Side Effects Of Alcohol On The Body & Brain

Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

on December 5, 2022

Alcohol comes with a wide variety of short-term and long-term side effects on your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, digestive system, and more.

Alcohol comes with a wide variety of negative side effects, both short-term and long-term. While drinking alcohol on occasion and in moderation likely won’t hurt you, excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking can lead to a number of health conditions.

Heavy drinking can affect your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, digestive system, and more.

Alcohol & The Brain

Alcohol can have both short-term and long-term effects on the brain and central nervous system. If you abuse alcohol over a long period of time, the long-term effects are more likely to occur and can be irreversible.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Some of the short-term effects that heavy drinking has on the brain include:

  • confusion
  • impaired motor coordination
  • impaired decision-making ability
  • difficulty walking
  • blurred vision
  • reduces inhibitions
  • slurred speech
  • shaky hands
  • slowed reaction times
  • impaired memory
  • blackouts

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Some of the long-term effects alcohol and alcohol abuse can have on the brain include:

  • development of mental health problems like depression and anxiety
  • severe memory loss
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: health condition related to severe thiamine deficiency that leads to alcohol-induced brain dysfunction. Symptoms include malnourishment, jerky eye movements, poor balance, and memory problems
  • alcohol use disorder
  • nerve damage

Alcohol & The Heart

While many people are aware of how alcohol affects your brain and liver, they may not think of the heart. Excessive drinking over a long period of time can damage the heart and cardiovascular system which can lead to:

  • cardiomyopathy, or stretching and drooping of the heart muscle
  • arrhythmias/irregular heartbeat
  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • high blood pressure 
  • increased risk of heart disease and diabetes

Alcohol & The Digestive System

Excessive alcohol use can also damage the tissues of the digestive tract which can stop the intestines from digesting food and absorbing nutrients. 

Alcohol abuse can also lead to:

  • gas
  • bloating
  • feeling of fullness in your abdomen
  • diarrhea or painful stools
  • ulcers or hemorrhoids due to dehydration/constipation

Drinking excessively can also put you at risk for certain cancers in your digestive system including in the esophagus, colon, and mouth.

Alcohol & The Liver

The liver is the one organ almost everyone knows alcohol negatively affects, but people may not realize how much. There are three different levels of alcohol-related damage to the liver.

Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease, or steatosis, is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease. It develops when fat builds up in the liver due to large amounts of alcohol. It doesn’t have many symptoms and can be reversed.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is the next level of alcoholic liver disease and results in inflammation, scarring, and more fat buildup. Mild hepatitis can be reversed but severe hepatitis cannot. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, fever, and nausea.


With cirrhosis, lots of scar tissue has built up to the point that the liver may be mostly scar tissue. It can be life-threatening and it’s not reversible. However, further damage can be prevented with sobriety.

Severe liver disease can also bring on liver cancer and hepatic encephalopathy, a nervous system disorder where the liver no longer filters out toxins. It can lead to anxiety, depression, shaking hands, and in some cases, coma.

Alcohol & The Pancreas

Alcohol can also affect the pancreas. It can cause the organ to produce a toxic substance and can eventually lead to pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can result in inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels that may prevent digestion. This can also increase your risk of pancreatic cancer which spreads very quickly.

Alcohol & The Immune System

Regularly drinking a large amount of alcohol can also negatively affect your immune system as well. Alcohol weakens the immune system and makes it easier for you to get illnesses like pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Even drinking a lot on a single occasion can slow your body’s ability to fight off infections up to a day after you drank.

Alcohol Dependence & Addiction

If you abuse alcohol regularly, you increase the risk of your body building up a physical dependence on it. This means your body will eventually find it very difficult to function without alcohol in your system because it grows used to its effects.

If you do try and quit, severe withdrawal symptoms may occur. These symptoms can be so severe that it’s not recommended you quit drinking without a healthcare provider’s help.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings may lead you to start drinking alcohol again. This cycle can easily turn alcohol abuse into an alcohol use disorder.

Some of the main symptoms of dependence and alcohol use disorder include:

  • cravings
  • withdrawal when not drinking
  • feeling like you need to drink more to achieve the same effects (alcohol tolerance)
  • difficulty to stop drinking after one alcoholic drink
  • drinking alcohol despite negative effects (hangover, alcohol poisoning, health issues, relationship issues, etc.)
  • spending a lot of time on activities related to alcohol use

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and looking for treatment, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Ohio Recovery Center is here to help. We offer inpatient services like medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, residential treatment, and aftercare.

For more information, please call our helpline today.


What Is An Alcoholic Nose?

An alcoholic nose, also known as a “whiskey nose,” is a slang term for rhinophyma, a medical condition that causes the nose to appear swollen, red, or bumpy. 

Although alcohol does not cause rhinophyma, the skin condition rosacea can become irritated due to the flushing or reddening of the face when a person drinks excessively.

Learn more about What Is Alcoholic Nose?

How Dangerous Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning can be extremely dangerous for those participating in excessive alcohol consumption, which can be defined as heavy drinking and binge drinking. 

Drinking large quantities of alcohol can lead to an overdose which can result in life-threatening health problems or death.

Learn more about Alcohol Poisoning

How Does Alcohol Affect Sex Drive?

A drink or two may boost your sex drive by making you feel more relaxed and temporarily increasing your testosterone levels. Testosterone is a sex hormone linked to sexual desire. 

However, if you have more than one or two drinks, alcohol can reduce blood flow to your genitals and cause sexual dysfunctions such as:

  • vaginal dryness
  • erectile dysfunction (difficulty getting or keeping an erection)
  • difficulty reaching orgasm
  • delayed ejaculation 

Also, over time, heavy alcohol use can decrease your testosterone levels. This effect may lead to long-lasting sexual problems, including low sex drive.

Learn more about Alcohol & Sex

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) belongs to a class of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FAS occurs in a child when a woman participates in alcohol abuse while pregnant. FAS is a condition which can cause a baby to have a low birth weight, small head, and difficulty learning.

Learn more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

How Does Alcohol Affect The Body?

Alcohol can strain your liver, stomach, blood vessels, and other parts of the body involved with processing alcohol. Heavy alcohol use is also linked to physical health problems such as ulcers, liver disease, and heart disease.

Learn more about The Effects Of Alcohol On The Body

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use and Your Health
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effects on the Body's,clearly%20and%20move%20with%20coordination
  4. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol use disorder

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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