How Does Your Body Change After Prolonged Alcohol Use?

Medically Reviewed

Alcohol has both short-term and long-term effects since it is a depressant that affects many of the body’s systems. In addition, it affects the brain, heart, and even bones, per the National Health Service (NHS).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that even people who drink too much in a single instance experience some of alcohol’s adverse effects. But serious issues with alcohol come with prolonged use.

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use

Chronic drinkers continually experience alcohol’s short-term effects, but these effects compound over time. With prolonged use, drinkers are likely to repeatedly:

  • Call in sick to work or miss school due to hangovers.
  • Engage in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex or driving under the influence.
  • Have accidents, such as falls, car accidents, or other injuries.
  • Lose personal items such as wallets, cell phones, and keys.
  • Engage in violent behavior, such as fights or brawls.

Dr. Jon Grant tells the Chicago Tribune that chronic alcohol drinkers are likely to face more adverse health outcomes than people who drink alcohol moderately. These effects only worsen with prolonged and high-level alcohol abuse.

Long-term drinking has problematic effects on many different organs, according to the Observer.

Reproductive system

Alcohol releases endorphins, and too many endorphins may decrease sex drive. This causes decreased sperm count, lower libido, and fatigue. In the long term, alcohol use could cause infertility.


Alcohol decreases your fear of threats, lessens your balance and coordination, and even causes an imbalance in your hormones. This causes changes in appetite, alterations in how the body metabolizes calcium, and fluctuations in blood sugar levels.


Chronic alcohol use and binge drinking cause blood pressure to rise. When drinking on a prolonged basis, alcohol can weaken the heart and lead to an irregular heartbeat.


Alcohol causes the pancreas to release enzymes into itself. These enzymes are not released into the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation of the pancreas. Long-term drinking increases the risk of diabetes or pancreatic cancer.


Most people are aware of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea associated with hangovers. Drinking alcohol for years can increase the risk of ulcers forming in the stomach or even bleeding. It could also cause a leaky gut. This is when toxins leak from the stomach into the rest of the body.


The liver does the brunt of the work when it comes to expelling excess alcohol from the bloodstream. We know it can process the alcohol it receives, but ridding the body of alcohol is not its only job. Drinking too many causes it to stop processing fat, and this could lead to inflammation, fatty liver disease, or even cirrhosis, which can result in death.


The NIAAA says that alcohol is a known carcinogen. It is known to increase the risk of breast, colorectal, head, neck, liver, and esophageal cancer. Alcohol is linked to up to 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.

How Alcohol Can Affect You in the Short Term

Drinking alcohol consistently and at high levels is known to have adverse health outcomes. There are risk factors that can cause it to have more or less of an effect on you. Among them are:

  •  Genes
  •  Gender
  •  Age of first alcohol exposure
  •  Height
  •  Weight

Per NHS, drinking one or two servings of alcohol might cause you to become more social. This is assuming you don’t chronically abuse alcohol. If you do, you likely will have a higher tolerance and be able to drink more without experiencing the same effects.

Drinking four to six servings of alcohol will slow down reaction times, as the nervous system and brain are affected. This amount of alcohol could result in making reckless decisions that can result in injuries, accidents, or other harm.

At eight to nine drinks, you may have blurry vision and slurred speech.

Since your liver won’t be able to metabolize all the alcohol, you will likely experience a next-day hangover. At 10 to 12 drinks, you start to reach harmful levels of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning may occur. The body will try to expel as much alcohol as possible through urine. Excess urination leads to dehydration, which causes headaches, nausea, and indigestion the next day.

After 12 alcoholic drinks, you run an incredibly high risk of alcohol poisoning. When this happens, you may experience breathing complications, heartbeat irregularities, and even coma.

Severe short-term results, such as alcohol poisoning, can lead to significant long-term problems.

As mentioned in Tonic, just one session of extreme binge drinking is enough to cause acute alcoholic hepatitis. This is a severe inflammation of the liver that causes patients to die within the month at least 50 percent of the time.

Can Negative Impacts Be Reversed?

Much of the damage from prolonged alcohol consumption can be mitigated with the proper treatment. Getting professional medical care is imperative. Doctors will assess the damage and determine the most appropriate treatments to reverse as much damage as possible.

Some forms of damage, such as liver or other organ damage, cannot always be reversed, according to Fox News.

The best measure to reverse or reduce the impact of prolonged alcohol abuse is to stop drinking.

This should not be done suddenly, as alcohol withdrawal can be deadly if not managed properly.

Those who have been abusing alcohol on a long-term basis require professional treatment.

In a comprehensive treatment program, you can safely undergo medical detox.

You will be supervised by medical professionals who will ensure that you remain safe while alcohol processes out of your body.

Therapy must follow detox. Without addressing the underlying issues related to alcohol abuse, you will likely return to drinking at some point.

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