The effects of alcohol on your body begin with the first sip of beer, wine, or liquor that you take. An occasional glass of wine with a meal probably won’t have a negative effect, but drinking too much at one time or over a period of time can take a serious toll on your health. Alcohol has an impact on every organ in the body.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and is very quickly digested and absorbed from the stomach and small intestines into the blood. There are numerous factors that affect the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the body including age, sex, amount of food eaten beforehand, and medications or drugs taken. In the United States, it is recommended that a healthy adult male drink no more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day or 14 per week, and for adult women, only 1 drink a day.
In the U.S., one drink is considered to be one 12 ounce beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor (beer with alcohol content greater than 6%), 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor such as rum, vodka, or whiskey. In the U.S., the legal blood alcohol content is 0.08%. However, it isn’t advisable to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol.
Before reaching for that glass of wine or ordering a cocktail at a party, consider the impact one drink can have on your body, especially if you drink more than the recommended amounts per day or week. The following are some of the effects that alcohol can have on your body:
1. The Brain and Central Nervous System (CNS)—Alcohol is a depressant meaning that it decreases the amount of arousal or stimulation you experience and can make you feel sleepy or very relaxed. It also reduces your ability to make rational decisions and to think clearly. Some symptoms of drinking too much include slurred speech and difficulty with coordination such as walking or climbing stairs. If alcohol use continues for a long period of time, you may have problems with both short-term and long-term memory. Because it has such a powerful effect on the CNS, you should never drive afterwards, even if you have only had one drink.
2. Digestive Tract—Alcohol can affect any part of the digestive system including the intestines, liver, and pancreas. Chronic alcohol use can cause pancreatitis, and the symptoms may not develop for years. These can include upper right-sided abdominal pain that can radiate to the back, nausea, diarrhea, fever, weight-loss, and malnutrition. If the insulin-producing cells are damaged, you can develop diabetes.
The liver breaks down alcohol and removes it from your bloodstream, and heavy alcohol use can lead to damage over time. It can cause hepatitis, steatosis (fatty liver), cirrhosis, and cancer. These are life-threatening diseases. Women are affected by the effects that alcohol has on the liver faster than men.
Damage to the intestines does not happen right away but occurs over a period of time. Chronic alcohol use can decrease the amount of food, nutrients, and vitamins the intestines absorb resulting in malnutrition.
Cardiovascular System—Alcohol can also negatively affect both the heart and lungs. The heart muscle is weakened by chronic drinking making it less efficient in pumping blood to the body. People who drink for a long period are at a higher risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. Women get these diseases much more often than men.
3. Alcohol Dependency and Addiction—People who chronically abuse alcohol develop a physical and emotional dependency. Going through withdrawal is very difficult and can be life-threatening. Medical detoxification is the safest way to stop drinking because withdrawal symptoms can be severe including anxiety, tremors, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and hallucinations.
While there are numerous physical reasons to stop drinking, there are social implications as well. Alcoholism affects the entire family, not just the alcoholic. Relationships with spouses and children can be permanently broken with the lies and excuses. However, stopping drinking and getting into counseling can go a long way in helping repair what was damaged. Counseling can also help with self-esteem issues as well as feelings of guilt.
Whether you drink every day or occasionally, alcohol affects every organ in the body. If you are not a drinker, it is recommended to stay away from it. The major organ that is affected is the liver. If you drink consistently, you should see a physician to ensure that your liver is functioning as it should. Our Gastroenterologists at DHAT are board-certified and trained to treat alcoholic hepatitis and other conditions affecting the liver and GI system. Make an appointment with one of our doctors today to evaluate your GI health.