Alcohol is enjoyed by millions of people in Britain [i] – however, when drinking alcohol, it’s important to drink in moderation.
Like any substance, alcohol can be misused. Excessive alcohol consumption can have negative effects on all areas of your life – whether it be your finances, relationships, or of course, your mental health and physical health.
On this page, we are going to be focusing on how alcohol affects your physical health – more specifically, your organs. Read on to learn more about the effects of alcohol and excessive alcohol consumption.
We’ll also go into detail about an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcohol abuse – and how to find the right rehab treatment for alcohol addiction.
Negative Effects of Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can affect your life in many ways – in both the short term and the long term. For example, binge drinking can put you at risk of alcohol poisoning (having an alcohol overdose).
One of the main short-term effects of alcohol is the feeling of being drunk. Some people will drink alcohol just to feel drunk, and drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This is often referred to as alcohol abuse or binge drinking.
The effects of being drunk can include:
- Slurred speech
- Passing out
- Poor vision
- Lowered inhibitions
Alcohol affects your central nervous system, changing the short-term function of your CNS (central nervous system). This is often referred to as alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when your blood alcohol levels are extremely high – and this can affect certain areas of your brain.
It affects the areas in your brain that control life-supporting functions – for example, your heart rate, breathing, and temperature.
Alcohol poisoning should be considered a medical emergency, and if you think you may have alcohol poisoning or you’re with somebody that is displaying signs of alcohol poisoning, speak to a medical professional.
Some signs of alcohol poisoning to look out for include vomiting, confusion, pale skin, cold and clammy skin, and slowed-down breathing. The more serious signs include loss of consciousness and seizures – although vomiting when unconscious can be fatal.
You may also be at risk of dehydration, leaving you with a ‘hangover’ which can include nausea and headaches.
Some people experience blackouts when they drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short space of time. This can include memory lapses – where you can’t remember events that occurred while intoxicated.
Those who are dependent on alcohol may have a higher tolerance to alcohol – so can often drink more alcohol without noticeable short-term effects. However, it’s important to consider the long-term effects of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction.
Drinking alcohol excessively can have many negative long-term effects on your health. Short-term effects aside, alcohol abuse can do some serious long-term damage to your physical health.
Alcohol can damage your organs – your brain, central nervous system, liver, heart and pancreas can all be affected by alcohol.
Heavy drinking can increase your blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, putting you at a higher risk of heart attacks or strokes. Liver disease is also common amongst those with AUD.
Alcohol misuse can also weaken your immune system. A weakened immune system can make you more vulnerable to infections. Your bones may also weaken, meaning that you’ll be more likely to fracture or break your bones. [ii]
Alcohol and Cancer
Nobody wants to think about cancer – but unfortunately, if you drink heavily, you may be at a higher risk of developing it. Alcohol can cause several types of cancer, as found in the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens. [iii]
Evidence suggests that the more alcohol a person drinks over time, the higher the chance of developing alcohol-related cancer. Even if you only drink once or twice a week (but drink an excessive amount of alcohol during this time) could be at risk of developing cancer.
Alcohol can increase the chances of developing head and neck cancer. This can include larynx, pharynx, and oral cavity cancers.
Another type of cancer you may be at risk of developing if you drink alcohol heavily is breast cancer – with an increased risk being found in women that have a high alcohol intake.
Alcohol can also increase the risk of oesophagal cancer (oesophagal squamous cell carcinoma), liver cancer and colorectal cancers. [iv]
The Organs That Alcohol Affect
Chronic alcohol consumption can have many negative effects on your body- affecting important organs such as your heart, brain, liver and pancreas. Read on to learn more – and to find out which organ alcohol can impact the most.
Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts over long periods of time can raise your blood pressure and your weight. This can increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke or developing type 2 diabetes.
There are clear links between drinking too much and having high blood pressure. Hypertension/ high blood pressure strains your heart muscles, which can lead to CVD – cardiovascular disease. This ultimately increases the chances of you having a stroke or heart attack. [v]
Drinking can also cause your heart muscles to stretch to droop. This is known as cardiomyopathy. Another heart-related condition to look out for is arrhythmia – and irregular heartbeat.
The British Heart Foundation recommends that those who consume more than the recommended guidelines should cut down their alcohol consumption or stop drinking completely. If you’re looking to stop drinking and you think you may be addicted, we can help to find the right addiction treatment centre for you.
Alcohol can also affect the brain – particularly the communication pathways – both in the short term and the long term. It affects how the brain looks and works, and can make it difficult for the areas in your brain that control memory, speech, balance and judgement to function properly.
This can increase the risk of injuries. Longer-term alcohol use can affect the neurons – for example, they can reduce in size. [vi]
Alcohol use can impact your mood and behaviour, making it difficult to think clearly or even move with coordination. Alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of developing alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD).
This can be caused by binge drinking or drinking too much alcohol over the span of several years. ARBD can vary in severity, and generally affects those aged between 40 and 50. [vii]
Heavy drinking can affect your liver, leading to a variety of liver issues and inflammation. For example, drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver (steatosis), fibrosis, and of course, cirrhosis of the liver.
Roughly one in five heavy drinkers have developed cirrhosis – scarring of the liver. This is because alcohol changes the chemicals that remove and break down scar tissue – meaning that scar tissue can build up in the liver.
Scar tissue builds up in the replacement of normal healthy cells, meaning that over time, the liver won’t work efficiently and may fail.
Liver failure can be dangerous, and can even result in death. In some cases, cirrhosis of the liver may not show symptoms. This can mean that you won’t notice the symptoms until it’s too late.
Alcohol-related liver disease can be tough to spot. However, some common symptoms you may notice include:
- Muscle cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen stomach
- Generally feeling unwell
- Vomiting blood [viii]
The pancreas is another bodily organ that can be affected by alcohol. It is a 6-10-inch long organ that’s located behind your stomach, on your upper left side. It helps your body break down food and control your blood sugar, and many more.
Alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances. This, over time, can lead to pancreatitis – which is essentially the inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. This can be very dangerous, and cause digestive issues.
What Organ Does Alcohol Affect The Most?
The organs affected by alcohol can vary from case to case, often depending on a variety of factors such as alcohol use history and even genetics.
There is no clear answer as to what organ alcohol affects the most – however, it can be argued that the brain gets most affected by alcohol.
This is because alcohol affects your brain in both the short term and the long term – your brain is affected by alcohol whenever you drink, whether it be the GABA effects or alcohol-related brain damage, or longer-term effects such as memory issues or cognitive impairment.
Likewise, alcohol can shrink your brain – which impacts your ability to learn, think, and remember things.
Alcohol can also make it difficult for your brain to maintain a steady body temperature and can make it difficult to control your movements over time.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
You may have heard the term ‘alcoholic’ – however, in 2022, medical professionals steer clear of the term as it is considered harmful, and can stigmatise those with addiction problems.
Instead, doctors and medical specialists use the term ‘alcohol use disorder’, often shortened to AUD.
AUD describes several conditions – alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction – with alcohol addiction and dependence being the more severe with long-lasting health problems. AUD can vary in severity but is typically categorised and diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe.
Alcohol use disorder essentially includes the lack of control over alcohol, or the urge to drink alcohol despite the negative effects.
It can affect all areas of your life – your finances, relationships, work-life, your mental health, and as previously mentioned, your physical health.
People with alcohol addiction may feel unable to control how often they drink, how much they drink, or when they begin drinking or stop drinking.
It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that affects millions of people. Over 14 million adults and 414,000 young people had a form of AUD back in 2019. [ix]
Alcohol addiction isn’t the only form of AUD – alcohol use disorder also includes alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is characterised by excessive drinking (drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time).
Alcohol abuse can affect your health in both the short term and the long term and can be dangerous – if you abuse alcohol, you are at a higher risk of having an alcohol overdose/ alcohol poisoning.
This is why, in the UK, we have drinking limit recommendations. The NHS recommends that you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, over the span of three or more days. 14 units are roughly the same as six pints of 4% beer or cider, or six medium glasses of wine.
Sticking to these guidelines can lower the risk of developing alcohol-related health problems such as the issues we’ve highlighted earlier on this page.
That being said, no level of drinking is considered safe – but try to remain mindful when drinking alcohol, and drink in moderation. [x]
Treatment For Alcohol Addiction
If you think you may be addicted to alcohol, know that there is help out there for you, and you don’t have to go about it alone. At Help4Addiction, we are in contact with rehab facilities located all over England and Wales.
We will take the time to listen to your story, your preferences, your circumstances and your requirements to find the right treatment plan for you, at the right rehabilitation facility.
After all, one size does not fit all when it comes to recovery, and what works for you may not work for somebody else.
Outpatient rehab involves travelling to a facility to receive treatment – whereas inpatient rehab involves temporarily living in a facility and receiving treatment at the same place.
Quasi-residential rehab is essentially a combination of the two – you’ll live in a treatment facility, but attend some of your treatment sessions at another facility. Read on to learn more about the rehab process – detoxification, addiction therapy, and secondary treatment.
The treatment process for alcohol addiction can vary from clinic to clinic. However, alcohol rehab pretty much always begins with a detox – this is to free your body of the substance and break the physical addiction.
During the detox period, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, you may benefit from a medical detox/ medically assisted detox, where you are given detox medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms.
Once you have successfully detoxed from alcohol, you may wish to move on to the second stage of addiction treatment.
Therapy isn’t just for those that have existing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
Therapy is for everybody who wishes to improve their mental state – and can be extremely beneficial when treating addiction.
The different types of therapy you may see in rehab include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and of course, counselling.
Rehab therapy aims at not only building your strength and confidence but giving you a deeper understanding of your addiction – for example, your triggers or root causes of your addiction.
Your treatment doesn’t have to end once you have left rehab. The transition from rehab to your everyday life can feel scary and overwhelming – but with the right support, you can avoid relapsing.
Secondary treatment aims at preventing relapse, by supporting you and streamlining the transition from rehab to recovery.
Some forms of aftercare include group therapy, counselling, further therapy, and of course, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you want to learn more about rehab or find the right rehab for you to combat your addiction, contact us today.
At Help4Addiction, we don’t just help with alcohol addiction – also work with drug addiction treatment centres around the country. You’re not alone – call us today to get the ball rolling and take the first step towards recovery.