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Alcohol and Your Body: The Effects and Risks of Drinking

Alcohol and Your Body: The Effects and Risks of Drinking

There are many ways drinking alcohol changes the way your body functions.

Drinking alcohol changes the way your body functions. Here are a few changes that happen when drinking:

The Brain

Alcohol changes the way the brain communicates with other parts of the body.  These changes can result in slurred speech and mood changes, as well as worsened ability to judge risk and limited balance/coordination skills which can result in physical harm.

Alcohol can also increase chances of stroke and alcohol-related dementia which impacts ability to focus, problem solve, stay motivated, understand how others are thinking or feeling, and result in memory loss.

The Liver

Alcohol is processed through your liver after you drink it. The more alcohol you drink, the more your liver has to work. This can result in potential damage to the liver, including conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and/or developing a fatty liver.

The Immune System

This is your body’s defense system towards illness and infection. It has been shown that for 24 hours after drinking alcohol, your body's immune system has a harder time doing its job to protect you from getting sick. Alcohol use can increase your risk of catching a cold, the flu, and in some cases, more serious infections like Pneumonia or Tuberculosis. 

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Hormone Production

Our bodies all produce hormones. Disruptions to hormone production can impact weight, skin health, stress levels, reproductive systems and other areas of the body. Research shows that alcohol's impact on hormones can negatively effect all of these things. For example, drinking alcohol stimulates the release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. For men, alcohol impacts the production of testosterone and can sometimes result in erectile dysfunction and breast enlargement. For women, alcohol can impact the menstrual cycle and hormonal health, which can have long-term impacts on bone health.  

For both men and women, alcohol can also increase infertility. If you're trying to conceive, it is recommended to abstain from alcohol altogether. Drinking during pregnancy also poses risks of fetal alcohol syndrome to your baby, which impacts their central nervous system and growth.

Risk of Cancer and Disease

Alcohol has been shown to cause several types of cancer: specifically head, neck, oral cavity, pharynx, breast, and larynx cancers. The National Cancer Institute has shared that "Evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks, particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher their risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer."

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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