How Does Alcohol Affect Physical Health?


Alcohol is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes, and it is deeply ingrained into American culture. Every summer holiday is sure to have a cold beer and even hard liquor in many cases, and when most young adults reach age 21 they often celebrate with their first legal binge drinking expedition. It’s no surprise that this has led to millions of people suffering from the adverse effects of alcohol consumption, whether problematic or not.

What is Alcohol?

While alcohol is used recreationally, it is actually treated like a toxin or a poison by the body. Excess alcohol build-up in the system causes many dangerous short-term effects and some significant long-term effects as well. While many of these effects can be reversed or healed following detox, there are cases where this isn’t always possible.

How Do Our Bodies Break Down Alcohol?

No matter how much alcohol is consumed, the average human body can only metabolize, or break down, a certain amount of alcohol per hour, and the amount will vary from person to person. The amount will depend on not only the body mass of the individual but also their liver size and health, their personal metabolism, and a range of other factors. This means that even while someone may be comfortable drinking large amounts and may be able to handle their intoxication relatively well, that alcohol remains in their system until it can be completely processed and removed by the liver.

As a person consumes more alcohol, it begins to build up in their body as well as their blood. This leads to an increase in the measurable blood-alcohol concentration or BAC. The BAC level is used to determine the various stages of intoxication.

There are six common stages of intoxication.

0.020%-0.099%: This stage includes the initial and often enjoyable effects of alcohol, as well as the threshold for legal intoxication. There will frequently be sudden changes in the emotional state and noticeable reductions in coordination and motor ability. The inhibitions are lowered, and the individual often feels more in control of their intoxication than they actually have.

0.100%-0.199%: Euphoria will continue into this stage, though impairment will become more significant. Greater reductions in coordination, speech abilities, judgment, and balance are common.

0.20%-0.299%: Most individuals in this stage will appear obviously and significantly intoxicated unless they have a high tolerance to alcohol. Severe impairment to all mental faculties is common, including sensory and perception, as well as physical capabilities.

0.300%-0.399%: This is the stage where potentially life-threatening complications will begin to develop. Common signs of this stage of intoxication include hypothermia, blackouts, anesthesia, and the inability to speak due to acute brain damage.

0.400%-0.599%: This stage is often the beginning of the alcoholic coma, depending on the tolerance of the drinker. Increasing loss of consciousness is common, along with a progressive reduction in respiration, body temperature, and blood pressure. Loss of bladder control is also common. 

0.600% and above: Once an individual reaches this level of intoxication, it has a significant chance of becoming a fatal case of alcohol poisoning if emergency medical care is not utilized. Tongue paralysis causes airway obstruction, and many reflexes become non-functional, which can allow vomit to be inhaled. Respiratory distress is also common in this stage.

Physical Consequences of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is one of the more common ways that people feel the negative effects of alcohol. Binge drinking is considered to be having more than five standard drinks for an adult male or more than four drinks for an adult female in one sitting. Binge drinking is also the most common way that an individual is likely to experience the possibility of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Short-Term Physical Effects of Drinking Alcohol

The short-term effects of alcohol are those that are felt or experienced while drinking. These can frequently include:

  • Decreased motor coordination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Emotional instability or even aggression and violence 
  • Impulse control reduction
  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Headache
  • Altered vision, hearing, and general perception
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Blackouts or gaps in memory
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth if pregnant

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Long-term effects are often the result of long-term alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Some of the most common long-term effects include:

  • Brain damage, including the reduced frontal lobe mass, and the dangerous condition “wet brain”
  • Liver damage and semi-permanent reduction in liver function
  • Weight gain or weight loss due to semi-permanent changes in appetite
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome can result if pregnant
  • Sleep disruption and insomnia
  • Reduction in libido, sexual dysfunction in men, infertility in women
  • Hyperglycemia and other pancreatic or blood-sugar disorders

Alcohol and Risk of Disease

If alcohol abuse is continued for long periods, it can result in alcohol-related disease. Some of the most prevalent diseases that result from alcohol use can include:

  • Liver diseases such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver, and even liver cancer
  • Inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis
  • Stomach ulcers or hemorrhoids
  • Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease or heart failure and stroke

Detoxing from Alcohol

Detoxing from alcohol can be challenging for most people, and the physical effects of withdrawal are often enough for most people to seek help from a professional detox facility. The symptoms that are frequently encountered during alcohol detox include:

  • High levels of anxiety or even panic
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Emotional instability
  • Seizure
  • Hallucination
  • Delirium tremens is a risk for heavy drinkers or those detoxing from long-term alcohol abuse.

How to Safely Detox 

If you feel like you or someone close to you may have a problem with the physical effects of binge drinking, or the effects of long-term alcohol abuse, it may be time to speak to a local professional about treatment. Contact Agape today to speak to an addiction professional confidentially about your needs and begin creating a treatment plan tailored to your needs so you can start down the road to recovery.

Have any questions?

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