcohol and Testosterone

Alcohol can also have dramatic effects on an individual’s reproductive system. Men who drink excessively often experience problems with erectile dysfunction, a condition that results in difficult achieving and/or maintaining an erection.

Multiple studies over the years have found a correlation between alcohol consumption and testosterone production, according to NIAAA. Alcohol appears to inhibit testosterone secretion from the testes, as alcohol is directly toxic to this part of the body. Low testosterone levels can result in diminished male physical characteristics and have been associated with a greater risk for prostate problems in the future. Alcohol has also been known to reduce sperm production and alter sperm structure.

Weight Gain

Light and moderate alcohol use are not associated with significant weight gain and obesity, but a study published in Current Obesity Reports found that heavy drinking is consistently related to weight gain. Alcohol is high in calories and can alter cognitive processes and metabolism. The volume of alcohol consumed appears to be the most significant factor in affecting a person’s weight, but the intensity and frequency of drinking also seem to have an effect.

The Significance of Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

It is apparent that alcohol can have extremely drastic effects on the human body throughout multiple systems. The short-term effects on the brain and other parts of the body can be very serious, especially as more alcohol is consumed in a short amount of time. Long-term effects can be even more dire and lead to a multitude of diseases and life-altering conditions.

In order to reverse or improve the effects of alcohol on the body, a person should reduce the amount they drink or abstain from drinking altogether.

If a person is suffering from alcohol use disorder, professional treatment is needed to safely stop drinking.

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