What alcohol does to your brain and body

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man with blurred vision drunk at bar
Alcohol addiction
The Hader Clinic
The Hader Clinic
November 12, 2020
minute read

Intoxication is just the beginning when it comes to the effects of alcohol on your brain and body

Having the occasional standard alcoholic beverage is not the end of the world for most people. However, sustained and heavy drinking can have serious negative consequences for your brain and body.

In this article, we're going to look at what alcohol does to your brain and body. We'll examine the immediate effects — like intoxication — but also look at the long term effects like dependency, inflammatory diseases, and sexual dysfunction.

At the Hader Clinic, we offer a safe space to detox, with clinical treatment programs, and extended outpatient care. Read on to find out more about how our team can help you with alcohol addiction treatment.

What happens to your brain and body when you get drunk?

When you get drunk, you increase the prevalence of a neurotransmitter in your brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, also known as Gaba. This impairs cognitive function in a number of ways:

  • Inhibitions decrease, increasing an aptitude for risk-taking behaviour
  • Visual-spacial skills are compromised
  • Motor skills are impacted, and it becomes more difficult to move with precision

Alcohol is a depressant, and the more you have in your system, the slower your thinking and reaction times get. Taking all that into account, it's no wonder that drink driving is so dangerous.

What happens to your brain and body after consuming large amounts of alcohol?

Blood alcohol content (BAC) can increase to a dangerous level, and then the effects on the body and brain are severe.

  • 0.25-0.4 BAC: Your body and brain's functions are very impacted, and there's a high risk of asphyxiation and injury.
  • Greater than 0.35 BAC: With extremely hampered respiration and circulation, there is the potential to go into a coma.
  • Greater than 0.45 BAC: With blood alcohol above 0.45, there is a possibility that a person will die: the brain is no longer able to control important physical functions that are required for you to stay alive.

What alcohol does to your brain and body long term

As well as the aforementioned short term effects of alcohol consumption, there can also be many harmful long term effects on your brain and body.

Damage to the liver

Your liver removes harmful substances from your body, and that includes alcohol. But with a sustained, high volume of alcohol consumption, the liver gets worse at filtering out toxins. It can also become inflamed and become prone to liver disease.

With an ill-functioning liver, waste and toxins can accumulate in the body. Although people of both sexes can sustain liver damage, women tend to show signs of liver damage sooner than men.

Damage to other organs

Many other organs can be harmed by drinking alcohol. For example, over-consumption of alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, which is a serious condition in the pancreas that can cause harm and complications in the body.

Damage to the digestive system

Alcohol intake can result in damage to the digestive tract. This erodes your ability to absorb nutrients and vitamins and can result in malnutrition. Other digestive issues that people who habitually drink too much face include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Gassiness
  • Ulcers and hemorrhoids
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn

Increased cancer risk

Alcohol consumption can cause your risk of developing cancer to spike. Specifically, you're more likely to develop cancer of the:

  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Esophagus
  • Mouth
  • Throat

These risks can be compounded if you also smoke while drinking.

Impairments to sexual health

Alcohol impairs the sexual health of men and women in different ways, but both sexes can suffer harmful consequences.

  • Men who regularly drink to excess are far more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
  • Women who drink excessively can have an affected menstrual cycle and are at a greater risk of infertility.

Reduction of the body's immune system

The immune system is important; without it, the body couldn't fight off germs and viruses. Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause harm to the body's immune system; heavy drinkers are much more likely to suffer from tuberculosis or pneumonia than those who drink less or abstain.

Alcohol dependency

Both the body and the brain can become dependent on alcohol. While there are many mental and emotional difficulties faced when an alcohol addict goes through withdrawal (like depression and anxiety) the bodily issues can be even more dangerous. People detoxing from alcohol experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Tremors

And occasionally seizures, delirium tremens (AKA DTs), and hallucinations.

Drinking safely by drinking in moderation

With the above in mind, it's important to note that you're allowed to imbibe the occasional alcoholic beverage with friends, as long as you understand your limits and the importance of drinking in moderation.

A variety of factors can affect how your body reacts to alcohol in any given situation. But if you follow this advice, you'll have a safe night drinking alcohol in moderation.

  • Eat a full meal when drinking alcohol
  • Understand how alcohol impacts your body — everyone is different — by using a BAC calculator
  • Drink one glass of water between alcoholic beverages

It can be a worthy practice to buy a breathalyser, and monitoring your BAC as you ingest alcohol. Every single body and situation is different, and something as seemingly unimportant as hot weather can increase your BAC.

How The Hader Clinic can help

Withdrawing from alcohol can be life-threatening. It's important to seek professional help if you're planning on detoxing: a trained medical professional can monitor you during the process and ensure a treatment that will improve health and safety during the process.

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