Alcohol - Effects on the Body
last updated 17th February 2006

The brain
Steady drinking over many years leads to permanent changes in the brain. One of the permanent effects of alcohol on the brain is to reduce the amount of brain tissue and to increase the size of the ventricles instead. Another way in which alcoholic drinks affect the brain is through depriving it of food substances such as vitamins. This is because heavy drinkers often neglect their diet, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Thiamine, one of the 'B' vitamins is most commonly missing from the diet and can lead to serious mental disturbance.

The Heart
The heart can be affected by the vitamin deficiencies caused by a neglected diet. The pumping action of the heart is weakened. Heart failure can result from this.

The Liver
Some of the most serious effects on the body of drinking alcoholic drinks are caused by damage done to the liver by alcohol. If alcohol is frequently in the blood in large amounts, it causes the liver cells to die and prevents the liver from working efficiently. This disease is called Cirrhosis. In the case of a generally healthy person, if alcohol is taken infrequently or only in moderate amounts, any damaged liver tissue has time to repair itself.

Two-thirds of the cases of Cirrhosis of the liver diagnosed in the UK are caused by alcohol.

The Stomach
Just one occasion when you drink heavily can irritate the stomach and cause sickness and pain. The steady drinking of alcohol can lead to the regular occurrence of these symptoms.

The Skin
Alcohol causes small blood vessels in the skin to widen, allowing more blood to flow close to the skin's surface. This produces a flushed skin colour and a feeling of warmth.

The Reproductive Organs
Your sex life can be harmed by drinking alcoholic drinks. Alcohol depresses nerve impulses. In men, it can depress those which cause erections. In women, heavy drinking during pregnancy can harm the foetus. The baby, when it is born, may be very small and could have reduced intelligence and facial deformities. This condition is called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and babies born to mothers with an alcohol problem are at a high risk of suffering from this.

Alcohol contains sugar and other carbohydrates and so is a good from of energy. Heavy drinking can cause a serious weight problem due to alcohol's high carbohydrate content.

The Harmful Effects of Alcohol

Brain and Central Nervous System
Impaired behaviour, judgement, memory, concentration and co-ordination

Drinker experiences mild euphoria and loss of inhibition as alcohol impairs regions of the brain controlling behaviour and emotion. Alcohol impairs judgement, memory, concentration and co-ordination; as well as inducing extreme mood swings and emotional outbursts

Brain Damage and Effect

Alcohol acts as a sedative on the Central Nervous System, depressing the nerve cells in the brain, dulling, altering and damaging their ability to respond. Large doses cause sleep, anesthesia, respiratory failure, coma and death.

Brain Disorders and Addiction
Long term drinking may result in permanent brain damage, serious mental disorders and addiction to alcohol.

Other effects on the central nervous system
Impaired visual ability
Altered sense of time and space
Impaired fine motor skills
Loss of pain perception
Unclear hearing
Slows reactions
Dulled smell and taste
Impaired sexual performance

Distorted vision and ability to adjust to lights. Pinpoint pupils and red eyes

Diminishes ability to distinguish between sounds and perceive their direction

Slurred speech. Dulls taste and smell, reducing desire to eat

Irritation and damage of lining of oesophagus, induces severe vomiting, haemorrhaging, pain and difficulty swallowing. Cancer.

Weakens the heart muscle and ability to pump (Cardiomyopathy). Heart enlargement, abnormal heart signs and irregular heart beat. Increases blood pressure, risk of heart attack and strokes. Inhibits production of white and red blood cells.

High amounts of alcohol may cause breathing to stop, then death. Lowered resistance to infection.

Muscles become weaker and atrophy, pain, spasms and tenderness

Chromic heavy drinking may cause alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation and destruction of the liver cells) and then cirrhoses (irreversible lesions, scarring and destruction of liver cells). Impairs the liver's ability to remove yellow pigment and skin appears yellow(Jaundice). Liver damage causes fluid to build in extremities (Edema). Decreases production of blood-clotting factors; may cause uncontrolled bleeing. Liver accumulates fat which can cause liver failure, coma and death.

Irritation of stomach lining, peptic ulcers, inflammation, bleeding lesions and cancer.

Significant risk of pancreatis, a chromic inflammation of the pancreas.

Irritation of the lining of the intestinal tract and colon. Chronic drinking may result in inflammation , ulcers and cancer of the intestines and colon. Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, sweating and loss of appetite are common. Alcohol impairs small intestine's ability to process nutrients and vitamins.

Alcohol interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium resulting in bones being weak, soft, brittle and thinner (Osteoporosis)

Reproductive System

Males and Females
Sexual functioning can be impaired and deteriorate, resulting in impotence and infertility, sometimes irreversible. Females also have high risk of developing breast cancer.

Pregnancy and Unborn Babies
Drinking during pregnancy significantly increases the chance of delivering a baby with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, small head, possible brain damage, abnormal facial features, poor muscle tone, speech and sleep disorders and retarded growth and development.

Facts About Alcohol

Alcohol is a Drug...

Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down thinking and actions. It acts on the brain and affects all parts of the body. An average-size person's liver can break down about one drink per hour; the rest of the alcohol circulates throughout the body, affecting behavior, judgment, perception, and motor skills - such as driving and operating machinery.
Alcohol Affects Each Individual Differently...

Smaller-size people, women, younger or older people, and those who are ill will feel stronger effects from the same amount of alcohol than larger people, middle-aged adults, or people who are in good physical health. People with a history of alcoholism in their family may also be affected differently than people who have no history of alcoholism in their family.
Alcohol Abuse is a Health Risk...

Abuse of alcohol can cause damage to many of the body's organs. Researchers report damage to brain tissue, heart muscle, and reproductive organs in both males and females. Alcohol may cause the drinker's blood pressure to rise, putting him or her at risk for heart attack and stroke. Stomach ulcers, poor nutrition and sexual dysfunction have all been related to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol Affects Driving Skills...

Alcohol is involved in over half of the fatal car crashes in the U.S. Although many states consider a driver legally intoxicated when their Blood Alcohol Content reaches .10%, driving skills are affected at levels as low as .03%. This is especially true of younger drivers, who may be less experienced. Alcohol affects crucial driving skills like quick reflexes and vision.

Alcohol is Harmful to Unborn Babies...

Alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman enters the bloodstream of the fetus she is carrying. Alcohol can affect the fetus in many ways: slowing both physical and mental growth before and after birth; causing severe physical malformations of the face and brain; creating learning disabilities or retardation. The safe choice is not to drink during pregnancy.

Alcohol Reacts with Other Drugs...

Combining alcohol with certain over-the-counter or prescription drugs is dangerous. Drinking while taking medication may cause impairment of coordination, a sharp change in blood pressure, seizures, convulsions, and even death. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how a certain medications reacts with alcohol before combining these two drugs.
Alcohol Abuse May Lead to Alcoholism...

Drinking large enough amounts of alcohol over a period of time can produce alcoholism, a physical dependence on alcohol. People with a history of alcoholism in their family are at much greater risk of developing alcoholism themselves. Alcoholism is a treatable illness; family members and friends may need to obtain help, too.

More Facts
Alcoholism is one of the most serious public health problems in the US today. Among the 18.3 million adult "heavier drinkers," 12.1 million have one or more symptoms of alcoholism, an increase of 8.2 percent since 1980.
One out of three American adults -56 million Americans- says that alcohol abuse has brought trouble to his or her family.
Chronic brain injury caused by alcohol is second only to Alzheimer's disease as known cause of mental deterioration in adults.
About 65 out of every 100 persons in the US will be in an alcohol-related crash at sometime in their life.
Fifty-four percent of jail inmates convicted of violent crimes were drinking before they committed the offense.
Over 80 percent of college presidents identify alcohol abuse as the biggest problem on campus.
If a man and a woman of similar weight drink the same amount of alcohol, 30% more alcohol will enter the woman's bloodstream, because women have less of a certain stomach enzyme that digests alcohol.

One Standard Drink is equal to:
12 oz. beer (5% alcohol)
5 oz. wine (12-17% alcohol) or 3 oz. fortified wine
1.5 oz. hard liquor (80-proof)

Alcohol Chart

Should we also mention the expense here too.

Give up alcohol - save money.......

The other night at the Loft over dinner one guest was talking about the amount of money spent by Australians each week on alcohol. Given that there are 20.5 million people in Australia, how much do you think is spent each week on alcohol? Letís say that half of them drink - thatís 10 million. Letís say they spend $40 each on alcohol each week (a lot? too little?) - that would be AU$400 million.

Well, according to this guest, Australians spend $840 million per week on alcohol. Various anecdotal stories followed this over the dinner table over the next few days (it became a topic of conversation), including one story of two people who drank $3000 of alcohol between them in one week. Apparently a single cocktail drink at a nightclub on a night out in a major Australian city can set you back $15-$20.

I havenít been able to find a solid reference for the $840 million figure, but I did find this interesting discussion paper on the average alcohol consumption per year (, which contains the factoid that 85% of Australian adults drink alcohol (or as they put it - 15% donít). I also found this piece from the Gastroenterological Society of Australia on alcohol consumption (, which states that Australians spend an average of $400 each on alcohol per year (which would be $153 million per week).

Either way, imagine how much money could be saved by giving up drinking alcoholÖ

Signs of Problem Drinking

Most students have used alcohol in one form or another. but many don't realize that young people can have a drinking problem. Ask yourself these 20 questions:

"How can I tell if I'm a problem drinker?"

Do you lose time from classes due to drinking?

Do you drink because you are uncomfortable in social situations?

Do you drink to build up your self confidence?

Is drinking affecting your relationships with friends?

Do you drink alone?

Do you drink to escape from studies or home worries?

Do you feel guilty or depressed after drinking?

Does it bother you if someone says that maybe you drink too much?

Do you have to take a drink when you go out on a date?

Do you get along better with other people when you drink?

Do you get into financial troubles over buying liquor?

Do you feel more important when you drink?

Have you lost friends since you started drinking?

Do you drink more than most of your friends?

Have you started hanging around with a crowd that drinks more than your old friends?

Do you drink until you just couldn't drink anymore?

Have you ever had a complete loss of memory from drinking?

Have you ever been to a hospital or been arrested due to drunken behavior?

Do you turn off to any studies or lectures about drinking?

Do you think you have a problem with alcohol?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, you have some of the symptoms that indicate a problem with alcohol. Remember, there is no intelligent reason to deny that you have a health problem. If you think you do have a problem, the most important thing is to do something about it!