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Excessive Alcohol Consumption

People drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax.  Alcohol often has a strong effect on people – and throughout history, we’ve struggled to understand and manage alcohol’s power.  Why does alcohol cause us to act and feel differently?  How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted while others do not?

Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • Your age
  • Your health status
  • Your family history

While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem – drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.

Consequences of drinking too much

Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream.  The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.  These effects can include:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Motor impairment
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Coma
  • Breathing problems
  • Death

Other risks of drinking can include:

  • Car crashes and other accidents
  • Risky behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicide and homicide

People who drink too much over a long period of time may experience alcohol’s longer-term effects, which can include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Health problems
  • Increased risk for certain cancers

Alcohol’s Effect on the Body

Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:

Brain:

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart:

Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver:

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Pancreas:

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Cancer:

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Immune System:

Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services