Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use on the Body

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use on the Body

Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to the body, but the addiction does not occur by taking alcohol once. Alcohol becomes addictive when one cannot control. Approximately, 17 million American adults have disorders related to alcohol use. Intoxication affects various organs such as the liver and the brain. Studying the stages of alcoholism helps in identifying the best option for detoxification and alcoholism treatment. Morton Jellinek came up with the four stages of alcoholism namely, pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, middle alcoholic, and late alcoholic.

Level of Alcohol Use

In the first stage, a person does not exhibit any signs of alcohol-related problems. The behavior of the person may look normal to a person is not keen on observing the person. In the first stage, drinking is not addictive but is rather a behavior that a person engages in for social purposes. The alcohol user, however, tends to graduate to use alcohol as a relief for stress, and at this point, the person gets accustomed to the behavior. The body also develops the tolerance for the substance to the extent that the individual can carry out his/her duties while under the influence of alcohol. The primary way of establishing the drinking stage that you are in is by asking yourself why you drink.

The second stage is early alcoholic which happens when one becomes subconscious after consuming the substance. In this stage, the user experiences blackout and the discomfort increases when the person has not taken alcohol. The stage is also characterized by an inability to keep off, and one may start concealing the behavior to friends and relatives. The person is o longer confident when taking the substance but rather conceals his/her use by mixing it with a soda or any other drink. The levels of tolerance for alcohol increases and one tends to think about the substance more frequently.

The third level of alcohol use is middle alcoholic characterized by observable behaviors and symptoms that friends and relatives can observe and associate with alcohol use. The person loses the ability to work as they spend too much time drinking or experience hangovers. An individual in this stage will also carry out other tasks such as driving while under the influence. The person also becomes irritating to those around him/her and starts showing physical symptoms such as reddening of the face as well as digestive complications such as bloating.  Middle alcoholism also leads to sluggishness and either weight loss or gain.

The final stage of alcohol use is late alcoholism whereby the long terms effects are evident. In this stage, the user develops health complications such a lung failure and brain damage. In this stage the individual struggles to control the behavior and spends all the time drinking. The person loses interest in friends and family and even stops working to devote all the time to drinking. In this late stage, the health of the person deteriorates, and he/she develops diseases such as liver cirrhosis or dementia. Paranoia is experienced as well as excessive fear coupled with hallucinations and tremors. Alcohol abuse, therefore, occurs in eves and despite the level that one is the use of appropriate therapies can assist him/her. Apart from the diseases motioned earlier, excessive alcohol consumption affects the central nervous system which happens after the alcohol goes from the stomach to the bloodstream

How alcohol goes from the stomach to the bloodstream

Alcohol is not digested like foods, so after it is swallowed, it goes to the stomach through the esophagus and finally goes to the small intestine. 20% of alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and the rest in the small intestine. The epithelial cells found in the stomach and small intestine facilitate absorption due to the presence of projections that are fingerlike hence increasing the surface area. The surface area aids in the absorption of molecules and nutrients through the membrane. There is a difference in absorption if one drinks alcohol when there is food in the stomach and when there is no food. If there is food pyloric sphincter will close to facilitate digestion, so this slows down the process of alcohol absorption in the bloodstream because it cannot move into the small intestine immediately after because the stomach will be closed. The type of meal taken also has an impact on the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream. If one, for example, had eaten fatty foods before consuming the alcohol, the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) decreases by 50%. The levels of absorption, therefore, are high in a person who consumed the substance without eating as compared to the one who drinks alcohol with a full stomach.

Alcohol enters the capillaries from the gut across the epithelial cells which border intestinal lumen. It enters the capillaries through interstitial space, and the movement depends on the concentration gradient. The diagram below shows the movement of alcohol from the intestinal lumen to the capillary.


The capillaries consist of endothelial cells which are found in the stomach and small intestine just like in any other internal organ. Since alcohol is small in size, it easily moves from the capillaries to the endothelial cells and finally reaches the veins that transport blood to the liver. The blood vessels are made of endothelial cells, but the capillaries are unique as they are relatively thick to allow the exchange of gas to the blood as well as cells that surround it. The endothelial cells are not tightly structured so the solutes such as alcohol can easily move through the capillary. The capillary membranes also contain holes referred to as fenestrae that help in helping to diffuse into the blood. The diffusion process uses the concentration gradient.

Alcohol from the capillaries is transported to the veins where it is distributed to the whole body. Apart from food eaten the absorption of alcohol is influenced by other factors such as sex, weight, and age. There are those who think that they can increase the metabolism of alcohol by drinking a lot of water or sleeping, but this is just a myth. As alcohol gets absorbed in the body, it passes through various systems where it stays for several hours. In the breath, for example, lasts for approximately 12-24 hours. In the urine, it can last up to three days and in the saliva for a maximum of two days. After absorption, the substance stays in the blood for up to 6 hours and the hair for 90 days after absorption.  Alcohol is removed out of the body system through dehydrogenase which takes place in the liver. Alcohol also gets out of the body through breathing, sweating and urinating but it does not mean that drinking a lot of water increases the rate of metabolism. It may seem that alcohol stays in the system only for a few hours, but the impact is severe especially in the central nervous system.

Effects of long-term alcohol use on the body

Long term use of alcohol impacts organs such as the heart, liver, bones and the immune system. According to the e Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 88,000 Americans die from alcohol use related causes such as accidents, heart disease, liver failure, cancer as well as heart disease. Abusing alcohol at any level can lead to a heart attack. Alcoholism increases the risk of heart attack by 40 percent.

Drinking excessively increases blood pressure which triggers a heart attack and stroke. The increase in blood pressure is sometimes due to weight gained linked to alcohol consumption. Long term alcohol use also makes the heart muscle weak thereby affecting its ability to pump the blood effectively. Cardiomyopathy causes death through heart failure due to insufficient blood flow. Holiday Heart Syndrome is another cardiovascular disease linked to excessive alcohol consumption. This happens after consuming 15 units of a substance with 4% alcohol or one and half bottles with 13% wine in 2 hours.  This makes the heart beats to be irregular which makes the individual experience breathlessness and changes in blood pressure which triggers heart failure leading to sudden death.

Long term consumption of alcohol affects the bone mass by reducing formation, increased fractures, and a decrease in the speed of fracture healing. In adults, bones are removed by osteoclasts and new ones formed by osteoblasts, but when a person consumes the substance for a long time, the balance in these two processes is impaired. It is also linked to osteoporosis due to the imbalance in calcium which is a nutrient needed for strong and healthy bones. Alcohol impacts the production of vitamin D which is essential in facilitating absorption of calcium in the bones. Excessive intake of alcohol triggers fractures such as vertebral fractures and hip fractures which may cause disability in extreme cases.

Long term alcohol consumption weakens the immune system thereby increasing the risk of contracting diseases. People who drink alcohol for a long time increase their risk of getting infectious diseases such as pneumonia because alcohol leads to immunodeficiency. Alcohol affects gastrointestinal structure which impairs its function and causes leakage of microbes. This leakage activates the immune system which causes liver inflammation. Consumption of the substance is linked to pulmonary diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus and tuberculosis. Alcohol impacts the immune system by perturbing the circadian rhythms causing sleep disorders since the individual is unable to fall asleep due to long and persistent drinking hours. Circadian rhythms play a significant role in immune systems, hormones control and control of blood sugar in the body.  Alcohol impacts the sleep and wake cycle and may lead to more serious problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Chronic alcohol consumption impairs the normal function of the liver which is the largest organ of the body located in the upper side of the abdomen. Alcohol causes liver cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis which are fatal diseases if not managed. The life detoxifies the circulating blood, secretes bile to help in digestion and absorption of fats that takes place in the small intestine. The liver controls the fluidity of the blood as well as clotting and turns protein products into urea and transfers it to the kidney for excretion. When one takes alcohol for a long time these functions are impaired by diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and fatty liver.

Fatty liver is not known to cause any disease, unlike alcoholic hepatitis which is an inflammation of the liver. The symptoms for liver hepatitis include fever, jaundice as well as severe pain the abdomen.  When the diseases become severe, it can be mistaken for other diseases such as pancreatitis, cholecystitis as well as appendicitis.

Liver cirrhosis is a more severe condition that leads to scars in the tissue that blocks his blood vessels thereby impairing the normal functioning of the liver. All the three conditions of the liver are reversible through abstinence although the complexity increases from fatty liver to liver cirrhosis. Although the diseases are reversible approximately 44 % of liver cirrhosis total deaths are as a result of long term alcohol consumption. Fatty liver is evident among all alcohol consumers, but only a maximum of 35% of this population show signs of liver hepatitis. The number of those who develop an extreme condition of the liver which is cirrhosis is 10 to 20% which is relatively low as compared to the former. Majority of those affected by liver cirrhosis are those aged 45-65 which is the productive age. Although abstinence is used in the management of liver cirrhosis in progressive cases, patients undergo a liver transplant. The procedure has been effective in saving the life of many long term alcohol users who resume their normal life after the operation.

Effects of long term alcohol use on the central nervous system

Excessive alcohol use not only affects non affects non-central nervous system such as bones but also impacts the central nervous system. Alcoholism is linked to disruption of cell growth and impairment of the nervous system. People who are addicted to alcohol have low levels of Vitamin B1 which affects the functioning of the brain. The extent of impairment is influenced by factors such as diet, amount of alcohol consumed, gender, age, family history as well as genetics.

Excessive drinking is associated with damage to the hypothalamus which affects the thinking patterns of the susceptible individuals. The cause of damage is due to cerebral cortex and white matter atrophy. Excessive use of alcohol increases the risk of damage of the brain cells which leads to impairment of functions of the front lobe which include emotions and relationships as well as executive control. Alcohol is also believed to affect the right hemisphere of the brain which explains why alcohol addicts are less emotional and usually have little understanding of where they are at a particular time.

Excessive and prolonged intake of alcohol affects the central nervous system which consists of the brain and the spinal cord as well as the peripheral nervous system which is made of nerves. Intoxication leads to hypothermia if the user is in a cold environment. There is a belief among alcohol users that the substance can help heat their bodies in when it is cold which is dangerous. Chronic alcoholism leads to cerebellum which is an injury to the brainpan which has a severe impact on the body because it results in loss of coordination for the muscles. Muscle coordination helps in maintaining balance, so the imbalance leads to problems such as staggering.

Long term alcohol users are at risk of developing peripheral nervous system disorder which leads to peripheral neuropathy characterized by weakness in the hands and feet as well as numbness. Long term drunkenness leads to Korsakoff’s syndrome which is characterized by extreme cases of forgetting daily incidents immediately after they occur. This condition is referred to as anterograde amnesia and is attributed to a deficiency in thiamine and intake of substances with high levels of alcohol.

Chronic alcoholism is linked to neuropsychological dysfunctions that cause inattentiveness and slow processing of visual information.  Individuals with this condition have challenges of solving basic problems and interpreting objects with two or three dimensions. Individuals who have a record of long term drunkenness have abnormalities in the emotional exhibition which is as a result of alteration of the functioning of the limbic system. Alcohol consumption damages hippocampus and amygdala whose function I to maintain memory. Chronic drunkenness affects gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) by decreasing its number which causes withdrawal seizures (Davies). Long term alcohol use is also linked to disruption of the proper functioning of neuron which in turn decreases the growth of the nerves.

Body’s Ability to Repair Damage

The ability of the body to repair the damages caused depends on the extent to which different organs have been affected. The ability of the body to reverse the damages is affected by low immunity caused by long term use of the substance. If the immune system is not impaired the body can effectively repair the damages done (Davies). The destruction of the normal function of the immune system; however not only lowers the effectiveness of fighting diseases but also makes the person more prone to developing other diseases such as pneumonia. The body repairs organs such as nerves automatically if the body of the organ is not severely damaged. The neuron has branches that spread out of the body of the cell which can be restored by the body as they regrow at the rate of 2cm per month. The success of regrowth are higher if the membrane is not damaged because the regrow to its original size but if the damage was intense new nerve connections will be impossible.


Alcohol use does not have severe negative impacts if not used for a long time and in moderation. There are different levels of alcohol consumption namely pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, middle alcoholic, and late alcoholic. Alcohol is not digested like food but is instead goes to the stomach and then to the small intestine. Absorption takes place in these two organs with 20% being absorbed in the stomach and 80% in the small intestine. If one takes alcohol after eating the pyloric sphincter will b closed to facilitate thereby slowing down alcohol absorption. Alcohol is transported from the intestinal lumen to the capillaries to the veins and finally to the blood. Chronic drunkenness affects organs such as the liver, bones, heart and the nervous system. Some of the diseases can be dealt away with abstinence while the extreme cases rely on surgical operations to carry out transplant such as in the case of liver cirrhosis. Long term alcohol use affects the central nervous system such as the brain and the nerves. The body can repair the damage caused by alcohol use if the immune system is not impaired. The effectiveness of the repair process is also dependent on the extent of damage caused.


Works Cited

Connor, Jason P., Paul S. Haber, and Wayne D. Hall. “Alcohol use disorders.” The Lancet 387.10022 (2016): 988-998.

Olufemi, A. S., and O. O. Olayebi. “Transportation Process of Alcohol in the Human Body System.” Austin J Biomed Eng 4.1 (2017): 1039.

Schuppan, Detlef, and Nezam H. Afdhal. “Liver cirrhosis.” The Lancet 371.9615 (2008): 838-851.

Mukherjee, Sukhes. “Alcoholism and its effects on the central nervous system.” Current neurovascular research 10.3 (2013): 256-262.

Davies, Martin. “The role of GABAA receptors in mediating the effects of alcohol in the central nervous system.” Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience (2003).