Alcohol can affect your body in many different ways. For example, its impact on the brain can cause lowered inhibitions and feelings of sorrow or confusion. Similarly, heavy drinking can also evoke nausea, vomiting, and other physical side effects. With so many potential symptoms, exactly what does alcohol do to your body? And how can chronic drinking patterns permanently affect your health?

Below, we will discuss in detail how alcohol affects many of your organs, including the liver, immune system, and more. First, we’ll go over the short-term effects someone may experience while intoxicated, and then we’ll address the possible long-term ramifications of repeated, heavy alcohol use.

How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Affect Your Body?

How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Affect Your Body?

On a short-term basis, everyone has a different tolerance for alcohol. For instance, some people may feel tipsy after a single glass of wine, while others may be able to drink several before they feel any of its effects. An individual’s tolerance depends on many factors, including their sex, body weight, age, genetics, and past alcohol consumption.

However, some people live with effects that persist even after short-term intoxication has worn off. It begs the question: What does alcohol do to your body that makes physical changes last even after it’s been flushed out? And just how much alcohol did these individuals need to drink to result in such severe consequences?

Long-term physical changes to your body don’t happen overnight. Typically, those who experience them participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking on a somewhat regular basis. For men, that means drinking more than 15 drinks a week or more than five on one occasion. For women, that means drinking more than 14 drinks a week or more than four on one occasion.

Someone may also mix alcohol with other substances, like prescription drugs, which can cause an influx of additional side effects even if they only participate in moderate drinking. Just as with heavy drinking, if they do so regularly, they risk inviting a host of undesirable long-term effects.

What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning that when someone drinks it, many of their bodily functions are slowed down. For example, it becomes harder to focus, make informed decisions, and maintain fine control over one’s movements while under the influence of alcohol.

Most of these effects should fade within a day or two following the cessation of drinking. But what if someone continues to drink or drinks almost every day? In other words, what does alcohol do to your body after repeated, heavy use?

Below are four of the most prominent impacts of long-term alcohol misuse:

Alcohol’s Impact on the Liver

When someone asks, “What does alcohol do to your body?” their first concern may be for the liver. This is because the liver is responsible for processing and filtering alcohol out of the body. It works to keep toxins out of the blood, but at the cost of its own cells. Each time it filters alcohol, some of its cells die.

Luckily, the liver can regenerate itself. Even then, however, a large amount of alcohol is often difficult for it to handle, especially if it is not given ample time to heal afterward. Thus, over time, alcohol can damage its functionality. In extreme cases, this can lead to conditions like liver disease or liver cancer.

Alcohol’s Impact on the Brain

It’s easy to separate many of alcohol’s effects on the brain as being mental rather than physical. However, the brain is still fundamentally part of the body. As such, many of the mood changes, cognitive difficulties, and other mental effects associated with alcohol use are due to the physical impact it has on the brain.

Specifically, what does alcohol do to your body that affects your mind as well? Alcohol interrupts communication pathways that the brain uses to function. Over time, this can result in abnormal neurotransmitter activity, which can cause issues with memory, emotions, motor control, and more.

Furthermore, long-term alcohol use can also lead to thiamine deficiency. Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine plays an essential role in keeping the nervous system healthy. Without it, someone has a higher risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), a brain condition associated with alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol’s Impact on the Heart

Alcohol’s Impact on the Heart

When asking, “What does alcohol do to your body?” the heart cannot be overlooked. Excessive alcohol use places a lot of strain on the cardiovascular system. For instance, it can lead to high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and arrhythmia. Pushed further, alcohol can also increase someone’s risk for stroke, cardiomyopathy (or heart muscle disease), and heart attack.

These effects happen partially because of alcohol’s impact on blood vessels. At lower levels, it causes them to widen and relax, but higher amounts of alcohol can result in constriction of the blood vessels. This inhibits blood flow from the heart and contributes directly to symptoms like high blood pressure. It can also cause additional problems like migraines.

Alcohol’s Impact on the Immune System

Another part of the body that chronic heavy drinking impacts is the immune system. People who regularly drink an excessive amount of alcohol are more likely to develop bacterial and viral infections. Furthermore, they are also at a higher risk of respiratory conditions and certain types of cancers.

What does alcohol do to your body that makes it easier to get sick? Since alcohol damages a lot of the tissue it encounters, it hinders many of the body’s functions, and that includes those handled by the immune system. As an example, consider the gastrointestinal tract.

The gastrointestinal tract is the first place in which alcohol can impact the immune system. This is because alcohol can harm the linings of someone’s stomach and intestines. As a result, some of the bacteria contained in the gastrointestinal tract is able to leak into the bloodstream, where it is more likely to make someone sick or cause inflammation.

Can You Undo the Effects of Alcohol on Your Body?

The answer to, “What does alcohol do to your body?” is, in short, “a lot.” With so many potential problems caused by chronic heavy drinking, a new question may arise in its place. Namely, are the effects discussed above permanent, or is the body able to heal itself from long-term alcohol abuse?

One study found that many of the negative impacts of alcohol can be at least partially resolved by abstinence. Even the liver, which often takes the brunt of damage from alcohol, can repair most of its functionality given enough time.

In other words, yes. The body can heal itself from many of the long-term effects of alcohol. However, there are a few important caveats: First, abstinence alone will not fix the most extreme effects of alcohol abuse, such as cancers. Second, the extent of someone’s recovery depends largely on their ability to stop drinking alcohol.

For some, this can pose a more difficult challenge than they first expect, even after learning the unappealing answers to, “What does alcohol do to your body?” If you’re someone who struggles to limit or stop your alcohol use, you may have an underlying issue in the form of dependence or addiction. And if that’s the case, it may be time to consider seeking professional support.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at The Willough at Naples

The Willough at Naples is a mental health and addiction treatment center that has helped individuals overcome the challenges in their lives for over 30 years. Through compassion and evidence-based treatment modalities, we guide our patients toward long-term recovery.

If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, we offer medical detox services as well as a dual diagnosis program for individuals with co-occurring disorders. Our detox program aids patients through the withdrawal process, while dual diagnosis treatment teaches them the important coping skills they need to stay sober after treatment.

To learn more about how we can help you prevent or recover from the long-term effects of alcohol, reach out to us today. You can call 800-722-0100 or submit a confidential contact form online to connect with an admissions expert. They will gladly answer any other questions like, “What does alcohol do to your body?” and direct you through your possible next steps.

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