With alcohol, drinking every day can have serious consequences for a person’s mental and physical health, both in the short- and long-term. Many of the effects of drinking every day can be reversed through early intervention but become harder to treat with time. It’s critical to recognize alcohol abuse and treat alcoholism as early as possible to avoid irreversible damage to the brain and body.
Article at a Glance:
Alcohol has complex effects in the body and can affect multiple organs and systems like the heart, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, vasculature system, and liver. There are different short- and long-term consequences for each of these systems. Several important takeaways include:
- Alcohol can affect the GI tract, heart, kidneys, liver, and vascular system in the short-term.
- Chronic alcohol abuse can include arrhythmias, cirrhosis, and risk of stroke.
- Alcohol abuse can contribute to or worsen mental health conditions over time.
- Chronic drinking can lead to diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancers.
- Seeking professional rehab care can help anyone recovery from alcohol addiction.
Table of Contents
Short-Term Effects of Drinking Alcohol Every Day
Daily alcohol use affects various internal organs and systems, causing painful symptoms that could lead to long-term consequences.
Alcohol and the Gastrointestinal Tract
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the hollow organ that leads from the mouth, through the stomach and small intestines and finally to the colon. The GI tract is the first stop alcohol makes in your body. Alcohol is an irritant to the inner lining of your GI tract and causes inflammation, or swelling and redness.
Inflammation is the process the body uses to recruit cells from the bloodstream to heal damage, whether it be mechanical or infective. In the short-term, inflammation helps heal damaged tissue. Chronic alcohol consumption causes inflammation, which damages tissue and leads to different cancers, autoimmune disease and cell death. Alcohol use may worsen symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Alcohol and the Heart
Alcohol decreases fluid in the body, so the heart has to work harder to push the same amount of blood. At the same time, it can increase blood pressure, and alter conduction (electrical signals) in the heart that maintains a steady heartbeat.
Heavy alcohol use has also been linked to sudden cardiac death (SCD), especially in older men. During SCD, the heart cells cannot keep a regular rhythm, and it causes the heart to stop suddenly. While SCD is not the same as a heart attack, SCD is the largest cause of natural death in the United States.
Alcohol and the Kidneys
Alcohol is a diuretic and causes the body to lose fluid a few different ways. The first is by increasing how much urine the kidneys produce, which is why people use the bathroom more when they have been drinking alcohol.
The second way alcohol decreases fluid in the body is by making the cells in other parts of the body retain more water. These might be skin, muscle or fat cells.
The net result is that the blood has less water in it. The kidneys then have to filter a more concentrated solution and are exposed to more harmful toxins. Over time, kidney function declines and toxins are left unfiltered to damage other organs.
Alcohol and the Liver
Daily alcohol consumption requires extra work from the liver. The liver makes metabolic enzymes that digest and break up toxins like alcohol and is the second place alcohol goes after landing in the GI tract.
Daily alcohol use can cause fibrosis or scarring of the liver tissue. It can also cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. With long-term alcohol abuse, these conditions occur together and can eventually lead to liver failure.
Alcohol and the Vascular System
People who drink large amounts of alcohol usually have a poor diet. A poor diet can lead to higher than normal cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a normal and healthy part of the blood that transports necessary molecules around the body, but these molecules can malfunction.
Cholesterol is a group of large molecules that carry lipids to various parts of the body, and lipids are used to construct the membranes of your cells. When there is too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, the molecules scratch the inner membranes of the veins and arteries, causing mechanical damage, and different cells are recruited in the blood to help repair the damage.
Since the blood is designed to clot when it repairs the damage, it can mistakenly build a clot on the inside of the vascular system. If this clot continues to build, it can break off and travel to other parts of the body, which can lead to heart attack, pulmonary embolism or stroke.
Related to: Alcohol Use on the Rise During COVID-19 Pandemic
Physical Effects of Chronic Alcohol Abuse
Over time, alcohol has serious consequences on different organs of the body. Some of the physical symptoms and effects include:
- Cirrhosis (widespread fibrosis)
- Steatosis (fatty liver disease)
- Fibrosis (development of scar tissue)
- Weakened immune system
Mental Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
The mental and emotional effects of daily alcohol abuse are less specific than the physical effects, meaning that this group of mental health symptoms can come from many different causes. The above group of physical symptoms, on the other hand, usually only show up in that combination when alcohol is involved.
Worsened Mental Side Effects
Daily alcohol use has a wide range of mental symptoms, including:
- Antisocial behaviors
- Sleep disorders
Worsened Mental Health Conditions
Additionally, chronic alcohol use can contribute to the development of many different mental health conditions or worsen existing psychiatric illnesses, including depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. When someone struggles with alcohol addiction and mental health conditions simultaneously, it is referred to as co-occurring disorders. Fortunately, dual-diagnosis treatment can address both conditions simultaneously during treatment.
Related to: Mental Health in the Time of COVID-19 (Survey)
Diseases Caused by Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Continued damage to the GI tract, heart, kidneys, liver, and vascular system contributes to the development of chronic diseases. Some of these are treatable, but most are not reversible once they are diagnosed. Therefore it is very important to recognize and treat alcohol abuse early.
Diseases associated with chronic alcohol abuse include:
- Cancers (breast, colorectal, head and neck, and liver)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cirrhosis (widespread fibrosis)
- High blood pressure
- Infectious disease
- Nerve damage
Research has linked alcohol abuse, especially heavy alcohol use, to numerous health issues, from liver disease to depression to cancer. When we asked 2,136 survey participants about health complications directly related to their alcohol use:
- 1 in 3 reported depression (38%)
- 1 in 3 reported high blood pressure (31%)
- 1 in 6 reported liver disease (17%)
- 1 in 10 reported cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) (12%)
- 1 in 10 reported cardiovascular disease (11%)
- 1 in 7 reported a weakened immune system (15%)
- 1 in 10 reported nerve damage (11%)
- 1 in 12 reported pancreatitis (8.4%)
- 1 in 11 reported seizures (9%)
- 1 in 13 reported cancer (7.8%)
Recognizing alcohol abuse is easier with the right information. However, it is never easy to confront alcohol abuse in yourself or others. Going to rehab and getting professional help for alcohol abuse can help anyone heal from alcohol addiction. Following medical detox, an inpatient treatment program at an accredited rehab facility like The Recovery Village might be the best way to start a healthier life.
If you think you or a loved one needs treatment for alcohol addiction, don’t wait to get help as the consequences can be dire. Reach out to one of our staff at The Recovery Village today. Your call is free and confidential, and there is no obligation to commit to a program to learn more about rehab.
Ismene L. Petrakis, et al. “Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2002. Accessed May 14, 2019. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” (n.d.) Accessed May 14, 2019. Breslow, Rosalind A., et al. “Alcoholic Beverage Consumption, Nutrient Intakes, and Diet Quality in the US Adult Population, 1999-2006.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2010. Accessed 14 May 2019. DeNoon, Daniel J. “Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death.” WebMD, 2007. Accessed 14 May 14, 2019. Freeman, David. “12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking.” WebMD, 2009. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Ismene L. Petrakis, et al. “Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2002. Accessed May 14, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” (n.d.) Accessed May 14, 2019.
Breslow, Rosalind A., et al. “Alcoholic Beverage Consumption, Nutrient Intakes, and Diet Quality in the US Adult Population, 1999-2006.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2010. Accessed 14 May 2019.
DeNoon, Daniel J. “Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death.” WebMD, 2007. Accessed 14 May 14, 2019.
Freeman, David. “12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking.” WebMD, 2009. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.