Side Effects of Alcohol

Reviewed by Dr. Michael McGee - Board Certified Physician in General Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, and Psychosomatic Medicine.
Last updated: June 1, 2018
A drunk woman

Alcohol is a mind-altering substance that directly affects the central nervous system (CNS). Alcohol is a depressant. It depresses the frontal lobes, a part of the brain associated with inhibition. This makes many people feel more confident and less anxious. This changing of brain chemistry can create alcohol addiction. When you drink regularly, you disrupt the chemical balance in your brain. This can create a need for alcohol in greater quantities.

Short Term Effects of Alcohol

Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, people will experience a few or all of the following short-term effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Poor judgement
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Aggressive behavior or violent outbursts
  • Hangover
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Coma
  • Death

Long Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol has a slew of long-term effects on the mind and body. Alcoholism puts the person at a higher risk for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even several cancers. Other long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Alcohol Use Disorder (or AUD)
  • Impaired brain development
  • Cirrhosis of the liver or excessive liver damage
  • Ulcers (mainly stomach & intestines)
  • Anemia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney failure
  • Early onset dementia
  • Depression
  • Early menopause
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (in unborn children)
  • Death

Alcohol-induced dementia is more common than people realize. Dementia is a collection of symptoms, not a diagnosis. Dementia symptoms include memory loss, impaired judgement, confusion, disorientation, loss of motor skill function, coordination, trouble speaking, trouble problem solving, and difficulty handling complex tasks. Although aging is a large reason for dementia, studies have shown that alcohol use not only increases the likelihood of dementia by age 65, but alcohol users also tend to suffer dementia more frequently than casual or non-drinkers.

In addition to this, a diet of alcohol can result in thiamin deficiency. This can cause Wernike’s Dementia and Korsakoff Syndrome, two of the many types of dementia associated with heavy alcohol use.

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