The effects of alcohol range from a pleasant feeling to a complete loss of control. Over time, or in large amounts, alcohol use can be fatal. While drinking may initially seem like a harmless pastime, it can have many serious effects.
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Medical studies suggest that some kinds of alcohol, used in moderation, can actually have good effects on health. However, people who drink large quantities at once or drink heavily over a long time are putting their health at risk.
Many of alcohol's troubling effects are not visible or directly evident but have serious implications for your health. Here are some of the most common physical effects of alcohol:
- Alcohol depresses the involuntary reflex system in our bodies, including breathing and the gag reflex that prevents choking. A very high dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions. Because blood alcohol levels of an intoxicated person can continue to rise even when they have passed out or fallen asleep, never let someone "sleep it off" unmonitored.
- Alcohol is a stomach irritant. This is why people who have consumed large amounts of alcohol often throw up. Vomiting can be dangerous for a drunk person in deep sleep or for someone who has passed out, because they could choke on their vomit. Alcohol can also irritate stomach ulcers and may slow healing.
- Alcohol damages the liver. The liver is responsible for processing and breaking down alcohol. The liver also helps eliminate other toxins and is part of many vital processes in the body. Heavy use of alcohol can lead to a condition called cirrhosis, in which the liver tissue becomes scarred and no longer works properly. Cirrhosis can be fatal.
- Large amounts of alcohol can cause irreversible brain damage and loss of cognitive functions. This can happen over time, or after just one serious "binge."
- Alcohol is physically addicting and can cause withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include shaking or tremors, sleep problems and nausea. Severely dependant individuals may also experience hallucinations and seizures.
Psychological and Social Effects
- Alcohol decreases the drinker's inhibitions. Drinking can lead to inappropriate social behavior which the drinker may regret.
- Alcohol decreases the drinker's ability to make good judgments. He or she may have unsafe sex, risking HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancy. He or she may spend too much money, agree to unsafe activities, or drive while drunk.
- Alcohol can lead to violence. For example, a person who would never get into a physical fight when sober may do so after drinking. Some cases of domestic abuse are related to alcohol.
- Alcohol abuse can create or exacerbate social and family problems.
- Alcohol abuse can cause a person's work performance to decrease, leading to problems on the job or even getting fired.
Effects of Alcohol in Pregnancy
Babies born to women who drank during pregnancy are at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, a combination of problems including unusual facial features, behavior problems, and learning disabilities. Doctors aren't sure if there is a "safe" level of drinking during pregnancy, so for now the recommendation is not to drink at all if you're pregnant.Here are some effects of alcohol on a developing baby.
- Alcohol interferes with the development of an unborn baby's brain. Babies with fetal alcohol syndrome may have fewer brain cells than normal, and their brains may be small.
- Alcohol can slow the fetus's growth, so that the baby is born abnormally small.
- Alcohol can cause distinctive facial deformities. The baby may have extra skin folds at the corners of his or her eyes. Eye openings may be small. The bridge of the nose may be set too low, and the face itself may seem small. The upper lip may be unusually thin, and the groove that normally goes from the nose to the middle of the upper lip may be faint or absent.