What are the long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the body?

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

Alcohol addiction and its effects

Alcohol abuse is a tough and controversial subject to define. When accounting for the long-term effects of alcoholism, you’re likely to hear a slew of differing opinions on the subject regarding, among other things:

  • How much and how often you need to drink to be deemed an alcoholic.
  • The severity of your usage.
  • How much is ‘too much’.

Perhaps most important to consider, however, is the definition of the word ‘addiction’ itself. What many people aren’t aware of is that addiction has more in common with a disease that with a mental disorder. Addiction isn’t a choice; it’s caused by a wide variety of environmental, social, familial, and biological factors. The abuse of any substance can physically change the chemistry of the brain, and it’s very natural for people to seek the endorphins they crave.

Alcohol is known for being an especially addictive substance. After all, it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to gain access to, and, unlike many other substances (like hard drugs), there is virtually no social stigma associated with drinking. Alcohol’s impact on your mind and body begins with your first sip, and once your brain develops a long-term fixation on any given substance, the results can be disastrous.

In that sense, long-term alcoholism is more than just a bad habit – it’s genuinely dangerous.

Short-term alcohol use and how it can lead to long-term alcoholism

The short-term effects of heavy alcoholism can be relatively minor but should not be taken lightly. In fact, the reason that many people enjoy drinking casually or in groups is for how ‘fun’ the short-term effects can sometimes be. Unfortunately, anything that causes the release of endorphins in the brain has the potential, after prolonged use, to lead to overwhelming long-term addiction.

The short-term effects of alcohol usage range in severity, and can include:

  • Lowered inhibitions and poor social judgment
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Poor judgement
  • Dulled perception
  • Mood swings
  • High blood pressure
  • Passing out
  • Vomiting
  • Alcohol poisoning (usually only caused by extreme binge drinking)

The physical effects of long-term alcohol addiction

Ethanol (alcohol) is a central nervous system depressant and can be harmful to the body in many different ways. Alcohol abuse can also cause damage to your reproductive system, sexual health, immunity, your nervous system, and your likelihood of getting cancer, it primarily causes damage to your organs, including your:


Your liver metabolizes alcohol for you. However, it can only handle a bit at a time, meaning excess alcohol will simply cycle around in your bloodstream. Persistent or binge drinking can cause extreme problems in the liver as a result, including inflammation, fatty liver, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.


Remember, excess alcohol swims for hours in your bloodstream, and everything in your bloodstream goes through your heart over and over! Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of cardiovascular diseases including cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, strokes, arrhythmias, and heart attacks.


If excessive drinking is causing liver problems or high blood pressure, your kidney has to work twice as hard to filter harmful substances out of the blood. If the kidneys are overworked, your risk of kidney disease (or even kidney failure) is much, much higher.


Excessive alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis, which occurs when ethanol causes swelling in the blood vessels nearest the pancreas. Because the pancreas helps regulate sugar levels in the body, digestive problems will likely follow.


Because ethanol causes the stomach to produce more acid than normal, excessive drinking can lead to ulcers, diarrhea, reflux, internal bleeding, and inflammation of the stomach lining.


Believe it or not, long-term drinking can cause broken bones! Alcohol abuse can interrupt your body’s capacity to produce vitamin D; a lack of vitamin D makes it difficult for calcium absorption to occur naturally in your body; a lack of calcium absorption leads to osteoporosis, which, in turn, drastically increases your likelihood of bone fractures and breaks.

The psychological effects of long-term alcohol addiction

What many don’t realize isthat alcohol is a drug. It’s extremely addictive, and its long-term effects on your body and mind can be drastic and irreversible. In the United States, alcohol abuse increases the risk of car accidents, suicide, assault, homicide, and other crimes, and leads to 88,000 deaths per year.

Any addiction is hard on your brain and your mental health, simply because a physical and emotional dependency is extremely difficult to break and can lead to withdrawal. The symptoms of dependency and withdrawal can include difficulty sleeping, shakiness, depression, anxiety, nausea, and sweating. In more extreme cases, delirium tremens, seizures, sickness, and hallucinations can occur.

Getting help now

The worst-case scenario of long-term alcohol addiction is, quite simply, death. If you need help now, we strongly recommend getting in touch with us. At Tikvah Lake Recovery, we provide medically-assisted detox, private luxury lodging, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and round-the-clock care. Most importantly, we provide results.

If you or a loved one is suffering from long-term alcohol addiction, please consider getting in touch with us today, or visit our admissions page to take your first step.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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