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Alcohol-Related Health Conditions: How Drinking Affects the Body

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Whether or not you have an alcohol-related health condition, stopping alcohol use is essential if you struggle to control your drinking.

Alcohol, when misused, can lead to a myriad of health issues. In moderation, it is less likely to cause serious health problems but can lead to long-term medical consequences when used heavily or for a prolonged time. It is important for those who drink alcohol to be aware of the potential effects that it can have on their bodies.

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How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down your nervous system. Initially, drinking might result in feelings of relaxation or euphoria, but as the amount of alcohol in your system increases, it can impair judgment, coordination and reaction times. Over a prolonged period, heavy drinking can interfere with the brain’s neurotransmitters, leading to mood swings, memory issues and many other negative health effects.

Common Alcohol-Related Health Conditions

Alcohol can cause a wide variety of health conditions. These conditions are typically more likely to occur in those who drink heavily over a prolonged period. 

Liver Disease

The liver is responsible for processing and breaking down alcohol. Excessive drinking can lead to liver damage and eventually cause liver disease. Alcohol-related liver disease typically progresses through three stages:

  1. Fatty liver disease: Fat deposits build up in the liver and have a minor impact on its function. 
  2. Hepatitis: The fat build-ups cause inflammation in the liver, impacting its function more seriously.
  3. Cirrhosis: Inflammation causes scarring, which permanently disrupts normal liver function.

The first two types of alcoholic liver diseases are reversible if you stop using alcohol. However, the scarring caused by the third is permanent and cannot be reversed, even if you stop drinking. 

Heart Disease

Alcohol can affect your heart in many ways. A single alcoholic drink can elevate your blood pressure for several hours. When you drink consistently, your blood pressure will be chronically elevated. This increases your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the muscle that controls your heartbeat.

Digestive Issues

Alcohol irritates your digestive tract, leading to issues like gastritis, ulcers, acid reflux, pancreatitis and internal bleeding from the digestive tract. Chronic drinking can also increase the risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of multiple parts of the digestive tract. Those who stop alcohol after prolonged use often notice decreased bloating and improved digestive health.

Neurological Issues

Heavy alcohol use increases your risk of several neurological conditions. Alcohol can damage nerve cells and cause your brain to shrink. It can also cause a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) that can be dangerous and lead to permanent memory loss if not quickly treated. Alcohol can also increase your risk of traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and neurological problems in children of mothers who drink while pregnant. 

Mental Health Conditions

Alcohol abuse is closely linked to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It can exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions and, in some cases, even trigger their onset. Also complicating the issue is that when these conditions are present, they can trigger alcohol abuse and make it harder to stop drinking. This can lead to a complicated situation called co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis, where addiction and mental health problems can worsen each other.

Related: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Risk Factors for Alcohol-Related Health Conditions

Anyone who heavily drinks alcohol is at risk for alcohol-related health problems; however, certain factors increase this risk. These include genetics, older age, gender and other underlying health conditions. The frequency, quantity and duration of alcohol consumption play the most significant role in anyone, even if they don’t have underlying factors that increase their health risk.

How To Prevent and Treat Health Problems From Heavy Alcohol Use

Someone with a health problem caused by heavy alcohol use should quit using alcohol and seek medical help. Some health problems can be reversed by stopping alcohol, while others will be permanent. Even if the problem is permanent, quitting alcohol can keep it from worsening. Getting off of alcohol is the first step; however, seeking professional medical help can optimize your health and give you the best chance possible to recover from your health problems.

Help for Alcohol Addiction at The Recovery Village Kansas City

Whether or not you have an alcohol-related health condition, stopping alcohol use is essential if you struggle to control your drinking. Even if you don’t have a health problem caused by alcohol, it is inevitable if you keep drinking heavily.

If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, at The Recovery Village Kansas City, we get it. We know how hard it can be to quit using alcohol, but we also understand how to help you gain control of it and stop drinking. Our caring staff are experts at helping people overcome their addictions and achieve a life of freedom. Contact us today to learn how we can help you stop drinking for good.


MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2023. 

NHS Inform. “Alcohol-related liver disease.” May 29, 2023. Accessed August 16, 2023.

Shaaban, Adnan; Gangwani, Manesh Kumar; & et al. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy.” StatPearls. August 8, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2023.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Cancer.” March 13, 2023. Accessed August 16, 2023.

Alzheimer’s Society. “Alcohol-related ‘dementia’.” 2023. Accessed August 16, 2023. 

Mental Health Foundation. “Alcohol and mental health.” February 16, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2023.