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10 Ways Alcohol Abuse Impacts Your Health

A head-to-toe review of the health consequences of frequent alcohol consumption.

How alcohol abuse can affect your bodyToo much alcohol, or frequent alcohol consumption, can cause many unpleasant side effects. In addition to common short-term side effects like headaches, dehydration, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, excessive or prolonged alcohol use is linked to many serious, long-term health issues. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that daily alcohol consumption be limited to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Our Internal Medicine physicians share ten ways alcohol can impact your health.


1. Alcohol interferes with your brain function

Alcohol abuse can affect the way your brain functions, such as altering your mood and behavior, and making it difficult to make decisions and think clearly.

2. Alcohol damages your heart 

Whether you abuse alcohol over an extended period of time or drink too much during a single occasion, excessive alcohol use can affect your heart rhythm. Overtime it can weaken your heart and lead to long-term problems including:

  • An irregular heart beat
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • High blood pressure

3. Alcohol increases your risk of developing certain types of cancers

Chronic alcohol consumption has been linked to certain cancers including throat and mouth, liver and colorectal cancers, as well as breast cancer in women.

4. Alcohol makes you more prone to illness

Drinking frequently weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off infections. For instance, heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of developing illness like pneumonia.

5. Alcohol is hard on your liver

Excessive amounts of alcohol consumption can prevent your liver from functioning normally, impairing its ability to remove waste and other harmful substances from your body. This can lead to a variety of potentially serious and, in some cases, life-threatening problems including:

  • Alcoholic hepatitis or liver inflammation
  • Cirrhosis
  • Fatty liver disease

6. Alcohol can cause stomach upset and digestive issues

Frequent alcohol consumption stimulates stomach acid production which can irritate the lining of your stomach. Chronic alcohol consumption often leads to worsening stomach irritation and can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms including gas and bloating, painful ulcers or frequent diarrhea.

7. Alcohol can lead to reproductive issues

Over time, alcohol consumption can negatively impact your reproductive organs. Women who drink regularly are more likely to experience hormonal imbalance and develop fertility issues, while men who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction.

8. Alcohol can cause malnutrition

Over-consumption of alcohol disrupts your normal digestive process, making it difficult for your body to metabolize and absorb many vitamins and minerals. This can increase your risk of developing vitamin deficiencies such as anemia, which can cause you to feel overly tired and impact the way your body functions.

#9. Alcohol impacts your bones and muscles

Excessive alcohol consumption slows your body’s blood flow. Over time, reduced blood flow can lower your calcium level, increasing your risk of developing osteoporosis, muscle weakness and cramping. Tingling in your hand and feet can also be a sign of alcohol-induced damage to your central nervous system.

10. Alcohol can cause diabetic complications

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause damage to your pancreas, which is responsible for making insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down food and regulates the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. Continued or excessive alcohol use can slows this process, allowing harmful chemicals to stay in your pancreas, causing inflammation.

These are just a few of the many harmful effects frequent or heavy alcohol consumption can have on your body and overall health. If you are experiencing any of these alcohol-related symptoms, or would like help reducing your alcohol intake, talk with your primary care provider. 

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Topics and Subtopics: Addiction, General Health & Diet & Nutrition

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Family Medicine Internal Medicine
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