The Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Alcohol can have a myriad of negative effects on the body. Both short-term and long-term issues can have disastrous effects on a person’s life and health. Here are some of the effects that alcohol can have:
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol Poisoning. Alcohol poisoning refers to high blood alcohol levels in the body. This is a medical emergency as it can cause organ failure. Alcohol poisoning can cause a person to pass out. While passed out, they could vomit; vomiting while blacked out by alcohol is a substantial choking risk. Alcohol poisoning can cause death as well as permanent medical conditions that can impact the rest of a person’s life.
Increased Risk of Risky Behaviors. Alcohol reduces a person’s cognitive functions and increases the likelihood of engaging in risk-taking activities such as driving while under the influence, taking other drugs, or having unprotected sex. These behaviors can result in long-term effects such as serious sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
Increased Risk of Injury. When a person has been drinking, their motor functions and coordination become affected. This increases the risk of a fall or some other type of injury.
Increased Risk of Violence. Some people lose control of their emotions when drinking–especially when drinking to excess. It’s not uncommon for alcohol to be a factor in domestic violence, bar fights, or even homicides.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Liver Disease. The liver is a complex and essential organ of the body. It filters toxins in the blood, assists with the digestive process, regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and even helps fight infection. However, each time that the liver processes alcohol, some liver cells die. Although the liver is amazingly regenerative, excessive drinking can reduce that ability. Alcoholism also leaves the liver at heightened risk for developing serious diseases such as cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and alcoholic hepatitis.
Heart Disease. Alcoholism increases the risk for heart and cardiovascular disease. Excessive drinking over time can raise blood pressure while increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. There have been numerous studies that provide demonstrative medical proof of alcohol’s link to heart failure and serious heart conditions. In fact, it’s not uncommon for alcohol to cause damage to the heart before any symptoms surface.
Kidney Disease. The kidneys don’t process as much alcohol as the liver does, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t vulnerable. Consistent heavy drinking doubles a person’s risk for developing chronic kidney disease.
Increased Risk of Some Cancers. Heavy drinking has been linked to several different cancers, including liver cancer, esophageal cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, and throat cancer. Women who drink excessively can increase their risk of developing breast cancer.
Pregnancy Complications. Women who have an alcohol use disorder are at increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Children born to alcoholic mothers suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Digestive Problems. Alcohol begins to be processed in the stomach and passes through the small intestine to the blood and then to the liver. It can cause inflammation that results in uncomfortable digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, leaky gut syndrome, acid reflux, and gastritis. Heavy drinking can also cause pancreatitis, which involves painful inflammation and swelling of the pancreas that disrupts digestion.
Reduced Immune System Function. Long-term drinking can reduce the function of the body’s ability to fight off infection. Alcoholism can weaken the immune system. Studies have shown that a person is at heightened risk for contracting pneumonia and even tuberculosis because of chronic heavy drinking.
Obesity. Recent studies have begun to indicate obesity can develop in relation to alcoholism. Alcohol can prevent the body from burning fat and increase a person’s appetite. Many drinks are high in calories and, of course, low in nutritional value.
Risk of Cognitive Problems. Alcoholism is linked to memory problems and the development of dementia. Learning can become difficult for those impacted by alcohol use disorders too.
Mental Health Disorders. Alcoholism will cause mental health to decline. Substance addiction, in general, can change the chemistry of the brain. These changes can become permanent and result in the development of mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
All of these changes relate to the individual and their health; however, alcoholism also causes long-term damage to relationships and children. Excessive drinking can lead to career loss and financial problems. The sooner a person with an alcohol use disorder gets into treatment, the sooner they can stop causing damage to their health and other important aspects of their life. Many effects of alcohol can be reversed, but the longer the person drinks excessively, the greater the risk of doing permanent damage.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
There’s no simple answer to the question: how long does alcohol stay in your system? Alcohol can be detected by different tests for up to a certain period of time. For instance, a urine test might be able to detect alcohol for up to 130 hours from the person’s last drink. Alcohol can be detected in breath and saliva for 12-24 hours from the time of the person’s last drink. There are even some biomarker tests that will detect alcohol in urine for up to 14 days from the last drink. A hair test can detect alcohol for up to 90 days from the last drink.
Testing, of course, is one way to gauge how long alcohol can be detected, but how long it actually takes the body to process alcohol depends on the individual’s metabolism. Generally speaking, it takes about 25 hours for the body to process one drink containing approximately 14 grams of alcohol. This translates to one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot. But here’s where it gets tricky for the body; people with alcohol use disorder don’t typically stop with one drink. They might have five or more in one evening. Then, before those initial 25 hours pass, they might have a few more drinks.
For someone with alcohol use disorder, the body may be perpetually processing alcohol. Most of this processing or metabolizing is conducted by the liver. It falls to the liver to remove about 90% of the alcohol that a person drinks. The stomach, small intestines, lungs, skin, and kidneys process the rest.
There are many different factors that affect an individual and how their body metabolizes alcohol. Some people have more of certain enzymes in the stomach that break down alcohol before it can reach the small intestine and hit the bloodstream. Some people may be taking certain medications that affect how alcohol is metabolized and affects them. The main factors that impact the alcohol metabolism include sex (men process alcohol more quickly than women), age (metabolism slows with age), weight, medications, and health conditions.
People often want to know if there are ways to speed up the alcohol metabolism process. For instance, will drinking coffee or eating impact the process? According to research, coffee and food can make someone feel less drunk or fewer effects of drinking, but it doesn’t affect the time frame for how long it takes the body to process alcohol. For instance, eating while drinking can induce the stomach to process more alcohol; that means that less gets to the intestines where it can enter the blood and trigger feelings of intoxication. However, that alcohol still needs to be processed out of the system. It will find its way to the liver eventually.
As one can see, it takes a lot of time and work for the body to process alcohol, and all that processing can take its toll over time. Plus, drinking too much alcohol at once can overwhelm the body to the point that it simply can’t process the volume. This is when blood poisoning, a medical emergency, occurs.
Are There Lingering Effects after Alcohol Leaves the System?
Often, when discussing lingering effects of alcohol, you may think of hangovers, a term used to describe the set of symptoms that can occur after heavy drinking. These symptoms can linger beyond 24 hours. But what about after the body has processed the alcohol?
There can be lingering effects of alcohol in the form of inflammation or other damage that the drinking may have caused. Earlier, we mentioned that alcohol can trigger pancreatitis. That’s a condition that can last longer than a week. Some people won’t leave the hospital for 10 days or longer. Heavy drinking can cause dehydration, which can trigger a whole different series of health issues that may linger for some time.
Heavy drinking entails many variables that can cause lingering or even permanent effects. If a person contracts tuberculosis because their alcoholism left them vulnerable to the disease, it was the result of a lingering or long-term alcohol effect. Plus, someone who abuses alcohol on a routine basis often doesn’t get the chance to experience lingering effects because they continue to drink; alcohol never seems to leave their system–not until they decide to stop drinking for good.