Alcohol and Your Body


Alcohol and Your Body

Virtually every organ system is affected by alcohol. Drinking in moderation may cause various problems to one’s body and drinking heavily over the years can cause irreversible damage. However, most diseases caused by excessive drinking can be prevented.

  • Stomach: The small intestine is where the majority of the consumed alcohol will be absorbed in to the bloodstream. The alcohol that does not become absorbed through the walls of the small intestine will stay in the stomach and can cause irritation. Drinking alcohol and taking medication that causes stomach irritation, such as aspirin, can cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers, and severe bleeding.
  • Heart: Drinking alcohol may increase blood pressure. High blood pressure associated with heavy drinking makes the heart work harder than it needs to and can be a key risk factor for coronary heart disease, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, with an increased intake of alcohol, levels of fats in the blood can become elevated which can lead to heart problems.
  • Brain: The human brain is the command center. The brain alerts body parts and organs when something should happen and how to react. It only takes about 30 seconds for the first amounts of alcohol to reach the brain after ingestion. Once there, alcohol acts primarily on nerve cells deep in the brain. The cerebral cortex is most affected. This cortex is responsible for thinking, reasoning, perceiving, and producing and understanding language. Additionally, alcohol affects the firing of nerve cells that control breathing, a condition known as respiratory depression, which can be fatal. Also, high levels of alcohol cause vomiting, which may lead to death by asphyxiation.
  • Liver: Even moderate social drinkers can experience liver damage. Diseases such as “fatty liver”, hepatitis, or cirrhosis can develop from heavy alcohol consumption.  Normally, toxins and wastes in the blood get filtered out when blood passes through the liver. If scar tissue (created from alcohol killing the cells) keeps blood from flowing through the liver, the blood doesn’t get filtered, leaving toxins and waste to build up in the body. This can lead to confusion, agitation, tremors and even comas. Once scaring has progressed, nothing can be done to repair the liver or cure cirrhosis.
    • *More than 25,000 Americans die each year from chronic liver disease. Experts say that about 70% are due, at least in part, to alcohol use.

Myths

These are the most common misconceptions that people have about drinking and the effects of alcohol, along with the actual facts.

  • MYTH: Beer is less intoxicating than other types of alcoholic beverages
    • FACT: One 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine or one normal mixed drink or cocktail are all equally intoxicating.
  • MYTH: Switching between beer, wine, and liquor will make you drunker.
    • FACT: Mixing types of drinks may make you sicker by upsetting your stomach, but not more intoxicated. Alcohol is alcohol.
  • MYTH: Cold Showers, fresh air or hot coffee help sober a person.
    • FACT: Only time will remove alcohol from the system. It takes the body approximately one hour to eliminate the alcohol in one drink. An old saying goes, "give a drunk a cup of coffee and all you have is a wide-awake drunk.
  • MYTH: Eating a big meal before you drink will keep you sober.
    • FACT: Drinking on a full stomach will only delay the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, not prevent it. Eating before you drink is not a defense against getting drunk.
  • MYTH: Everyone reacts to alcohol in the same way.
    • FACT: Many factors that affect a person's reaction to alcohol — body weight, metabolism, gender, body chemistry, and many others.