What Are the Long- and Short-Term Effects of Alcoholism?

Medically Reviewed

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how the deadliest drug on the planet is legal. Alcohol, which has been at the center of controversy for nearly a century, is the most dangerous substance, and it is available to the masses. Not only is alcohol available to anyone who can prove they are over a specific age, but it is advertised as a harmless product.

Alcohol, based on the commercials, allows you to shed your fears, feel alive, and pretend you live in a world beyond your perception. That seems to be wrong. The commercials should make us aware of the long-term effects of alcohol, including the possibility of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The effects of alcohol mask what damage people may sustain by continuing to drink past social hour. A 2017 report released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that an estimated 14.4 million Americans over age 12 had alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, a mere 1.1 million of those with an AUD over age 12 received help in the past year.

Despite your beliefs, and if you consider yourself only a social drinker, there are short- and long-term effects associated with drinking. You may experience permanent physical and psychological consequences as a result of overdrinking.

An estimated 88,000 people die each year of alcohol-related causes, and it is reported that alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) also highlights that alcohol use causes at least 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Although someone does not abuse alcohol frequently, harm can still occur in the short-term. The liver can metabolize only one standard drink of alcohol an hour, but this will depend on several factors, such as weight, age, liver function, and gender. Consuming more than a single beverage per hour will lead to intoxication and raise your blood alcohol content (BAC) with each drink.

Alcohol’s effects are going to range from mild to severe. You can experience symptoms such as flushed skin, passing out, or vomiting. Other short-term effects you can expect from alcohol consumption include:

  • An inability to concentrate
  • Lowered inhibitions, which leads to poor judgment (e.g., unprotected sex or driving a motor vehicle)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of critical judgment
  • Dulled vision
  • Mood swings
  • A spike in blood pressure
  • Passing out
  • Reduced body temperature
  • Vomiting

Even someone who is not defined as having alcohol use disorder is prone to alcohol’s deadly effects. There are many stories of children and adults alike who have succumbed to alcohol poisoning when they don’t drink regularly. A young teen by the name of Julia Gonzales was found dead in a park in 2008. Her blood-alcohol content showed the equivalent of 16 drinks consumed in an hour. As mentioned earlier, our bodies can only handle one drink per hour.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

As someone falls deeper into alcohol addiction, they will start to seriously harm their body. Heavy drinking can contribute to cardiovascular disease, liver damage, and multiple types of cancer. Unfortunately, the risks are not always enough to get someone to stop drinking. Addiction is a severe disease that requires treatment.

Other long-term effects can include:

  • Memory loss, which may not be reversible
  • Diminished gray matter in the brain
  • Diminished white matter in the brain
  • Inability to learn
  • Loss of attention span
  • Alcohol hepatitis
  • Steatosis (increased buildup of fat in the liver)
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • High blood pressure
  • Throat, larynx, mouth, liver, breast, or esophageal cancer
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeat

Long-term effects of alcoholism can be permanent. If you have been struggling with controlling your alcohol use, you should reach out to professionals for help immediately.

Alcohol Poisoning

Drunk man laying face down in a couch

Binge drinking, as was the case with Julia Gonzalez, can be a deadly practice that can cause physical harm.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) discussed that binge drinking is a pattern that leads to a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dl or above.

For men, that is around five drinks in a few hours, and for women, it is four.

Someone who drinks too much is at risk of alcohol poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Cyanosis, blue-tinted skin
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Low body temperature
  • Seizures

If you feel that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, you must call 911 immediately. Those precious seconds can be the difference between life or death. Not reaching out for proper care can cause someone to have permanent damage or death.

Physical Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Chronic alcoholism is attributed to many severe health problems. Some of the areas you must check more frequently by a doctor if you consume copious amounts of alcohol include:

  • Liver
  • Digestive system
  • Pancreas
  • Central nervous system (CNS)
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Reproductive health
  • Bones

Don’t let the legal status of alcohol trick you into believing it a safe substance. Alcohol consumption can be deadly, even in small doses. You must speak with an addiction specialist today if you are concerned about your drinking.

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