What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Mind and Body?

By Courtney Cosby Alcohol often gives a temporary boost of confidence and numbs a person to the realities and burdens of his (or her) life. It also can make an ordinary person seem like a supermodel — at least for a time. But these feelings are only short-term. The long-term effects of alcohol on the body and the mind are significant and sometimes permanent. The long-term effects of alcohol depend on several factors, including the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed. Other factors include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • General health state
  • Age when they first started drinking
  • How long they have been drinking
  • Level of education
  • Family history
  • Risk of prenatal exposure to alcohol

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Similar to the short-term effects of alcohol, the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can affect an individual’s behavior and influence mood swings. Alcohol can also reduce a person’s ability to think clearly. Individuals who suffer from long-term alcohol effects have experienced trouble with brain shrinkage, learning problems, memory loss and more. These effects and others are the result of alcohol’s ability to slow down the speed of communication between neurotransmitters in the brain. It also changes brain structure, resulting in changes in mental function, emotion and personality. Thiamine deficiency often occurs in people who suffer from alcoholism. Roughly 80% of alcoholics are deficient in this essential nutrient. This generally occurs in individuals who have poor nutrition. Thiamine is very important for the body and particularly the brain. Of the alcoholics who have a thiamine deficiency, some will develop brain disorders. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is one of the most common and is a two-part disorder that consists of two different syndromes:

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy is often characterized by confusion and difficulty with muscle coordination and nerves (especially of the eyes). This is a short-term condition.
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis is long-term. It is a chronic syndrome that is accompanied by difficulty walking, forgetfulness and confusion. Most patients find themselves frustrated because of these troubles.

These are only a few of the many long-term alcohol effects on the brain.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Immune system — A person who consumes alcohol is more susceptible to disease. Alcohol slows the immune system and the body’s ability to fight off infection. Heart — Alcohol is damaging to the heart, whether it is consumed in excess on a single occasion or regularly over time. Heart-related problems like stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy can develop. Some research, however, has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol can be beneficial for helping to prevent coronary heart disease. Liver — Alcohol’s effect on the liver is possibly the most well-known problem that can develop from alcohol abuse. Liver inflammation and other problems can also develop, including steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. Pancreas — Alcohol can lead to an alarming condition called pancreatitis. This occurs when the blood vessels in the pancreas swell and impede digestion. Cancer — Excessive alcohol consumption can influence the development of some cancers, including mouth, esophageal, breast, liver and throat cancers. Resources National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol’s Effects on the Body  

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