How Alcohol Enters the Body
Before describing the affects of alcohol on the body, you should know how alcohol enters the body and what it does when it gets there. After alcohol is ingested, it reaches the stomach where about 20% of the alcohol absorbs into the blood stream, through small blood vessels. The remaining 80% of the alcohol continues to the small intestine and is absorbed there into the blood stream.
The alcohol flows through the blood stream and is metabolized by the liver, where the alcohol is broken down by enzymes. The liver can, on average, metabolize about one standard drink (i.e. one 12 ounce bottle of beer, one 4 ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 40% alcohol) in one hour. Alcohol consumed in addition to these amounts can generally not be processed by the liver. When this happens, your blood becomes saturated and the additional alcohol makes its way to your body tissues and blood stream, until your liver can process the excess alcohol.
How Alcohol Affects Your Body
When consumed in large amounts over a prolonged period of time, alcohol can harm virtually every part of your body. Many of the effects are reversible if alcohol consumption is subsequently controlled - other effects are permanent.
Alcohol and the Blood:
Extended alcohol abuse can cause blood conditions including several forms of anemia and blood clotting abnormalities. These conditions could result in susceptibility to bleeding and bruising. Prolonged alcohol use can also impair white blood cell function and thus makes the abuser more likely to become infected.
Alcohol and the Brain:
Please see our separate page about the effects of how alcohol affects the brain.
Alcohol and the Esophagus:
Half the cancers in the esophagus, larynx and mouth are linked to alcohol. Additionally, intense vomiting from excessive drinking can tear the esophogus.
Alcohol and the Heart:
Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can cause contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure. Social drinkers who binge can get irregular heartbeats from their alcoholic habits.
Alcohol and the Joints and Muscles:
Osteoporosis and and some forms of arthritis can be advanced by alcohol abuse. Further, alcohol can lead to muscle atrophy, which can cause sharp muscle pain and weakness.
Alcohol and the Kidneys:
Prolonged heavy drinking can cause kidney failure. The primary functions of kidneys are to regulate the composition and volume of the fluids and electrolytes circulating through the body. The kidneys regulate water, acid/base balance, certain hormones and minerals (calcium, potassium, sodium, etc.) in the body. Alcohol can influence or compromise the balancing functions of the kidneys, and thus can cause severe consequences on kidney function and thus the body.
Alcohol and the Liver:
Cirrhosis is a buildup of scar tissue that changes the structure of the liver and blocks blood flow. Cirrhosis can be causeed by alcoholic hepatitis, which is, of course, caused by overdrinking. Cirrhosis can cause varicose veins, which can rupture and potentially triggering internal bleeding.
Alcohol and the Lungs:
Heavy drinkers are more susceptible to pneumonia and lung collapse, and also have more pulmonary infections.
Alcohol and the Pancreas:
Alcohol can reduce the amount of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas, thereby inflaming and leaking digestive enzymes, which subsequently attack the pancreas itself.
Alcohol and the Reproductive System:
Because of alcohol's affects on the brain and alcohol's effects on the kidneys, hormonal production is affected. In men, this could mean that the production of sperm and testosterone are affected, and that can lead to impotence and/or infertility. In women, estrogen metabolism in the liver can be decreased, which boost estrogen levels in the body. These changes can contribute to menstrual irregularities and potentially infertility.
Alcohol and the Small intestines:
Alcohol can damage the cells lining the stomach and intestines, which can block the absorption and breakdown of nutrients in those organs.
Alcohol and the Stomach:
Alcohol can irritate the stomach to the point of inducing gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers and acid reflux. Prolonged exposure to alcohol can erode the stomach lining and cause chronic blood seepage into the stomach. If the individual is particularly unlucky, a vessel can rupture and cause major bleeding.