Physical Effects of Alcoholism: Risks & Dangers of Excessive Drinking

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

man suffering physically due to alcoholism

Alcohol is by far the most popular drug in the US. In 2015 alone, more than 86% of adults in the country admitted to having drunk at some point in their life. Not only is the frequent drinking of Americans setting the country’s budget back by hundreds of billions of dollars each year in misuse costs, but the dangerous physical effects of alcohol on the body make the substance the third biggest preventable cause of death.

Some 90,000 people lose their life to alcohol-related deaths every year, with impaired driving and long-term physical effects of alcohol being the main causes. One of the first steps in reducing and eradicating the tragic figures is by educating yourself on the risks and dangers of alcohol abuse.

How Alcohol Affects Your Body

Alcohol, despite its positive portrayal in the media and popular culture, is extremely harmful to our bodies if consumed in excess. Alcoholism effects on the body can even be lethal in the long run. Physical effects of ethanol, the psychoactive substance in alcohol directly correlate to the amount present in the bloodstream and the frequency of use. In other words, your system will react to the substance depending on how many drinks you had an how often you drink.

For example, those who consume a lower amount of alcohol may experience some of the short-term effects of alcohol on the body, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Troubles with coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Memory loss
  • Shallow breathing

You may have heard of BAC, the metric which stands for blood alcohol content and indicates the percentage of ethanol present in one’s bloodstream. Most commonly mentioned in the context of DUI (Driving under the influence), BAC provides a solid estimate of how much to drink someone has had and what physical side effects he or she can expect. Typically, BAC levels and the accompanying physical symptoms are:

BAC percentage:What effects does alcohol have on the body:
0.07-0.09%At this point, the person is chatty, with pleasurable, euphoric feelings. Minor impairments such as slight disorientation, slurred speech, as well as hearing and reaction time impediment may occur at this point. The person could be under the impression of being perfectly capable and in control of their body, which could prompt him or her to sit behind the wheel.
0.125%Now, the person may experience increased impairments in vision, hearing, orientation, judgment, decision-making, and coordination. However, at this level of BAC, the person may still feel euphoric and energetic.
0.13-0.15%At this stage, the person is more likely to feel anxious or on edge, rather than pleasant. His or her body’s motor and sensory abilities have diminished even further, leading to poor balance, double vision, and a significant lack of reasonable judgment.
0.25%Black-out and unconsciousness are typical alcohol side effects on body occurring at this BAC level. With 0.25 percent of alcohol flowing through their bloodstream, the person will be at risk of choking on his or her vomit and getting gravely injured.
0.3%At 0.3% BAC, a person will most likely fall unconscious and will lose all motor ability. The dangers of alcohol poisoning, coma, and death accompany this BAC level.

Alcohol Poisoning and Overdose

Even though studies have shown drinking in moderation can be beneficial, many cross this mild threshold and overdose on alcohol. It’s all fun and games until someone has had one too many and is now at a while overdose risk.

The line between responsible drinking and drinking which can cause serious health complications varies for each and depends on one’s drinking experience, genetics, age, gender, and whether the person is drinking on an empty stomach or not. It’s important to remember that crossing this line even once can cause irreversible damage to one’s body, resulting in physical effects which range from slurred speech and poor motor abilities to coma and death by alcohol poisoning.

man's hand near the glaa with whiskey and a bottle

Continued Spike in BAC and Alcohol Poisoning

Particularly vulnerable are the teenagers and underage drinkers, who often engage in binge drinking or consume alcohol in large quantities at once. A 2015 study revealed 18% of high school students who have admitted to drinking are binge-drinkers, and this dangerous pattern of excessive drinking often takes its toll on the student’s health and academic performance.

Binge drinking often leaves an individual’s body with more difficulties in processing and breaking down of the ethanol in the system and continuing to drink while in this state will lead to a rapid increase in BAC levels, which further exacerbates the effects of alcohol on a body.

What are the effects of alcohol on the body? So, the person may at first feel euphoric and a pleasant state, but as their BAC goes up, so does the risk of decreased coordination, clouded judgment, and poor decision-making. Often, risky sexual behavior and dangerous activities accompany these impairments. And as BAC continues to rise, one might blackout or suffer from amnesia.

In the worst cases, drinking when the impairment is obvious leads to alcohol poisoning, which can sometimes result in fatal consequences. Does alcohol kill brain cells? This state happens when the effects of alcohol on the brain completely overwhelm those areas which are in charge of maintaining vital life functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature regulation. When these fade, one’s whole system is in danger. Physical effects of alcohol poisoning include:

  • A drunken stupor and inability to come back to consciousness
  • Faded heart rate
  • Low responsiveness
  • Difficulties with breathing
  • Cold and pale skin
  • Throwing up

Physical Alcohol Dependence

As with other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, excessive drinking can over time lead to physical dependence wherein a person is susceptible to alcohol withdrawal symptoms once they stop drinking. These symptoms are typically polar to the physical effects of alcohol on your body and include:

  • Profuse sweating and intense shaking
  • Seizures
  • Dry Drunk Syndrome (DDS)
  • Hallucinations and confusion

Does alcohol raise blood pressure?
In most cases, excessive drinking also elevates blood pressure and causes an irregular heart rate. In addition to these physical effects of alcoholism, alcohol-dependent persons also develop tolerance to the substance, meaning they have to drink more to achieve the same effects. Their brain adapts to the frequent consumption and changes its inner functioning. By quitting drinking, an alcoholic will throw his or her brain out of balance, and withdrawal symptoms will follow.

Physical side effects of alcoholism often include a plethora of social, economic, and personal issues. Getting rid of this dangerous addiction isn’t an easy task, but it pays out in the long run. Otherwise, a person is at increased risk of developing serious health conditions. What effects does alcoholism have on the body? It can cause anything from:

  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Brain damage or stroke
  • To other health complications caused by alcoholism effects

Long-Term Physical Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Abusing alcohol over a long period of time can lead to permanent damage to one’s vital organs and serious diseases and health complications. Some of the most dangerous negative physical effects of alcoholism on the human body include damage to the:

Brain and alcoholism

Drinking can significantly alter the way in which brain works and looks. Common disruptions include behavioral changes, mood swings, and problems with coordination. In severe cases, the Wernicke – Korsakoff syndrome may develop.

Alcohol-induced liver diseases

As you are probably aware, the liver is alcohol’s prime target, and heavy drinking can spark a range of liver conditions, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, fibrosis, and fatty liver.

Pancreas and drinking

Heavy drinking prompts one’s pancreas to secrete toxic compounds into his or her system, which results in a condition called pancreatitis, an intense swelling of organs and vessels in the digestive system.

Risks to Immune System

Excessive drinking leaves your body’s immune system more prone to contraction of infectious diseases. Typically, alcoholics are more likely to catch tuberculosis or pneumonia as opposed to those who are moderate or non-drinkers.

Kidneys and danger of excessive drinking

How does alcohol affect the kidneys? As with other major organs, frequent alcohol use can cause damaging physical effects to kidneys and worsen pre-existing conditions.

Heart and alcohol

As mentioned above, an alcoholic’s heart and cardiovascular system are likely to suffer damage over time, leading to diseases such as Cardiomyopathy, abnormal heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and stroke. Multiple research shows a clear connection between excessive consumption of alcohol and heart disease.

depressed man with bottle and glass silhouette

Can Alcoholism Cause Cancer?

Unfortunately, the list of negative physical effects of alcohol on the brain and body does not end here. Studies repeatedly show how drinking, among other habits such as smoking and poor dieting, leads to an increased risk of cancer.

Frequent daily drinking of over three units, for example, a large glass of wine each day, leads to an increased risk of developing mouth, food pipe, breast, bowel, and upper throat cancers.

Studies have shown there are multiple connections between drinking and cancer outset. In 2009, researchers established roughly 3.5% of cancer deaths in the US were alcohol-related. We can now with certainty say that there is a clear link between drinking and some types of cancer, including:

Head and Neck Cancers

This especially includes cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, food pipe (esophagus), and voice box (larynx). Research suggests heavy drinkers are twice or three times more likely to develop these diseases than those who don’t drink or drink in moderation.

Liver cancer

Moreover, alcohol effects on liver increase the risk of developing, and are the primary cause of liver cancer, along with hepatitis B and C viruses.

Breast Cancer

Numerous studies have shown how women who drink have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, regardless of the amount they consume. On average, women who drink are 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease.

Colorecoctal Cancer

Finally, studies also suggest that alcoholism effects on the body include higher chances of developing cancers of the colon and the rectum. Even though the risk is modestly increased (1.5x), it gives those who drink heavily yet another reason to quit.

Getting Help

Now that we better understand the range of negative physical effects of alcohol on the body, as well as dangers and risks the habit brings along, we can see that the only way to avoid damage from occurring in the first place is to keep our consumption under control.

However, this is oftentimes easier said than done. Physical effects of alcohol abuse on the body can be severe, and the alcohol addiction treatment itself is a comprehensive process which requires effort and persistence. Those who are trying to tackle the issue need to know they’re not alone. There is a plethora of helpful resources and professional facilities at hand which will provide adequate help when times are hard.

Many question spring to mind whilst you’re choosing a suitable treatment center. Outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation? Detox or traditional therapy? Whatever personal circumstances you or your loved one are facing, achieving sustained sobriety is always possible.

Ward off the dangerous physical effects alcohol has on the body by putting a stop to your habit today. The doors of the rehabilitation center for alcoholics is always open for those willing to change their lives for good.



Brian Obinna Obodeze

Brian Obodeze

Content Writer

Brian Obinna Obodeze is a professional health-niche content developer for with six years of experience as a research writer. He is an expert in medical content development, especially in the field of addictions, general health, homeopathic medicine, and pharmaceuticals.

Brian has a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Benin and has worked as a Lab Scientist and as a public healthcare officer. His hobbies include physical fitness, reading, and social entrepreneurship.

Medical review by Dr. Gregory Okhifun

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