Alcohol doesn’t just affect us in the short-term with reduced inhibitions, blackouts, and hangovers. It also can leave a lasting effect on our bodies, especially our brains, immune systems, and cardiovascular systems. These effects are hard to see when we’re drinking because we often concentrate only on the immediate outcomes of using alcohol. It’s difficult to acknowledge the effects of alcohol on your body when you don’t notice them until later in life or even months or weeks after use. That’s why it’s important to understand these long-term effects of alcohol before, during, or after you imbibe.

Long-term effects of alcohol on the body

When you drink too much, or on a consistent basis, your body can take a beating. Alcohol can affect almost every part of the body. Alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways, having a direct effect on how the brain looks and works. These interferences can alter mood, behavior, coordination, and even make it harder to think clearly. Heavy drinking can lead to liver issues, and these issues can have a lasting impact on the body. Possible liver issues include liver inflammation, fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the process of the scarring of the liver and can lead to the eventual dysfunction of the liver, and even death.

Alcohol causes the pancreas to secrete toxic substances that lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. Additionally, alcohol consumption increases cancer risk. A study published this year in the scientific journal Addiction discovered that there is more than just a casual link between alcohol and cancer. It states that there is now enough credible evidence to conclusively say that drinking alcohol, even in small amounts, is a direct cause of the disease. Alcohol causes oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancers. Researchers also pointed out that growing evidence shows that alcohol is likely to cause skin, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.

Drinking alcohol weakens your immune system, making your body an easy target for disease. This means you’re at a higher risk to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Binge drinking or the act of drinking many drinks during a single occasion slows your body’s ability to fight off infections, even 24 hours after intoxication.

How alcohol affects your cardiovascular system

Excessive alcohol use has always been associated with negative cardiovascular risks and disorders. Long-term drinking can cause heart damage including problems such as cardiomyopathy, irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a key factor in a heart attack or a stroke. Heavy drinking also weakens the heart muscle, meaning your heart can no longer pump blood efficiently. This condition is known as cardiomyopathy, and it can lead to premature death. Heavy drinking can also lead to a higher level of some fats in the blood called triglycerides, increased caloric intake, and sudden cardiac death.

It has often been said that moderate alcohol use can protect the heart. According to the American Heart Association drinking wine or alcohol in some populations may be beneficial due to an increase in good cholesterol or anti-clotting properties. Clinical trials of antioxidants like Vitamin E have not shown any cardioprotective effect. Additionally, the AHA says that even if they were protective, these same antioxidants could be obtained from fruits and vegetables, like red grape juice. Physical activity can also raise good HDL cholesterol, while it does not carry the same risks as alcohol such as a threat of addiction, obesity, stroke, cancer, and depression. Given the weight of the risks, the AHA cautions people not to start drinking if they do not already drink alcohol.

Knowing what we know now about the cardiovascular risks associated with alcohol, it’s hard to justify drinking at all. However, being aware of these risks alone cannot stop some people who are suffering from alcohol addiction. Luckily they do not have to do it alone. Addiction treatment is a healthy way to learn how to live alcohol and drug-free and take the best care of your body for years to come. You don’t need alcohol, to solve your problems, to keep you healthy, or to prevent heart disease.

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.