Alcohol Effects on the Body and on the Brain
Effects of Alcohol on the Body. Alcohol has a biphasic effect on the body, meaning that its effects change over time. Initially, alcohol typically produces feelings of relaxation and cheerfulness.
Increased consumption, however, can lead to dehydration, coordination problems, blurred vision, and a great number of health, medical, and social issues and other drinking problems caused by alcoholism.
As articulated above, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to drunkenness. One of the short term effects of intoxication is the lowering of an individual’s inhibitions.
As a consequence, when people are intoxicated they frequently do things they normally would not do while sober, often ignoring legal, ethical, social, and moral or religious norms.
While blurred vision, slurred speech, dehydration, and coordination can be labeled as “alcohol short term effects,” other health problems such as alcohol related heart disease, liver disease, and cancer, on the other hand, can be labeled as long term effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Alcohol Short Term Effects in the First Stage of Alcoholism
In the first stage of alcoholism, drinking is no longer social but becomes a means of psychological escape from stress, inhibitions, anxiety, and problems.
That is, early in the disease the individual with the drinking problem starts to depend on the “mood altering” aspects of alcohol. Another aspect of the first stage of alcoholism is that a gradual increase in tolerance develops, meaning that increasing amounts of alcohol are needed in order to feel a “high” or a “buzz.”
The following symbolizes some of the physical effects of alcohol addiction, psychological effects of alcohol, and some of the short term effects of alcohol in the first stage of alcoholism:
- The use of alcohol as a way to forget problems or to “mellow out”
- A conscious effort to seek out more drinking opportunities
- Boasting and a “big shot” complex
- Drinking is not social but a psychological escape from stress and problems
- Lack of recognition by the person that he or she is in the early stages of a progressive illness
- Increasing tolerance
- Gross Drinking Behavior – more frequent drinking of greater amounts
- An ability to drink great amounts of alcohol without any apparent impairment
Alcohol Short Term Effects in the Second Stage of Alcoholism
In the second stage of alcoholism, the need to drink becomes more intense for the problem drinker. In this stage, the individual typically starts to drink earlier in the day.
As tolerance increases, moreover, the person drinks because of his or her dependence on alcohol, rather than because of psychological stress or tension relief.
Also during this stage, the “loss of control” does not yet manifest itself on a regular basis; it is, nevertheless, gradually noticed by others such as work associates, friends, relatives, and family members.
The following list describes some of the drinking problems, classic alcoholic behaviors, and effects of alcohol in the second stage of alcoholism:
- Drinking because of dependence rather than for stress relief
- Blaming problems on others and on things external to themselves
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Increasing tolerance
- Increasing physical problems
- Chronic hangovers
- Sneaking extra drinks before social events
- Sporadic loss of control
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking
- More frequent blackouts
Health Effects of Alcohol in the Third Stage of Alcoholism
In the third stage of alcoholism, the loss of control becomes more obvious, meaning that the problem drinker is unable to drink according to his or her intentions. For instance, once the individual has had the first drink, he or she can no longer control what will happen, even though the intention might have been to have only one or two drinks.
During this stage of the disease, the person typically starts to experience serious work-related, financial, relationship, and perhaps legal problems.
Additionally, the person with the drinking problem starts to avoid family and friends and experiences a loss of interest in activities that used to be fun or important.
“Eye-openers” are also typical during this stage. Eye-openers are drinks that are taken whenever the person awakens to help quiet the feelings of remorse the drinker suffers after a period of time without a drink, to calm the nerves, or lessen a hangover.
The following characterizes some of the classic alcoholic behaviors, effects of alcohol, and drinking problems in the third stage of alcoholism:
- Half-hearted attempts at seeking medical help
- Loss of willpower
- Neglect of necessities such as food
- The development of an alibi system – an elaborate system of excuses for their drinking
- Serious financial, relationship, and work-related problems
- Avoidance of family and friends
- A decrease in alcohol tolerance
- Loss of control has become a pattern
- Changes in friendships, such as associating only with friends who drink
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be important
- An increase in failed promises and resolutions to one’s self and to others
- Frequent violent or destructive behavior
- Increasing tremors
- Aggressive and grandiose behavior
- A decrease in alcohol tolerance
- The start of physical deterioration
- Unreasonable resentments
- Problems with the law (such as DUIs)
Effects of Drinking Alcohol During the Fourth Stage of Alcoholism
The fourth and final stage of alcoholism is distinguished by a chronic loss of control. In the earlier stages of the disease, the problem drinker may have been able to maintain a job.
Now, however, drinking starts earlier in the day and usually continues all day long. Without a doubt, few, if any, full-time jobs can be sustained once a person reaches this state of difficulty.
In the earlier stages of the disease, moreover, the alcoholic had a choice whether he or she would take the first drink. After taking the first drink, the alcoholic typically lost all control and would then continue drinking.
In the last stage of alcoholism, conversely, alcoholics no longer have a choice: they must drink in order to function.
The following list represents some of the drinking problems, effects of alcohol, and classic alcoholic behaviors in the fourth stage of alcoholism:
- Persistent remorse
- Moral deterioration
- Devaluation of personal relationships
- The realization of being out of control
- Benders, or lengthy intoxications
- The possibility of alcoholic psychosis
- Impaired thinking
- Loss of tolerance for alcohol
- “The shakes”
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Nameless fears and anxieties such as feelings of impending doom or destruction
- Continual loss of control
- The collapse of the alibi system
- The “DTs”
- Unreasonable resentments and hostility toward others
- An obsession with drinking
- Indefinable fears
- Vague spiritual desires
Social Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholism not only effects the person with the drinking problem, but it also affects those who are closest to the alcoholic, that is, his family, friends, relatives, work associates, and perhaps his neighbors.
The following list is a representation of the “social effects” of alcohol addiction:
- Broken, dysfunctional homes
- Traffic fatalities or injuries on the highways
- Birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome
- Wife battering
- Destroyed relationships
- Work-related injuries and accidents
- Child abuse
- Destroyed lives
- Codependent behavior in others
Medical Effects of Drinking Alcohol
Alcoholism causes a number of medical conditions, diseases, and health problems that are seen as both short term effects of alcohol dependency and long term effects of alcohol addiction.
We will focus first on the different types of cancer caused by alcoholism and then on the non-cancerous illness and ailments that are the results of this disease.
Alcohol Health Effects: Cancer
Chronic, excessive drinking results in a number of alcohol health effects that are exhibited by long-term problem drinkers. Perhaps the worst of these alcohol health effects is cancer.
Indeed, there are a number of different types of cancer that can be considered as alcohol long term effects. The following is a list of different types of cancer that are caused directly or indirectly by alcoholism:
Alcohol Health Effects: Non-Cancerous Medical Conditions
Unfortunately, the different types of cancer are not the only negative alcohol effects on the body. Indeed, excessive drinking not only manifests itself as various physical effects of alcohol abuse, but also as psychological effects of alcohol addiction. Not only this but hazardous, long term alcoholism also manifests as negative effects of alcohol on the brain.
The following alcohol consumption effects represents some of the various non-cancerous medical conditions, drinking problems, and health issues that are caused directly or indirectly by alcoholism:
- Harm to the fetus while the mother is pregnant
- Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle), heart failure, heart disease, and strokes
- Sever thiamine deficiency
- Problems with the immune system
- Impaired learning ability
- Wernicke’s disease (a memory disorder)
- Vitamin A deficiency (which can cause night blindness)
- Memory loss
- Kidney failure
- Vitamin D deficiency (which can result in bone fractures)
- Organ and system malfunction
- Inflammation of the digestive system
- Ulcers from the perforation of the stomach and the intestines
- Vitamin deficiencies (such as folate, selenium, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamin B6)
- Mental confusion
- Kidney and urinary tract infections
- Death (from alcohol poisoning, excessive intoxication, and organ malfunction)
- Loss of intellectual abilities
- Korsakoff’s syndrome (a memory disorder)
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the alcoholic stops drinking
- Destruction of brain cells
- Alcohol poisoning
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
- Sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction and impotence in men
- Numbness of the feet and hands
- Nervous system damage
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Brain damage
A review of the above mentioned negative effects of alcohol on the body can certainly be perceived as some of the more damaging effects of alcohol abuse.
As such, one would think that these negative alcohol health effects would cause more people to evaluate their drinking behavior and try to reduce their drinking problems.
As the many research and medical statistics demonstrate, however, this is simply not the case regarding the millions of people in the U.S. who experience drinking problems because they continue to drink in an irresponsible and abusive manner.
Fetal Alcohol Effects
One of the truly unfortunate, widely publicized long term effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse, and effects of alcohol on the body and on the brain are various fetal alcohol effects that can result when a woman drinks alcohol while she is pregnant.
The general category for these medical conditions is known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). And the most researched and best known type of FASD is fetal alcohol syndrome.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is typified by a pattern of minor facial irregularities, prenatal and postnatal growth retardation, and structural or functional central nervous system abnormalities.
Even though there is no known cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, however, children who are diagnosed early have improved life prospects.
To be more specific, children who are diagnosed early in life can be placed in the appropriate special educational classes and given access to different social service agencies that can benefit them as well as their family.
Moreover, an early diagnosis of FAS often helps teachers and families better understand why the child might behave or function differently than other children who are the same age but without fetal alcohol syndrome.
Perhaps the most regrettable aspect of fetal alcohol effects such as fetal alcohol syndrome is that this disease is 100% avoidable and preventable.
More to the point, if all pregnant women were to refrain from drinking alcohol while they were pregnant, there would be no instances of fetal alcohol effects such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
Effects of Drinking Alcohol: Conclusion
What Are the Long Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism? At the one extreme, alcohol is enjoyable and elicits feelings of cheerfulness and relaxation. At the other extreme, however, the alcohol effects on the body not only lead to serious health problems and mental health issues, but can also result in alcohol poisoning, coma, and death.
The effects of drinking alcohol in the form of alcoholism are wide-spread as well as extremely damaging.
Stated differently, chronic alcoholism is truly a destructive, devastating, and debilitating disease that negatively affects the alcoholic; the alcoholic’s social network, namely his family members, other relatives, work associates, neighbors, and friends; and the ill-fated “strangers” who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the alcoholic causes a traffic fatality or accident because the alcoholic was driving “under the influence” of alcohol.
What adds to the problem, moreover, is that abusive drinking leads not only to various short term effects of alcohol addiction but also to long term effects of alcohol dependency. And the combination of these two aspects of excessive drinking can be seen as the negative health effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
This, however, is not the full extent of the alcohol effects on the body, the social effects of alcohol abuse, or the psychological effects of alcoholism.
Indeed, the effects of alcohol on the body and the effects of alcohol on the brain manifest themselves in an incredible number of diseases, drinking problems, and medical conditions that are suffered by the alcoholic.
In fact, it is almost overwhelming when first looking at the number, variety, and the seriousness of the damaging effects of alcohol related illnesses and ailments that are caused by abusive and hazardous drinking.
After the alcohol consumption effects are examined more closely, however, the alcohol health effects, the destructive drinking problems, and the medical consequences of alcoholism become less awe-inspiring and more logical.
With the accessible and available knowledge of alcohol’s short term effects as well as alcohol’s long term effects, wouldn’t it make sense that far fewer people would engage in hazardous and irresponsible drinking and therefore avoid becoming problem drinkers?
The alcoholism and alcohol abuse statistics in the United States and in other industrialized countries, however, strongly suggest otherwise.
One of the truly regrettable and negative alcohol long term effects has to do with various “fetal alcohol effects” such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
Although there is currently no cure for this disease, the utilization of different social services, early detection, and special education classes can help a child with fetal alcohol syndrome live as problem free as possible.
It must be stressed, however, that just because there is not a cure for this disease at this time does not mean that it cannot be prevented.
Indeed, pregnant women who abstain from drinking while they are pregnant totally eliminate the chance that their child will be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Frequently, the short term effects of alcohol are less severe and less dangerous than the long term effects of alcohol. A few important exceptions include alcohol-related traffic fatalities and alcohol poisoning by individuals who are not dependent on alcohol.
In sum, chronic drinking problems manifest themselves not only as dangerous alcohol effects on the body and damaging effects on the brain, but they also manifest themselves as hazardous and unhealthy elements that not only negatively affect the alcoholic but also his or her family and extended social network.
More explicitly, over time, alcoholism progressively breaks down the proper functioning of the body’s main organs and systems.
In addition, the problem drinker cannot replenish the vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients his or her body requires because of poor eating habits and, perhaps more significantly, because the body’s malfunctioning organs and systems prevent the proper absorption, digestion, utilization, and metabolism of the nutrients necessary for growth, repair, and general maintenance.
Thus, over time, the alcoholic, because of the alcohol effects on the body and on the brain, gradually kills himself or herself by his or her alcoholic behavior.