Research indicating that the consumption of alcohol can be healthy may be misleading to the public. Scientists have found that one glass of red wine per day can be beneficial for your health, but most people don’t realize that the standard pour of wine is five ounces. This is well below the halfway mark of a standard wine glass, not what most people would consider a “glass” of wine. Most people simply don’t consume alcohol in small enough quantities to be considered healthy, as the studies suggest.
Drinking a moderate or heavy amount of alcohol has been scientifically shown to have negative effects on your entire body. For those struggling with alcohol addiction, drinking only one serving of alcohol is not an option. In their struggle with alcohol, their tolerance and dependency grow day by day. As a result, they consume increasingly large amounts of alcohol, and every vital organ in their body is affected.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
When a person thinks about alcohol as damaging to their body, the liver always comes to mind. A healthy liver works to aid food digestion, filter toxins, and enable nutrient absorption. Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, can damage the liver. After this damage, the liver works to repair itself, but it isn’t always successful.
When alcohol reaches the liver, it produces an enzyme called acetaldehyde. With moderate to heavy alcohol use, these enzymes build up and scar the liver. The scar tissue can then lead to long-term inflammation, which causes fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure. These results are dangerous, as the liver is a vital organ that one cannot live without.
- Binge Drinking May Quickly Lead to Liver Damage
- Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease
- Exploring Alcohol’s Effects on Liver Function
- Alcohol Misuse and Alcoholic Liver Disease
- Three Hidden Signs You May Have Liver Damage
- Cirrhosis of the Liver Symptoms and Treatments
- Protecting Against Liver Disease
Liver Pains After Drinking
One of the most common questions from heavy drinkers is, “Do I have liver damage?” This question is asked when someone who has been binge drinking (drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time) starts getting pains in the right side of their abdomen. The good news is that liver pains are not a sign of serious liver damage. In fact, many doctors argue that there should not be liver pain even during the later stages of cirrhosis and liver damage.
If you are feeling pains in your side after drinking, it is more likely to be inflammation of the nerves and tissue around organs such as the gallbladder, kidneys, or pancreas. So no, “liver pains” are not a sign of liver damage, but they certainly are a sign that alcohol is doing damage in that area and likely doing damage to the liver as well.
How Alcohol Affects the Heart
Heart disease caused by alcohol abuse is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. The long-term use of alcohol thins the heart muscle, making the overall structure of the heart weak. The result can be a heart attack, heart disease, or blood flow disruption to other organs. Symptoms don’t always appear, but when they do, they may come in the form of fatigue, shortness of breath, or swelling of the legs.
Alcohol eats away at muscles, and your heart is your most important muscle. While cardiomyopathy is the most severe long-term concern among alcoholics and heavy drinkers, palpitations, heart murmurs, and irregular heartbeats are short-term concerns.
Interestingly enough, heavy drinkers are more likely to believe they have heart issues because of the effects of panic attacks related to alcohol abuse. Panic attacks can cause a racing heart and even sharp pains near the heart, which could make you believe the problem is with the heart. However, panic attacks have more to do with the endocrine system, hormones, and the chemical balance of the body. This should not discount the actual risk that alcohol poses to the heart, though.
- Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy
- Alcohol and Your Heart
- But I Heard Drinking Was Good for My Health
- The Hidden Truth About Alcohol
- Drinking and Your Heart
How Alcohol Affects the Kidneys
Kidneys work as a natural filtration system for the body, removing toxins from the blood. These organs also work to keep the right amount of water in the body. Alcohol consumption affects the overall function of the kidneys. As the body dehydrates from alcohol use, normal cell functions around the body are limited. Binge drinking has been known to cause kidney failure, which requires short- or long-term dialysis.
- Alcohol Facts
- Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
How Alcohol Affects the Pancreas
When people think about alcohol damage to the body, the pancreas is often overlooked. Acute and chronic pancreatitis can be caused by alcohol consumption. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but they speculate that general cell damage heavily affects the pancreas, leading to pancreatitis flare-ups. When the condition is long-term, the pancreas will eventually fail, which can require a permanent treatment plan. The damage is irreversible and can lead to diabetes or cancer.
Chronic pancreatitis is often tied directly to heavy alcohol use, and it’s a more common diagnosis when someone complains of pains in their side after drinking. Damage to the pancreas is linked to both diabetes and weight loss from alcohol, as it causes malabsorption of food (your body can’t break down and absorb nutrients) and impaired insulin production.
- Alcohol-Related Pancreatitis
- Pancreatitis, Diabetes, and Alcohol Intake: The Interrelationship and Effects on the Human Body
- Withdrawal May Trigger Alcoholic Pancreatitis
How Alcohol Affects the Thyroid
The thyroid works to release hormones that affect every system in the body, including metabolism. Heavy alcohol use will lead to the impairment of hormones released from the organ, disrupting hormone levels throughout the body.
In a study in rats that had their ovaries removed, it was found that estrogen was prevalent in those animals that were given alcohol. This test proved clinically that estrogenic compounds are present in alcohol from the alcohol manufacturing process. This means that alcohol contributes to a rise in estrogen in both males and females, which can cause mood and behavior changes and lead to other health issues.
In addition to adding estrogen to your body, alcohol activates aromatase in the body’s fat cells. This enzyme converts the male hormone testosterone into estrogen. Increased estrogen in the body will affect everything from mood and behavior to how your body’s internal systems are regulated.
Alcohol withdrawal can cause severe symptoms of thyroid distress. The sudden cessation of alcohol consumption will lead to irregularities in T4 hormone levels, which directly affect metabolism. Those who have been diagnosed with other thyroid disorders are at a higher risk for developing further thyroid issues.
- The Impact of Alcohol Use on Thyroid Function
- Alcohol and Your Thyroid
- Thyroid Nodules
- Association Between Lifestyle and Thyroid Dysfunction
- What Happens to Your Thyroid After Drinking Alcohol?
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Short-term effects of alcohol on the brain are obvious when a person is intoxicated, including impaired reflexes, poor judgment, and memory impairment. Long-term effects are more severe and can last a lifetime. Three neurotransmitters in the brain are changed when alcohol is consumed:
Dopamine: The brain’s reward system releases dopamine to help you feel pleasure. This substance is produced during alcohol consumption, which can contribute to addiction.
GABA: This neurotransmitter reduces excitability. Over the long term, alcohol’s effects on GABA can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and night terrors.
Endorphins: The brain’s “feel good” substances work to create a feeling of euphoria. Over the long term, high levels of endorphin release can cause depression, lowered testosterone, and loss of fertility.
- Alcohol’s Effect on Your Brain
- How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
How Alcohol Affects the Stomach
There are many effects on the entire digestive system from heavy alcohol use, and the stomach is no exception. Immediate effects on the stomach after consuming alcohol can include acid reflux and heartburn. Long-term alcohol use can lead to stomach inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome. Studies have also shown an increase in the risk of stomach cancer in heavy drinkers.
How Alcohol Affects the Intestines
Heavy consumption of alcohol damages the normal function of the intestinal tract. Prostaglandins are formed in a healthy intestine, which will help suppress inflammation throughout the digestive tract. Long-term alcohol use causes the suppression of prostaglandins, which causes chronic inflammation. This inflammation then damages the lining of the intestinal walls. This process will lead to toxins leaking into the body as well as limitations on the ability of the body to absorb nutrients from the small intestine.
Every System in the Body Is Affected
There isn’t a system present in the human body that is not affected by heavy alcohol consumption. People often falsely believe that the only organ affected by drinking is the liver, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cancer of the digestive tract, birth defects, sexual dysfunction, thinning bones, malnutrition, changes in overall coordination, and complications from diabetes are all associated with alcohol damage.
Thankfully, when you stop drinking alcohol, while not all of the damage is reversible, some of it is. Immediate effects of ending alcohol consumption include saving money, losing weight, and sleeping better. Long-term effects of stopping alcohol are more promising. Those who stop drinking dramatically diminish the chance they will have heart disease. More good news for those who stop drinking is a healthy liver: The organ has rejuvenating cells that can repair past damage.