Physical Effects of Alcohol & Withdrawal

When you drink, alcohol raises your blood alcohol content, contributing to mental and physical effects. Over time, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Alcohol Use Disorder Part 3: Physical Effects and Alcohol Withdrawal

Estimated watch time: 7 mins


Alcohol has numerous physical effects on the body. When you consume even a single drink, it raises your blood alcohol content. The more you drink, the more profound the effects of alcohol can be on your thoughts and actions.

This video also explores long-term physical effects, including developing a tolerance and experiencing alcohol withdrawalsymptoms if you stop drinking.

Video Materials:

Related Content:


Alcohol Use Disorder Part 3

This lesson will cover the physical effects and alcohol withdrawal.

What is a drink? Great question. Twelve ounces of beer, eight to nine ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, and then one and a half ounces of spirits or brandy. It all comes out to approximately the same amount of alcohol in a beverage.

Ethanol’s effects, which is from alcohol, are related to the blood alcohol content.

We call it BAC; it is an alcohol percentage in a volume of blood. And you will see different ways to list it. But generally, 0.08 is the standard level for legal intoxication.

What can affect your blood alcohol concentration? Well, certainly a person’s volume or their weight. Someone who weighs 100 pounds certainly would feel the effects of alcohol more than someone who is 200 pounds.

Gender. Men versus women.  Women tend to feel alcohol and have less tolerance for alcohol than men in general.

Medications.  If you are taking certain medications that can affect alcohol metabolism or the medications could contribute to making you more tired, exhibiting some of the side effects of alcohol intoxication at a lower consumption rate. Medications that can interact are sometimes the antidepressants, sometimes people take medicines for anxiety. Those tend to interact with alcohol and have a more powerful negative outcome.

Metabolism can affect your BAC.

Your medical condition. For example, if your liver is not working well, the liver is the primary organ that metabolizes alcohol or ethanol.

And also, if your stomach is full of food and drink, alcohol will be absorbed slower than if you are drinking on an empty stomach.

I am going to go through a series of BACs or blood alcohol concentration levels to show you the difference that percentages make. And these are really more for a novice drinker.

When someone has one to two alcoholic drinks, their BAC should fall under 0.05. And they will feel a sense of relaxation, loss of inhibition and maybe a little impaired activities and alertness and judgment, especially on the second drink.

If they have a B AC a 0.06 – 0.1, which could be two to three drinks. Now remember, 0.08 in most states is considered the legal limit for intoxication. When you go above that, you certainly can be arrested for a DUI and you can be arrested anyhow if your driving is erratic. What happens when you have consumed two to three drinks? You may have some pleasure. May have a numbness of some feelings. If you are feeling highly anxious, that may go away or be decreased temporarily. You may get nauseated; you may get sleepy. You may have some sort of almost an emotional arousal. And more importantly, is your impaired activity, your memory and fine motor coordination start going downhill and deteriorating.

Three to four drinks would put you at a 0.11 – .20 BAC. Some people have mood swings, they become angry, others become very sad, some almost become manic. And what people would tell you, is you are obnoxious. You are having inappropriate social behavior. And that can certainly be a problem.

And you continue drinking. Now your .21 – .30 BAC. You are three times the legal level now.  And what an outsider could see is more aggression, reduced sensations. You may not even feel pain anymore. You may have more depression, even more intense than the lower levels. You could even go into a stupor, where you are hardly responsive. You certainly have trouble with visual tracking, problems with walking, problems functioning in general.

Now we continue up to a higher level, 0.31 – .40 BAC.  Now you are at four times the legal limit. You have changes in feelings and personality. You could be unconscious. Death is possible, or comas, possible impaired activities, slurred speech, lack of balance.

And if you go above 0.40 BAC, it can lead to death.

Tolerance is the need for more alcohol to get the same effect. Drinking the same amount no longer has the same effects. The effect is decreased. An example would be if you are drinking two alcoholic beverages on the weekend or once or twice a week.  That may be fine. And then something happens in your life and you become worse. You start drinking alcohol every day. And now you are drinking two alcoholic beverages every day. And then soon you are drinking three alcoholic beverages to feel the same and then four. That is tolerance. You have now gone from two alcoholic beverages that gave you some pleasure or some relaxation to needing to drink four beverages a day.

Many individuals will not stop drinking because they are fearful of withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms: there are many. And this is not an all-inclusive list.

When one drinks, ethanol affects GABA which slows things down. When you stop giving a drug, the body reacts opposite. Instead of slowing down because that brake is off now, things will start speeding up. The body responds with medical issues like elevated blood pressure, hypertension, you will see shaking, you will see maybe a fever, you may see rapid heart rate. Things that normally were slowed down with alcohol are just the opposite without alcohol.

The list goes on, but we have alcohol cravings, anxiety, chills, disorientation, irritability, mood changes, rapid heart rate, palpitations.

Prolonged withdrawal without any treatment can be agitation, severe anxiety and trauma, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations and even seizures. We do offer safe medical detox. And I really want that to be the Take-Home message from this. There should be no fear in withdrawal. You may have some mild symptoms, certainly not these prolonged symptoms if you get treatment in a safe manner.

In the final lesson we will discuss the medical complications of Alcohol Use Disorder and some treatment options.

Thank you for choosing The Recovery Village.  If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance abuse and would like to find out more about the programs we offer, please reach out to us directly at 855-387-3291.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.