Alcohol is a popular beverage across the world. There are many kinds of alcoholic drinks, from beer to whiskey. Each is made from different raw materials, and different drinks have varying alcohol content.
Drinking infrequently does not cause problems. Your body is capable of removing small amounts of alcohol on its own. Problems begin when you drink too much, as alcohol effects can destroy many parts of the body.
How much alcohol is too much?
To more easily understand harmful levels of drinking, let’s look at the standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC guidelines, one standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to:
- 12 ounces of beer (at 5% alcohol)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (at 7% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (at 12% alcohol)
- 5 ounces (or one shot) of 80 proof (40% alcohol) distilled liquor (such as rum, gin, whiskey, or vodka)
To define what moderate drinking is, let’s now look at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It states that drinking in moderation means limiting alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women. If you drink less than that, your health will be in a much better condition.
But if you drink more than what’s set in these guidelines, it’s considered heavy drinking. This can cause health problems if done often.
How can alcohol affect my health?
Excess amounts of alcohol in the body affects many different organs and can cause a range of diseases. Here are some of alcohol’s effects on the body:
- Damage to liver cells (cirrhosis)
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Liver cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- High blood pressure
Aside from these, alcohol exerts a lot of influence on your brain. It can affect your judgment and decision making ability, leading to incidents like:
- Car accidents
- Criminal activity
More than these, alcohol can produce addiction. In medical circles, this is known as alcohol use disorder. Based on the statistics, nearly 20 million Americans suffer from this condition. Alcohol is legal, so it’s easy for adults to obtain it and get addicted.
In the next section, we’ll look at how excessive amounts of alcohol in the body can affect different organs.
Alcohol effects mainly target your liver. It is the organ responsible for detoxifying your blood through filtering out harmful substances, including alcohol. But the liver can only handle a limited amount of alcohol at a time.
As a rule of thumb, the liver can process one standard drink per hour. If you drink more than that, unprocessed alcohol will accumulate in your blood. Also, the excess alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver.
Over time, excessive drinking can damage the cells of the liver. This results in scarring (cirrhosis), inflammation (hepatitis), and mutations leading to liver cancer.
The progression of alcohol-related liver disease often starts with fatty liver, followed by alcoholic hepatitis, and finally cirrhosis. Heavy drinkers, though, may develop cirrhosis without going through hepatitis.
Additionally, if you drink alcohol and certain medications together, your risk of liver damage goes up. Tell your doctor first before deciding to drink alcohol while on medication. Most drugs have adverse reactions with alcohol, and severe liver damage may be the result.
The kidneys also function as a filter for toxic substances such as alcohol. If you drink moderately, your kidneys will remain fine. But excess alcohol can damage your kidneys.
Binge drinking, or taking more than five drinks at a time, can lead to acute kidney failure. Though this condition is acute — meaning it will go away after a while — there may still be irreversible damage to your kidneys.
Alcohol has diuretic effects. In other words, it can make you pee a lot, leading to dehydration if you don’t drink water often. When you are dehydrated, your kidneys have a much harder time maintaining the fluid balance in your body. Also, a few studies suggest that alcohol may have a role in the development of kidney stones.
Alcohol has many detrimental effects on the brain. Alcoholic drinks are depressants, which means they slow down brain activity. As a result, your cognitive functions would not be as sharp as they were when you’re sober.
When you drink a lot, alcohol impairs sound judgment and decision making. You would be more likely to participate in risky behaviors, like drunk driving or engaging in unsafe sex.
Alcohol also affects your vision and balance, preventing you from walking properly. Consequently, you can’t walk straight and you can’t see the things around you well enough. Then, you would become more prone to accidents like hitting your head or falling.
Another alcohol effect on the brain is lowering your inhibitions. That’s what many people want when drinking — they get a kick out of the boost in their confidence levels. With that, you can become more talkative and sociable but at the same time less careful. Reduced inhibitions also means you take more risks — even unnecessary risks that can endanger your health and safety.
Excessive drinking has both short-term and long-term effects on your heart. In the short run, your heartbeat can temporarily go faster and your blood pressure may shoot up. When you drink heavily for a long time, the excess alcohol can seriously weaken your heart muscles and lead to cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat.
High blood pressure in the long term is equally dangerous. It can cause the walls of your arteries to thicken and harden, which eventually can result in either a stroke or a heart attack.
The bottom line
Alcohol can do a lot of damage to different parts of your body. For that reason, drinking moderately should be a rule of thumb. If possible, reduce the frequency of your drinking. If you can live without alcohol for a while, limit it as much as you can.