What Alcohol Does to Your Body?

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interesting_alcoholic_beveragesAlcoholic beverage drinking is a common practice around the world. In fact, every country has its own specialty drink that contains alcohol. The habit and traditions associated with drinking alcohol vary from one place to another. For example, in Munich, Germany, a beer festival is held every October, called “Oktoberfest”. The rate of alcohol consumption also varies from one region to another. In the United States, the highest alcohol consumption is noted in the West, and the lowest rates were documented in the Southern regions. Due to its popularity and widespread availability, alcohol has a high abuse potential. This article serves to give a comprehensive review on what alcohol does to the body.

Alcohol metabolism

Once consumed, alcohol is primarily absorbed by the small intestine. After this, it is then rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. The rate of absorption is faster if someone drank alcohol without eating anything. Also, distilled drinks mixed with carbonated drinks are absorbed faster compared to wine and beer. Other factors that increase the rate of alcohol absorption are strong emotions and gender. Those exhibiting extreme anger and fear have faster rates of alcohol absorption into the gut. Once alcohol reaches the liver, it is broken down into water, carbon dioxide and acetate. Usually, alcohol is eliminated from the body at an average rate of three-fourths an ounce per hour. Because this is constant, alcohol consumption that exceeds elimination from the body causes it to remain in the blood. This hastens and prolongs the effect of alcohol to the human body. This depends on how much alcohol was consumed and how frequent the person consumes alcohol.

Effect on the Central Nervous System

The most sensitive organ that is affected by alcohol is the brain. According to studies, drinking five to six servings of alcohol per day leads to poor cognitive function. Alcohol exerts its effect on the cerebral cortex, which causes a change in behavior, judgment, mood and inhibitions. Alcohol consumption causes a release in the hormone serotonin, causing disinhibited behavior. The dopamine hormone is likewise released on alcohol consumption. This causes a sense of euphoria or pleasure among alcohol drinkers. Alcohol causes incoordination and difficulty walking because of its negative effect on the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. It is also a known depressant of the central nervous system. Its depressant effect on the brain is proportionate on the blood alcohol levels. Because of this, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol makes a person drowsy and initiates the onset of sleep. However, consumption of large amounts of alcohol may cause deep stupor, coma and even death. This usually occurs when the blood alcohol levels reach 0.5%. At this level, breathing abnormalities may also occur because of its adverse effect on the breathing control center, which is located on the medullary portion of the brainstem.

Effect on the Gastrointestinal System

Alcohol is a noxious substance to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Large consumptions of alcohol impair the immune defenses of the gastrointestinal system causing inflammation on the lining of the stomach. This is the reason why chronic alcohol drinkers may experience stomachache after a drinking binge. With frequent and prolonged alcohol consumption, as seen in those with alcohol dependence, the liver and pancreas becomes inflamed, leading to illnesses such as alcoholic hepatitis and pancreatitis. In worst scenarios, people who chronically abuse alcohol develop liver failure. Since the liver is one of the major metabolic organs of the body, toxins build up when liver failure occurs.

Effect on the Cardiovascular System

Alcohol consumption causes the heart to pump harder, which is often felt as palpitations. This occurs because alcohol dehydrates the body and the heart has to work twice as hard to deliver blood to important organs. Moderate amounts of alcohol consumption have a good effect on the cardiovascular system because it increases the levels of good cholesterol. It also decreases the viscosity of blood, which improves blood flow to other organs. However, prolonged consumption of large amounts of alcohol makes the heart muscle weaker. This leads to a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which causes heart failure. Also, those with alcohol dependence have a higher risk of heart attack as a result of the negative effects of alcohol on blood pressure and cholesterol.

Other Effects on the Body

For those who are pregnant, alcohol consumption is not advised because it is known to cause congenital anomalies. Babies born from alcoholic mothers suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, wherein babies have small brains, mental abnormalities, heart defects and facial anomalies. Alcohol is also a substance that increases the likelihood of acquiring cancer. Prolonged ingestion of large quantities of alcohol causes mutagenesis, a condition that causes genetic alteration. This in turn may lead to impaired regulation of the cellular cycle, leading to carcinogenesis.


Alcohol consumption has important effects on the body. The brain is the most susceptible organ to the adverse effects of alcohol. This substance is known to cause depression in the function of the central nervous system that is proportional to the level of alcohol in the blood. Severely increased blood levels may cause stupor, coma and even death. Increased alcohol consumption also causes abnormalities in breathing patterns because of its effect on the breath control center in the brain. With moderate consumption, alcohol has good effects on the heart. However, alcohol abuse has adverse effects other organs of the body causing various illnesses, which may ultimately lead to death.

Author: Marinelle C

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