Most people don’t truly understand, or they choose to ignore, the effects of alcohol on the body. Because we get drunk, recover from the hangover, and feel healthy again a day or two later, we don’t believe that our drinking will have any adverse long term effect on us at all. However, no level of alcohol consumption is 100% safe, and the only way to be sure that alcohol won’t have unfavourable effects on your body is to abstain completely.
When you drink alcohol it is absorbed into the bloodstream, so it effects every part of your body. Just the smallest amount of alcohol will stay in your body for around two hours. Some alcohol will exit the body via your urine and breathing, but most will be metabolised in the liver. If you drink more than your body can metabolise, you’ll get drunk. Your level of drunkenness will depend on how much you drink, how quickly, and how efficiently your body processes alcohol, among many other factors.
There are many factors that will determine the health effects of alcohol consumption on your body, including your physical condition, historic levels of alcohol consumption, age, gender, weight and your mental health. Every time you drink there will be a short term effect, while long term alcohol use, particularly binge drinking, will cause many serious health problems.
Short term effects of alcohol
- Slurred speech
- Stomach issues, nausea and vomiting
- Breathing problems
- Impaired vision and hearing
- Compromised judgement
- Decreased perception and coordination
- Blackouts, unconsciousness and in severe cases, coma
- Loss of red blood cells (anaemia)
Long term effects of alcohol
- Alcohol addiction and poisoning
- Liver disease such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis
- Sexual problems such as low libido, impotence and infertility
- Nerve damage
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure, stroke and other heart related diseases
- Brain damage and mental health problems
- Ulcers, inflammation of the stomach wall and internal bleeding
- Cancer – mouth, throat, liver, stomach, breast, etc.
- Weakening of the immune system
If you’ve ever drunk alcohol, there is no doubt you’ve experienced at least some of the above effects of alcohol,whether you know it or not. Some of them are very apparent, such as slurred speech and hangovers after drinking too much alcohol. Others are less conspicuous, but potentially far more dangerous, such as heart disease and cancer. Often we don’t realise we have more serious problems until its too late. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2012 there were 3.3 million deaths globally as a direct result of the harmful consumption of alcohol (up from 2.5 million in 2009). This represents around 6% of all adult deaths worldwide, which is a staggering statistic when you consider it is a completely preventable way to die. Even more alarming is this percentage skyrockets to around 25% of all adult deaths for people aged 20-39 years. Now that is concerning!
Should you quit drinking?
That is a question only you can answer, and I’m not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t quit alcohol. Everyone is well within their own rights to choose how they wish to lead their lives. For example, some people want to treat their bodies like a temple so they can live until they’re 100! Others would rather live hard, party as often as possible, and potentially die a lot younger than they otherwise would have. Personally, I never want to die, so I’m going to do all I can to stay alive as long as possible. But that’s just me, and you need to decide for yourself how you want to live your life.
However, if you’re considering quitting alcohol, and I assume you are if you’re on this website, the best place to start is by doing a quit drinking cost-benefit analysis. That way you can weigh up the costs of drinking alcohol, such as these related health problems, against any benefits you think you get from drinking, such as confidence and loss of inhibitions.