Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

long term effects of alcohol

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Just as drinking alcohol affects people differently, the long-term effects of alcohol abuse vary from person to person. 

Although many of alcohol’s long-term side effects are physical, alcohol abuse can also trigger a variety of potent psychological effects, luckily there are addiction treatment programs and drug and alcohol rehabs in Orange County to help those who are struggling. But, before we get into treatment, let’s better understand these problematic effects and alcohol consumption in general.

DGA guidelines suggest that men limit alcohol consumption to two standard drinks each day. The recommendation for women is a single standard drink. NIAAA outlines what constitutes a standard drink right here. Drinking alcohol beyond these limits can lead to a battery of negative physical and mental outcomes. 

If you abuse alcohol long-term, you’ll increase your risk of developing alcohol use disorder, the progressive and relapsing disease formerly referred to as alcoholism. If you meet more than 2 of the criteria for AUD set out in DSM-5, you might be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. 

For anyone consuming alcohol to the extent of dependence and addiction, the risk of serious health conditions like liver damage increases. Some of these adverse outcomes may not appear until much later in life. 

As well as leading to potential liver damage and increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, long-term alcohol abuse is associated with multiple types of cancer.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol?

While alcohol is a powerful central nervous system depressant, its effects on the CNS are inconsistent. Sometimes, you might find alcohol makes you excitable – at a wedding reception or bar, for instance – while on other occasions, you might feel drowsy and sedated after drinking. 

When you drink alcohol in smaller amounts, it suppresses the area of your brain associated with inhibition. Alcohol also affects core functions, such as: 

  • Breathing
  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Movement
  • Speech

Aside from these physical effects, alcohol exerts a range of mental side effects, including: 

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Relaxation
  • Mood swings
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment

If you abuse alcohol chronically over the long term, it can cause permanent changes to brain structure and functioning.

Before we explore both the physical and mental side effects of long-term alcohol abuse, a snapshot of just some of these effects so you can assess the seriousness of the issue: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Alcohol hepatitis
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Reduced white and gray matter in the brain
  • Memory loss
  • Reduced attention span
  • Less gray matter in the brain
  • Problems with learning
  • Fatty liver (steatosis)
  • Stroke
  • Various cancers
an image of someone dealing with the long term effects of alcohol abuse

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

Data shows that alcohol use disorder is linked to a variety of mental health conditions, including: 

  • GAD (generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

These disorders can occur independently from alcohol use disorder, sometimes predating issues with substance abuse. When mental health conditions co-occur with alcohol use disorder, this is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Long-term alcohol abuse almost always leads to negative health outcomes. 

If you consume excessive quantities of alcohol, your pancreas starts to produce potentially harmful substances. If this is untreated, it can lead to pancreatitis, a condition inflaming your pancreas and disrupting digestion

Pancreatitis is not the only digestive issue alcohol abuse triggers, though. If you drink abusively long-term, alcohol can erode the lining of your stomach. This causes the production of more stomach acid. 

Alcohol abuse heightens your risk of being diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This is a condition commonly referred to as acid reflux, characterized by a backwash of acidic fluid from the stomach to the esophagus. Not only is this condition uncomfortable, but it can sometimes lead to the development of reflux esophagitis. This condition causes inflammation alongside the backwash of acid. In its most chronic form, esophagitis can cause ulcers in the esophagus, as well as rips where the stomach joins the esophagus. 

Alcohol abuse can also lead to issues with the regulation of blood sugar levels

Consuming alcohol to excess can impact the way your body breaks down and absorbs nutrients. This sometimes causes nutrient deficiencies.

Cardiovascular issues associated with alcohol abuse include: 

  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood clots
  • Anemia
  • Stroke

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol-related CV diseases claim 600,000 lives each year globally.

One of the other major medical consequences of long-term alcohol abuse, liver disease comes on in many forms, including: 

  • Liver cancer
  • Cirrhosis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fatty liver
  • Fibrosis

After consuming alcohol, your liver metabolizes it and transforms alcohol into a digestible by-product. Since your liver can process only small quantities of alcohol at one time, excess alcohol continues circulating throughout your system. 

The good news is, both hepatic steatosis and alcoholic hepatitis are reversible if you stop abusing alcohol.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

In the short term, alcohol affects areas of the brain responsible for controlling cognitive function and motor function. The long-term abuse of alcohol can trigger permanent changes to the way your brain functions, as well as leading to possible brain damage. 

Alcohol abuse can also contribute to the development or worsening of a range of mental health disorders, including: 

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
come to Renaissance Recovery to overcome the effects of long term alcohol abuse

Overcoming Alcohol Addiction with Renaissance Recovery

If you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder and you feel the time is right to reclaim your life, Renaissance Recovery’s California rehab is here to help. 

Our outpatient programs give you flexibility, structure, and support without the expense of residential rehab. Along with evidence-based treatment programming, we offer connections to help people with the drug or alcohol detox, aftercare programming, and more

Renaissance programs use medication-assisted treatment if appropriate. You can streamline the detox and withdrawal process for alcohol abuse using FDA-approved medications. This will not only reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms but will also help minimize cravings for alcohol. 

In addition to MAT, you’ll have access to a range of psychotherapies like CBT and DBT. Alongside individual and group counseling sessions and holistic therapies, you’ll build a firm foundation for sustained recovery. 

For anyone suffering from alcohol use disorder co-occurring with a mental health condition, our dual diagnosis program will help you address both these knotty issues simultaneously for the strongest chance of sustained sobriety. 

All you need to do to get started is call our addiction hotline today at 866.330.9449.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country

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