Wellness Matters

What Does Drinking Alcohol Do to Me?

November 23, 2015

Barbara “B” Akins, RN, BSN, FCN 
Barbara “B” Akins, RN, BSN, FCN
Accreditation & Patient Safety Coordinator
Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital

Alcohol consumption is a personal decision. Many find it a good relaxation agent, social lubricant or simply enjoy the feeling it generates. Others view alcohol consumption negatively for reasons based on health or moral code. Some individuals choose to drink alcohol moderately while others drink heavily.

Heavy drinking is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as “5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the last 30 days.” Often times heavy drinking can become an addiction. For those that drink heavily, it is important to know the effects of alcohol on the body.

Typically, alcohol is a waste product that the body tries to excrete. Even a tiny bit of alcohol has an affect on the body’s systems. If you drink more than the body is able to process, you begin to feel intoxicated as the alcohol level builds up in the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. This distribution can affect the body’s nerve endings and slow down brain function. This causes feelings of excitement, numbness or inhibition.

What can too much alcohol do to the body?

Immune System – this is what fights off germs, viruses and other illness in your body. Alcohol slows the immune system, making bacteria-fighting white blood cells sluggish and much less efficient. Heavy drinkers may be more likely to succumb to illnesses such as tuberculosis or pneumonia, and increased risk of numerous forms of cancer.

Skeletal System – Alcohol abuse inhibits new bone production, putting one at risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. It also makes muscles more likely to weaken, cramp or atrophy.

Reproductive System – One common side effect of alcohol abuse in men is erectile dysfunction. Hormone production also may be inhibited causing infertility. In women, alcohol may cause a ceasing of menstruation and infertility. It also heightens the risk of breast cancer.

Circulatory System – Just one occasion of heavy drinking may cause trouble for your heart, therefore a heavy drinker is much more likely to have heart problems than a non-drinker. The risk is even higher for females. Heart problems may include poisoning of the heart muscle cells, an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack.

Digestive System –This is where serious damage can quickly occur. Alcohol makes it difficult for our intestines to control bacteria and absorb nutrients that can lead to malnutrition. Alcohol is also known to cause:
  • Salivary gland damage
  • Gum disease and tooth decay
  • Esophageal ulcers
  • Acid reflux and heartburn
  • Stomach ulcers and gastritis
  • Internal bleeding
  • Hemorrhoids
Central Nervous System – Alcohol changes behavior. It inhibits speaking, which causes slurred speech and coordination. It affects impulse control and the ability to make memories, leading to “blackouts.” Alcohol can cause numbness, weakness and temporary paralysis. Long-term use can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain. Heavy drinking can lead to dependency that may have severe withdrawal effects.

Excretory System – This system is responsible for removing waste products, such as alcohol, from the body. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause the pancreas to lose normal insulin production and create toxic substances that can lead to its destruction. An abundance of alcohol can harm the liver, whose job it is to break down harmful substances in the body. This can lead to hepatitis, jaundice and cirrhosis, which is the buildup of scar tissue that eventually destroys the organ. Alcohol may cause kidney, bladder and prostate inflammation.

Recent studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial to well-being. However, it can have many detrimental effects on the body. Make sure you are aware of all the factors before having that next drink.

If and when any of the above symptoms or behaviors are noted, it is important to communicate this information to your doctor and if you need assistance call the Help Line (336) 832-9700. The key to recovery is communication and the empowerment of the knowledge of when Alcohol becomes a problem and affects someone’s quality of life.


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