Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means that it reduces activity and functions in the brain and body. Alcohol can impair vision, coordination, judgment, the ability to multitask, reaction time, sleep, and decision-making skills. Because of the decreased reaction time from excessive alcohol consumption, many people are unable to perform everyday tasks safely, such as operating a motor vehicle.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
A blood alcohol concentration of .08% or above can result in the following short-term effects:
- Feelings of relaxation
- Reduced tension
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Slurred speech
- Slowed reaction time
- Stumbling or falling
- Nausea and vomiting
Very high blood alcohol levels can induce even more dangerous complications, including the following:
- Very slow respiration rate
- Passing out
- Acute alcohol poisoning
Even a small amount of alcohol can impair a person’s brain function and the ability to concentrate. A moderate amount of alcohol can cause slurred speech, poor vision, and the increased need to urinate or sleep.
A very excessive amount of alcohol can induce breathing difficulties, alcohol poisoning, coma, and death. Alcohol poisoning causes the body to shut down completely and is a life-threatening medical emergency.
The short-term effects of alcohol consumption can appear after just a few drinks. However, people who have low tolerance levels may be affected after having only one or two drinks. Some of these effects might appear harmless, but they are signs that alcohol is having a serious impact on the body.
The short-term effects of alcohol abuse also include the following:
Blackouts and Lapses in Memory – These side effects of excessive alcohol use are common among heavy drinkers. Binge drinkers often have sparse or no memories of their behavior and are surprised to discover activities they were involved in the next day.
Loss of Inhibitions – Neural impairment caused by drinking can result in reduced inhibitions, distorted perception and the inability to think clearly and rationally. This effect can result in risky, impulsive, and dangerous behavior, which may be entirely out of character for many people.
Mood Swings – The initial effects of drinking include the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain, but this effect is temporary, and dopamine levels will eventually crash. This crash can cause a rapid mood shift from happy to depressed, anxious, or angry, and, in extreme cases, can result in suicidal thoughts or aggressive behavior.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can have devastating effects on one’s health and well-being. Liver disease, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, pancreatitis, and several forms of cancer are all linked to the long-term abuse of alcohol.
Moreover, repeatedly drinking above the recommended daily allowance (1 or 2 drinks for women and men, respectively) can lead to the development of at least sixty different diseases and significantly impact one’s emotional well-being.
Abusing alcohol for a prolonged period can lead to a condition known as dependence. Dependence occurs when the brain grows accustomed to the presence of a substance, such as alcohol, and becomes unable to work correctly without it. This condition results in unpleasant and, in extreme cases, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when the person attempts to quit drinking, often driving him or her to relapse to avoid these effects.
Tolerance also develops over time as a result of the brain’s propensity to diminish the effects of an intoxicating substance following repeated exposure. As tolerance occurs, the user is compelled to consume increasing amounts of alcohol to feel the desired effects.
Tolerance is dangerous and not conducive to a healthy life—consuming alcohol in higher and higher amounts becomes correspondingly riskier regarding health, emotional, financial, legal, and social effects. Along with behavior comes an increased risk of death due to acute alcohol poisoning.
The liver is possibly the most essential organ needed for the process of alcohol metabolism. Repeated excessive use of alcohol can result in the liver’s normal cells becoming damaged and being replaced by scar tissue. Over time, the liver may become less able to heal itself or perform its normal functions. Ultimately, liver disease can lead to life-threatening problems and end-stage liver disease.
Consuming alcohol at high levels is the second leading cause of cancer after smoking tobacco. Exceeding the daily limit of alcohol on a regular basis, even by just a small amount, can result in a higher risk of developing the following forms of cancer:
Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks per session raises blood pressure temporarily, but repeated binge drinking can result in chronic increases.
Intoxicating effects of alcohol can result in injuries from falls or misadventure, such as bruising, broken bones, etc. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is related to as many as 30% of adult hospital admissions, especially those to emergency departments.
Alcohol is a depressant and therefore using alcohol as a means to self-medicate often leads to the opposite effect of what a person initially intended. Alcoholism can cause depression, anxiety, and exacerbate symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder.
What’s more, alcohol use interferes with medications such as antidepressants that are used to treat mood disorders. Alcohol is also especially dangerous when used in combination with other central nervous system depressants, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates.
People who drink large amounts of alcohol for a prolonged period have an increased risk of incurring severe and persistent changes in the brain. For example, people who suffer from chronic alcoholism often have a deficiency of thiamine (B1), a vital nutrient required by all tissues in the body, including the brain.
Some of these persons will go on to develop a serious brain disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), a condition characterized by two separate conditions. First, there is a relatively short-lived but severe condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and following is a long-lasting and highly-debilitating disease called Korsakoff’s psychosis. The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy includes confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and impaired muscle coordination.
When alcohol becomes a persistent aspect of a person’s life, it’s not just the person drinking that feels the effects. Those close to him or her are impacted as well. Drinking habits and related problematic behaviors tend to become a source of arguments and often result in relationship strain and conflicts.
Financial and legal consequences among alcoholics are also common. And these, in turn, can result in seemingly insurmountable debt, unemployment, license suspension, and even incarceration. Alcoholism also contributes to aggression and violence, including physical and sexual assaults.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcoholism is most effectively treated using an integrated, evidence-based approach designed specifically for each individual. Such an approach should include services such as psychotherapy, counseling, group support, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers these services in both partial-hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats. Outpatient treatment is particularly beneficial for those who have already completed an inpatient stay or partial-hospitalization while they transition back to society, or need more flexibility to attend to important life responsibilities.
We employ highly-skilled addiction specialists to facilitate services and to provide our clients with the essential tools, resources, education, and support they need to recover and sustain long-term wellness and sobriety.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, contact us today. Discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction and go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives!