Alcohol addiction can cause a variety of serious side effects; some of them are labeled as short-term, while others may last a lifetime, and are considered long-term.
The Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
The short-term effects of alcohol manifest after having a few drinks. However, people who have low tolerance levels—first-time drinkers or those with a specific genetic make-up—can be affected after having only one drink. Some of these effects might seem harmless, but they are actually signaling that alcohol is taking its effects on the body.
The short-term effects of alcohol include:
- Feelings of Relaxation: A feeling of “loosening up” and a sense of euphoria accompany the first few drinks. This is the “high” that people crave for and the reason why many people reach out for a drink when they feel stressed and/or depressed. The symptoms might be increased talkativeness and exaggerated and animated hand gestures while speaking.
- Vomiting, Nausea, and Diarrhea: Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and triggers these symptoms.
- Shallow Breathing: Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It inhibits the functions controlled by this region, like breathing and heart rate.
- Slower Reflexes and Impaired Hearing and Vision: The initial “stimulatory” effect of alcohol soon wears off. Because the CNS controls the senses and motor functions, drinking alcohol slows down the brain. The effects include slower reaction times, slurred speech, dulled hearing, and clouded eyesight. Drinking before driving is so dangerous because alcohol can produce these effects even after one drink.
- Fatigue and Sleepiness: Because alcohol is a depressant, it has a calming effect. After the initial “high” wears off, weariness and drowsiness set in.
- Blackouts and Memory Lapses: These effects are also the result of the lessened activity in the CNS region. Often binge drinkers have no memories of the drinking episode.
- Clouded Thinking and Loss of Inhibitions: The CNS is also involved in our thinking and reasoning processes. By impairing CNS functionality, alcohol inhibits the ability to think straight. Alcohol also makes one less reserved and more prone to engaging in behavior that he or she regrets later. People have been known to get into trouble with the law and engage in risky sexual activities under the influence of alcohol.
- Mood Swings: The feelings of high that come on after the first few drinks soon give way to depression. That’s because alcohol triggers a surge of dopamine and endorphins, the happy chemicals, in the brain. So when the effects of alcohol wear off and the levels of dopamine and endorphins come down, the person starts to feel the blues. Depression in alcoholics can turn severe enough to even trigger suicidal thoughts.
What are the Long-Term (Physical) Effects of Alcohol?
If one continuously consumes alcohol for an extended time (several months or years), The alcoholic may suffer dire long-term effects that may be irreversible.
The following are the long-term effects of alcohol on the body:
- Increased Alcohol Tolerance: The more a person drinks, the more alcohol his or her body needs to produce the earlier degree of “high.” That’s because, as the body becomes used to having large amounts of alcohol, the tolerance to the substance increases. Increased alcohol tolerance can make a person drink too much at one go. This, in turn, increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. Excessive drinking also triggers intense withdrawal symptoms, the most severe of these being Delirium Tremens (DTs). DTs is a medical emergency and can be fatal if the symptoms are not treated promptly.
- Increased Risk of Developing Diabetes: Jack suffers from type II diabetes, and it is likely that his drinking habits had a role to play. Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing diabetes by causing obesity (Alcohol contains loads of calories, especially carbs.), decreasing insulin sensitivity (Insulin regulates blood sugar levels.) and damaging the pancreas, the insulin-secreting organ of the body.
- Liver Damage: Alcohol damages the liver and can cause cirrhosis and even, liver cancer. Alcohol-induced liver disease necessitates 1 in 3 liver transplantations in the U.S. Here’s another piece of compelling statistic: close to 50 percent of all people who die of cirrhosis in the U.S. had abused alcohol.
- Chronic High Blood Pressure: Chronic alcohol users have consistently elevated blood pressure levels. Chronic high blood pressure damages the kidney and increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
- Damage to the Heart: Alcohol damages the heart by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and the levels of certain fats in the blood. Chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of a person developing cardiovascular diseases and suffering a heart attack.
- Increased Risk of Some Forms of Cancer: According to the CDC, alcoholism increases the risk of a person developing cancer of the mouth, throat, breast, liver, and colon.
Some of the most common long-term effects include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart attack or stroke
- Uncontrolled urination
- Uncontrolled defecation
- Breathing difficulties
Furthermore, prolonged excess alcohol consumption also affects brain development; it impedes its standard functions by triggering the deterioration of brain cells, which results in decreased brain mass. Another well-known long-term effect of alcohol is the irreversible damage to one’s liver, also known as cirrhosis. Besides these painful symptoms, heavy drinkers may also face stomach and intestinal ulcers and destroyed organs, as their body tries to digest and filter the harmful substance.
In the worst case scenario, if one does not stop their excess alcohol consumption, their organs might irrevocably fail, causing coma and eventually, death.
What are the Long-Term Psychological Effects of Alcoholism?
Besides having physical ramifications, prolonged alcohol consumption can also cause side effects on a subconscious level.
- Mild to Severe Cognitive Impairment: Long-term alcohol abuse can trigger memory problems and learning difficulties.
- Mental Disorders: Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of a person developing mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
- Wet Brain Syndrome: Wet Brain syndrome is a neural disorder common in alcoholics. It occurs in up to 80 percent of all alcoholics, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and is caused by a deficiency of thiamine or vitamin B1. Alcoholics tend to ignore their diets which can lead to thiamine deficiency. On the other hand, chronic alcohol abuse also impairs the body’s ability to absorb thiamine from the usual food sources. If not treated, Wet Brain syndrome can cause permanent damage to the brain. The damage manifests as severe learning difficulties and memory problems that may even render the person incapable of living independently.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy: Alcohol also damages the liver, the organ responsible for breaking it down and excreting the metabolites from the body. Alcohol-induced liver dysfunction causes a buildup of toxins like ammonia and manganese that then travel to the brain and damage neural cells severely enough to cause cognitive dysfunction. In severe cases, hepatic encephalopathy can cause a person to slip into a coma.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): FAS is a lifelong developmental disorder that occurs in children who had been exposed to alcohol in utero. It manifests as stunted growth, abnormal facial features, and mental, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impairment caused by damage to the CNS. Maternal abuse of alcohol is the ONLY cause of FAS. FAS scars a child in all the currencies of life— in the spheres of academics, vocation, profession, and inter-personal relationships. What makes this fate more terrible is the fact that the child suffers for no fault of its.
- Increased Risk of Getting Addicted to Other Drugs: Alcoholism tweaks the reward circuitry of the brain. An alcoholic is used to having increased levels of dopamine and endorphins in the system; he or she craves the “high.” So the person automatically “takes to” any other drug that provides this “high” and more so, if he or she suffers from mood disorders like depression. The loss of inhibitions and the inability to rationalize also make a person more prone to experiment with illicit drugs than someone who can think straight and would thus think twice before indulging in risky behavior.
Other effects may include:
- Suicidal thoughts/attempts
- Changes in one’s sleep pattern
- Changes in mood and personality
- Psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety
- Shortened attention span
- Problems with coordination
- Violent behavior
- Inability to be coherent
- Low self-esteem
Alcohol Effects: Conclusion
Alcoholism can affect people from all walks of life. Do not be ashamed to ask for help before it is too late. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2015 a National Survey was conducted on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). It showed that “86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.1 percent stated that they drank in the past year; 56.0 percent said that they drank in the past month.”
These staggering numbers further indicate the importance of reaching out for help and entering a detox center to ensure a healthy future.