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The Short– and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on The Body

Alcohol can have serious adverse short and long-term effects on the body and the brain.1, 2 The effects of alcohol can range in severity from mild to severe, ranging from acute intoxication to overdose toxicity, or alcohol poisoning.5

The following statistics highlight some of the potential effects of alcohol:1, 3

  • In 2019, 10,142 deaths were due to alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.
  • Around 95,000 people in the United States die from alcohol-related causes per year.
  • Alcohol accounts for 18.5% of emergency room visits each year.
  • Women who drink about 1 alcoholic beverage per day have a 5% to 9% higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.

This article will explain the primary health effects related to alcohol use and how to get help if your drinking is negatively impacting your life.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol can have a pervasively negative health impact on people. Many consume alcohol in excess to become intoxicated, or “drunk,” which can lead to accidents and other impairment-related injuries. Circulating alcohol in the body can also have direct toxic effects on a number of body tissues and organ systems.4

Some of the negative short-term effects of alcohol use include:1, 5

  • Disrupted communication pathways in the brain.
  • Decreased coordination.
  • Impaired thinking or cognition.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Irregular heart rhythm.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased likelihood of risky behaviors like unprotected sex.
  • Increased risk of injury from car accidents, falls, drowning, or burns.
  • Increased risk of violence.
  • Alcohol overdose (i.e., alcohol poisoning or toxicity).

Long-Term Health Effects of Alcohol

Over time, chronic alcohol use can lead to more serious health effects. These health problems can differ in severity and can result in a range of devastating health and social issues.5

Potential long-term health effects of alcohol can include:4, 5

  • Progressive liver disease (e.g., alcoholic steatosis, hepatitis, and cirrhosis).
  • Cardiovascular issues such as chronic hypertension, heart arrhythmias, and alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
  • Increased risk of stroke.
  • Pancreatitis and other chronic digestive system issues.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, including head and neck, breast, liver, and other malignancies.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Chronic memory and learning issues.
  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
  • Unemployment, family conflict, and relationship challenges.
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) development.

AUD and Co-occurring Mental Health Issues

Alcohol use disorder commonly co-occurs with mental health disorders.11 It is not always clear whether a mental health issue or problematic drinking precedes the other; however, unmanaged co-occurring mental health and alcohol use disorders can exacerbate each other. This can complicate the course of treatment and ultimately make it more difficult for a person to sustain long-term abstinence.7, 11

Mental health issues that commonly co-occur with AUD are:11

  • Anxiety.
  • Mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression.
  • Post-traumatic-stress disorder.6
  • Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

Having both an AUD and a mental health disorder like anxiety and depression can increase your risk for suicidal behavior.7

Past studies have indicated that people with an AUD may be 2.3 times more likely to have also experienced major depressive disorder and 1.7 times more likely to have experienced dysthymia (or persistent depressive disorder) in the previous year.7

Getting Help for Alcohol Misuse

If you have a hard time controlling your alcohol use and you are ready to stop, it is important to seek help. Reaching out to a medical professional like your doctor can be an important step in starting the recovery process and preventing some of the effects of alcohol. They can help evaluate your health and drinking patterns to give you appropriate referrals for treatment.10

When getting help, it’s important to consider your options and factors like how long you’ve been drinking, how much you drink, and if you have co-occurring disorders. Acute withdrawal syndrome, which occurs when a person who chronically drinks alcohol suddenly stops drinking, may include unpleasant symptoms and sometimes dangerous withdrawal complications like seizures.2, 8, 11

Treatment settings range in intensity, and common treatment settings used to treat AUD include:9, 10

  • Medically supervised detoxification.
  • Residential or inpatient rehab.
  • Outpatient treatment.

Common treatment interventions that may be incorporated into an AUD treatment plan include:10

  • Behavioral treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which may be administered in individual, group, and family therapy sessions.
  • 12 Step/Mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • FDA-approved medications for treating AUD.

For more information about treatment for alcohol misuse and addiction, call the caring staff at American Addiction Centers (AAC) at who can answer questions about treatment options, help locate a treatment facility near you, and check your insurance coverage.

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