Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health. There are risks of drinking too much. When it comes to understanding all about what are the harmful effects of alcohol, know this: Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They’re just people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years.
And that’s excessive drinking. How, exactly, is excessive drinking affecting you? Most people who regularly drink more than the recommended amounts don’t see any harmful effects at first.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains.
The problem is, alcohol’s harms usually emerge after a number of years. By that point, serious health problems may have developed. Let’s break it down by body part so you can understand how alcohol affects you and the serious risks of drinking too much. Check out the chart below.
What are the harmful effects of alcohol?
When you drink alcohol, it’s absorbed into your bloodstream and affects literally every part of your body. Here’s how alcohol affects you, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
Liver: The liver’s job is to break down all the harmful substances we take in. That means alcohol. Drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations which can be life-threatening, including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Brain: Alcohol plays havoc with the brain’s communication pathways, affecting the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior. They make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
Over time, drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of your brain. Severe alcoholism can progress to permanent brain damage, causing dementia. And damage to the nervous system can result in numbness and pain in your feet and hands, even involuntary rapid eye movements.
Heart: Another one of the health risks associated to alcohol is damage to the heart, causing problems including:
- Cardiomyopathy – stretching and drooping of heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – irregular heart beat
- High blood pressure
Pancreas: Alcohol puts your entire digestive system into a tailspin. Beyond the liver, alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis, an inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Immune system: Drinking can weaken your immune system, which means you’re more susceptible to disease. Chronic drinkers are more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis, taking a toll on your lungs. Drinking a lot on a single occasion – binge drinking – slows your body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Sexual and reproductive health: For men, erectile dysfunction is a common side effect of excessive drinking. It can affect testicular function and cause infertility. It can also cause women to stop menstruating and become infertile, increase the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth. A range of problems, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), can occur for fetal development, such as learning difficulties and emotional problems.
Bones: Excessive drinking makes it harder for your body to produce new bone. It puts you at increased risk of osteoporosis, where muscles become thin, weak and prone to fractures.
The more you drink, the greater the risks and the worse you’re likely to feel day-to-day. You might be tired or depressed, gain extra weight, sleep poorly and be in worse physical shape than you would be otherwise, whatever your age or sex. You could also have high blood pressure or diabetes.
The risks of drinking too much add up. This should be a wake-up call to change your habits and get back to healthy living.
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