Change Your Life Today.

Pathways Recovery logo - horizontal

Side Effects of Alcoholism

alcohol side effects

7 Side Effects of Alcoholism You Should Know About

Drinking is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. Think about it.

We‘ll even use the Fourth of July as an example, or any party for that matter. What’s the most common drink you see in the hands of those around you? Probably a beer, right?

For some people, it doesn’t end there. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a real problem here in America. It’s one of the most common substance use disorders in the United States.

Millions of people have been affected by this condition in one form or another. AUD affects not only the person battling it but also those around them.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), around 18 million adult Americans have AUD. ”This means that their drinking causes distress and harm. Alcoholism can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms,” the NLM explains.

Symptoms of AUD include:

  • Strong urges to drink
  • Inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Anxiety and irritability when not drinking

One of the first steps in addressing AUD is coming to terms with the fact that you could be battling it. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I wanted to stop drinking but couldn’t?
  • Have I ended up drinking longer than I wanted to?
  • Do I constantly experience alcohol cravings?
  • Have I given up on activities I once enjoyed because of alcohol?
  • Have I found myself in dangerous situations because of alcohol?
  • Do I continue to drink despite the mental health problems it could be causing?
  • Do I spend a lot of time recovering from drinking alcohol?
  • Has alcohol affected my professional life?
  • Has alcohol affected my personal life?
  • Do I need to drink more and more to feel the effects of alcohol?
  • Do I experience withdrawal symptoms when I’m not drinking?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, AUD is a real possibility. However, you should know that recovery is possible, and you deserve to live a life free from the grip of alcohol.

There are plenty of reasons to get sober. AUD can negatively affect your life, in more ways than one. Let’s take a look at seven possible side effects of AUD.

Liver Diseases

When you drink too much, your liver feels the effects as much as any organ in your body.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM), “The liver’s job is to break down alcohol. If you drink more than it can process, it can become badly damaged. Fatty liver can happen in anyone who drinks a lot. Alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis are linked to the long-term alcohol abuse seen in those with alcoholism.”

While some people with AUD never experience the liver issues mentioned above, it’s a possibility for anyone. Essentially, you’re rolling the dice.

There are three common types of liver disease caused by drinking, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Sometimes, a fatty liver doesn’t cause any symptoms. When it does become symptomatic, it can cause pain or discomfort on the right side of the stomach, tiredness, weakness, and weight loss.

Alcoholic hepatitis has been known to cause pain near the liver (right side of the body), weakness, fever, nausea and vomiting, yellow skin or eyes, and appetite loss.

The most advanced disease, known as alcoholic cirrhosis, can cause resistance of blood flow to the liver, liver cancer, kidney failure, poor nutrition, build-up of fluid in the stomach, confusion, and enlarged spleen.

Heart Problems

Just like it can damage the liver, AUD can damage your heart.

A report from JHM explains, “Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Excessive drinking can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle.”

Another report, courtesy of the American Heart Association, says, “Compared to people in the general population without a drinking problem, the samples from hospital patients – those with the heaviest drinking habits – had 10.3% more evidence of potential heart injury, 46.7% higher blood markers showing possible stretching of the heart wall, and 69.2% higher markers for inflammation.”

Certain brands of alcohol also contain a large number of calories. Over time that can contribute to obesity, which can also harm your heart.

Weakened Immune System

Those who drink too much are three to seven times more vulnerable to serious conditions like pneumonia and respiratory tract infections.

The Australian-based Alcohol and Drug Foundation explains, “Excessive alcohol consumption has a negative impact on both aspects of the immune system. The body repairs injury and fights infection through a process of inflammation, which is its first response. The inflammation response signals to the immune system that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Excessive alcohol can interrupt this inflammation signal and the body may not react to the injury or disease, resulting in increased harm and lowered immunity. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to an increased rate and severity of both bacterial and viral infection as the immune system is less able to respond.”

While debates continue on how moderate drinking affects the immune system, one thing is certain: drinking too much can harm it.

Increased Risk of Cancer

Evidence points toward alcohol increasing the risk of certain cancers.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks – particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time – the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Even those who have no more than one drink per day and people who binge drink (those who consume four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol-related.”

Cancers that can be affected by alcohol include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx cancers

Higher Risk of Alcohol Poisoning

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “An alcohol overdose occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions — such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control — begin to shut down.”

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Low body temperature
  • Unconsciousness (passing out)
  • Confusion

If someone is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.

Alcohol poisoning can also lead to permanent brain damage and can be fatal, the NIH says. Those with alcohol poisoning may also be prone to choking on their own vomit, which also can be fatal.

Anyone can drink alcohol to the point of alcohol poisoning. Much of it comes down to drinking too much too quickly. This includes binge drinking, which is drinking to the point of a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. For men, this typically occurs after consuming five drinks in a two-hour span, and for women, it’s four drinks in a two-hour span.

Consuming opioids, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications with alcohol can make alcohol poisoning that much more dangerous.

Mental Health Disorders

There are varying theories as to why substance use disorders, such as AUD, and mental health disorders coexist. These are known as co-occurring disorders.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 9.2 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder.

Mental health disorders that may coexist with AUD include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

According to the NIH, “Substance use and substance use disorders can contribute to the development of other mental disorders. Substance use may trigger changes in brain structure and function that make a person more likely to develop a mental disorder.”

However, the opposite can also occur. Mental health disorders can contribute to AUD. In order to cope with a mental health disorder, some people may turn to alcohol to numb feelings of stress, anger, depression, or anxiety.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal occurs when someone who drinks heavily or has AUD suddenly stops drinking. Typically, alcohol withdrawal begins within eight hours of the last drink, according to the NLM. Symptoms usually peak after a few days, but they can last for weeks.

Symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia (sleeplessness)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Seizures

In some cases, these symptoms can be severe. If you or someone you know has AUD, professional treatment is typically recommended.

alcoholism side effects

Take the First Step Toward Recovery Today

If you think you’re battling AUD, you’re not alone. This common disorder has been conquered by so many, proving that recovery is possible.

“In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

Your situation is unique, which is why you deserve treatment tailored to your needs. By seeking professional treatment, you can get the help you deserve.

“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Barbara De Angelis

We’re all still growing as human beings. We stumble, we fall, and we get back up. It’s always helpful when there’s someone there to help us to our feet and walk with us until we’re ready to move on, on our own.

“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” – Bob Riley

Remember, there’s more to life than alcohol. Take the first step on your road to recovery today.

“When you meet obstacles with gratitude, your perception starts to shift, resistance loses its power, and grace finds a home within you.” – Oprah Winfrey

Treatment to Guide You on Your Path to a Better Life

Is alcohol causing problems in your personal or professional life? Do you want to stop drinking but can’t? Is alcohol causing you health problems or health scares? If so, alcohol rehab can help you take your life back.

Battling alcohol use disorder or alcohol misuse can be difficult. You shouldn’t have to overcome those obstacles alone. In fact, professional treatment can help you remain safe during the alcoholism detox process and can give you the tools you’ll need to live a life in recovery.

Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help takes courage and strength.

Pathways Recovery, near Sacramento, California, provides three levels of addiction treatment solutions for those battling an addiction to alcohol, including a detox center, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment. To learn more, call (916) 735-8377.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when you drink alcohol every day?

Drinking every day can be dangerous if you drink too much. By ignoring moderate drinking recommendations, you could be putting yourself at a higher risk of developing AUD, certain cancers, liver diseases, immune system problems, and more. You may also begin to have problems with your personal life, including relationships with family and friends. Drinking every day can also negatively affect your professional work life.

What are the effects of alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), can affect you in various ways. From various health problems to issues with your daily responsibilities and relationships, drinking too much can cause its fair share of issues. If you’re having strong cravings for alcohol, or if you want to quit drinking but are unable to, you might be battling AUD.

What are the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol?

Drinking too much can produce numerous symptoms, including AUD, alcohol poisoning (a medical emergency), liver problems, heart problems, and more. In fact, drinking too much can affect nearly every aspect of your life.

What is withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs when someone who drinks heavily or has AUD suddenly stops drinking.

Symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia (sleeplessness)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Seizures