Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Body

Alcohol (ethanol) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that affects every organ in the body. When a person drinks alcohol, it’s absorbed into their bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine and then circulated throughout the system. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause cancer of the liver, mouth, tongue, throat, esophagus and stomach.

Organs that may be damaged by long-term alcohol abuse include:

  • brain
  • liver
  • heart
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • stomach

The effects of alcohol on each person’s body will vary based on their age, gender, amount of alcohol consumed, use of medications and overall physical health. Too much alcohol can severely impact anyone’s body.


Alcohol interferes with parts of the brain involved with communication, and over time it can change the structure and function of the brain. Even on a single occasion, alcohol abuse can lead to serious, sometimes irreversible damage to the limbic system, cerebellum and cerebral cortex.

Alcohol may contribute to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and antisocial personality disorder. The coexistence of a mental and alcohol use disorder is referred to as a co-occurring disorder.


Heavy drinking is hard on the liver and may cause potentially life-threatening liver problems. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver enzymes and turned into a digestible product. Yet the liver is only able to metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, which leaves the excess alcohol to circulate through the body. Too much alcohol can cause liver inflammations, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis.


Whether over a long period of time, or in a single occasion, heavy drinking contributes to many heart problems. The heart is responsible for receiving blood from the liver and pumping it throughout the body. When the liver sends alcohol-contaminated blood to the heart, it can cause a number of different long-term and short-term health effects.

Long-term, heavy drinking is a leading cause of heart disease. Alcohol also contributes to cardiomyopathy (which is the stretching of the heart muscle), arrhythmias, stroke and high blood pressure. Moderate alcohol consumption is said to have heart health benefits, but those benefits may be outweighed by the risks.


The pancreas is responsible for helping the body digest food by producing two necessary hormones that increase and decrease the level of sugar in the blood. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce a chemical that is harmful to the body.

Long-term alcohol abuse may cause the blood vessels that surround the pancreas to swell up, leading to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the pancreas. The symptoms of pancreatitis aren’t always noticeable, so many people don’t receive treatment for it.


The kidneys are responsible for filtering harmful substances out of the blood. Heavy drinking is a known cause of high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney disease. If a person develops liver disease as a result of drinking alcohol, it causes the kidneys to be overworked.

Long-term alcohol abuse can worsen kidney disease. Typically, moderate drinking has no serious impact on the kidneys, but the safest way to avoid damaging them is by abstaining from alcohol.


Even in moderation, alcohol disrupts the digestive system. Alcohol causes the stomach to produce more acid than normal, which can lead to acid reflux and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). Other digestive problems caused by alcohol include nausea, vomiting, internal bleeding, ulcers and diarrhea. Long-term alcohol abuse may lead to stomach cancer.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is defined as the persistent misuse of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is considered an alcohol use disorder (AUD). An alcohol use disorder occurs when a person’s drinking causes them any harm or distress, or legal, financial or social problems. AUD is defined as mild, moderate or severe based on the number of symptoms experienced.

In order to better understand alcohol abuse, it may help to know what’s considered moderate drinking. Moderate drinking is defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as having up to two standard drinks per day for men and up to one standard drink per day for women. A standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure ethanol.

Standard drinks are better known as:

  • Regular Beer—12 fluid ounces (five percent alcohol)
  • Craft Beer —eight to nine fluid ounces (seven percent alcohol)
  • Malt Liquor—eight to nine fluid ounces (seven percent alcohol)
  • Table Wine—five fluid ounces (12 percent alcohol)
  • Fortified Wine—two to three fluid ounces (17 percent alcohol)
  • 80-Proof Hard Liquor—1.5 fluid ounces (40 percent alcohol)

Note: Depending on the type of hard liquor or mixed drink recipe, one mixed drink may include three or more standard drinks. Hard liquor includes rum, vodka, whiskey, gin and other spirits.

There are several forms of alcohol abuse and each is characterized by drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol abuse increases the risk of alcoholism and other health problems. Heavy drinking and binge drinking are both forms of alcohol abuse.


Binge drinking is considered five or more standard drinks for men and four or more standard drinks for women in a matter of about two hours. Binge drinking is any type of alcohol consumption that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to a level of 0.08 or higher, and it is a leading cause of alcohol poisoning in the United States.

Heavy drinking for men is 15 drinks or more in a week and for women it’s eight drinks or more in a week. Heavy drinking is also defined as binge drinking on five or more days in a month, and it can cause problems with the heart, brain, liver and other organs.

Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse

Most people don’t realize that their drinking has become a problem until they’ve developed some form of alcohol use disorder. Knowing the signs of an alcohol use disorder may help an individual get the treatment they need and avoid the long-term effects of alcohol abuse.

A person has an AUD if they experience two or more of the following symptoms:

  • drinking more or for a longer period than intended
  • wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to but couldn’t
  • spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • feeling a strong need or urge to drink
  • finding that alcohol often interferes with family life, job or school
  • continuing drinking even though it is causing trouble with family or friends
  • giving up or cutting back on activities to drink alcohol
  • getting into dangerous situations while intoxicated or afterwards
  • continuing drinking even though it is causing depression or anxiety or adding to another health problem
  • having to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects (tolerance)
  • having withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is wearing off

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include trouble sleeping, shakiness, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea and sweating. In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, people may experience fever, seizures, delirium tremens and hallucinations. Loss of control over alcohol consumption, withdrawal, cravings and alcohol tolerance are all indicators of alcoholism (alcohol dependence).

Alcohol Abuse In The United States

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the United States and it takes the lives of more than any other drug. There are an estimated 18 million adult Americans who suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Abusing alcohol increases the risk of injury, car accidents, suicide, assault, homicide, and other alcohol-related crimes. Alcohol contributes to as many as 88,000 deaths every year in the United States.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

A medically-assisted detoxification is the safest way to treat alcohol withdrawal and avoid any complications that come with it. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal if left untreated. A medically-assisted alcohol detox provides a person with all the necessary tools to rid their body of harmful chemicals and overcome the physical addiction to alcohol.

After a successful detoxification, an individual is ready to recover from the mental, behavioral, emotional and spiritual damage of alcohol abuse. Alcohol affects each person differently, and no two cases of an alcohol use disorder are exactly the same.

An individualized treatment plan at Vertava Health treats alcohol abuse as it applies to each patient. Alcohol use disorder is a progressive illness, which means that if left untreated, it has a high potential of worsening.

Contact Vertava Health to find the alcohol addiction treatment program that’s right for you.