The side effects of alcohol can run the gamut from physical to psychological. Some of them are more common than others, but all should be carefully considered before you go out for your next night of binge drinking. Here are just a few things to know about alcohol’s impact on your mind or body.
1. It hurts your heart
While it’s true that moderate amounts of red wine can increase your intake of heart-friendly antioxidants and flavonoids, the American Heart Association (AHA) still doesn’t recommend it.
For starters, you can get the same nutrients from things like grapes and red grape juices, so there’s no need to add alcohol to the mix. Studies have also shown that alcohol can raise your blood pressure and cause your heart to go into overdrive. Combine this with the fact that alcohol also causes irregular heartbeats, and you have a recipe for a stroke or heart attack.
According to the AHA, the benefits of red wine simply don’t outweigh the risks. They advise people not to drink at all.
2. It messes with your brain
Everyone knows that alcohol impairs judgement. However, few people realize the full extent that alcohol can affect your cognitive function.
Things like memory loss, poor focus, scattered thoughts and increased risk-taking are all results of damage to the frontal lobe. It’s the part of your brain responsible for making decisions and controlling impulses.
If you’re drinking in moderation, the damage to your frontal lobe fades away as you sleep it off. If you’re drinking too much, however, your frontal lobe becomes less and less likely to recover. This is why alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) is a thing, and it’s why alcohol consumption is linked to neurological conditions like Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome.
3. It damages your liver
One of the functions of your liver is to neutralize toxic substances in your body. If you drink a lot of alcohol, however, it starts to damage your liver and reduce its ability to do its job.
Studies have shown that fatty liver cells start growing in people who consume just a half-ounce of alcohol per day. If you consume more than that, you start inflaming your liver and killing its cells. If you’re a binge drinker who consumes high amounts of alcohol, you run the risk of your liver cells dying and being replaced by scar tissue.
This is called cirrhosis of the liver, and it’s fatal. It’s what many people refer to when they say that someone “drank themselves to death.”
4. It makes you gain weight
Are your pants feeling a little tighter around the waist? Alcohol could be the culprit.
The simplest reason for alcohol-induced weight gain is that you’re drinking “empty calories” without even realizing it. Alcohol doesn’t make you feel full or stop you from eating, but it still has calories, so you’re increasing your daily caloric intake without actually getting the satisfaction of a full belly.
Another reason that drinking is killing your diet is because it’s reinforcing your lack of impulse control. If you’re the type of person who can’t resist a beer, you’re probably the type of person who can’t resist an extra doughnut at breakfast.
All things considered, alcohol just isn’t helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
5. It can affect you in the bedroom
For some people, alcohol is a way to increase feelings of sexual attraction. For others, it’s a cause of erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness.
Alcohol is a depressant, so it’s common to experience things like sleepiness, uncoordinated movements, slower respiration and decreased sensitivity in the nerve endings. These aren’t exactly ideal in the bedroom.
Even if you’re still able to perform, you might find that you don’t enjoy it as much as you usually do. You’ll be dehydrated and cognitively impaired. You might have delayed ejaculations or no ejaculations at all. Your hormones will be out of whack, especially if you’re combining alcohol with birth control medications.
To make a long story short, alcohol might give you greater confidence at the bar, but it’s not doing you any favors once you take someone home.
6. It won’t help your mental health
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about depression and where it comes from, so no one can say for sure that alcohol causes or worsens depressive mood disorders. However, there’s a strong and documented link between depression and alcohol abuse.
Nearly a third of people who have been diagnosed with depression also have a problem with excessive drinking. People who have a history of depression are also twice as likely as others to start drinking.
Another side effect of alcohol is that it lowers the effectiveness of antidepressants. In turn, this can make medicated and depressed people drink even more.
The jury is still out on the exact way that alcohol and depression mix, but one thing’s for sure: “Drowning your sorrows” just isn’t a good idea.
7. It increases your risk for cancer
Cancer is a bit like depression in the sense that the medical community is still trying to figure it out. But again, there’s a strong link between cancer and alcohol.
Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of everything from pancreatic cancer to breast cancer. Oral, pharyngeal and esophageal cancers have the highest correlation with drinking. This makes sense when you consider that your mouth and throat have the most contact with your whiskey sours, but it might be startling to realize that every sip is increasing your risk for cancer.
Another startling fact is that drinking has been said to increase your cancer risk by five times the usual amount.
8. It can cause birth defects in your baby
There’s a reason that doctors tell pregnant women not to drink. While a beer or two isn’t automatically fatal for a developing fetus, it isn’t giving them any health benefits at all, and it’s increasing the possibility of birth defects.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) can cause everything from abnormal facial features to learning disabilities later in life. They can also be the source of growth delays, mood disorders and compromised immune systems.
All of this comes from the fact that alcohol travels through the mother’s system and into the fetus’s. If you’re a pregnant woman taking shots, it’s like your fetus is taking shots with you.
Try to steer clear of alcohol during your pregnancy. Even if your doctor gives you the go-ahead for light drinks with dinner, you never know when you’ll cross that invisible line between “okay for the baby” and “too much for the baby.”
These are just a few of the side effects of drinking alcohol. As you can see, some of them are quite scary, so it pays to eliminate or even just cut back on your drinking. If you don’t think that you can do it on your own, it’s important to seek professional treatment for alcohol addiction.