By The Recovery VillageThe Recovery VillageAbout our Editorial TeamEditor Camille RenzoniCamille RenzoniCami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in... read moreMedically Reviewed By Andrew Proulx, MDAndrew Proulx, MDAndrew Proulx holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, an MD from Queen's University, and has completed post-graduate studies in... read more×This medical web page has been reviewed and validated by a health professional. The information has been screened and edited by health professionals to contain objective information on diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Contains bibliographic reference sources. If you are a healthcare professional and you find any issue, please reach out to [email protected]Updated on 06/17/22 Non-moderate alcohol use poses many risks to health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published data that highlight this fact: Alcohol is a causative factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions 5.1% of the global disease and injury burden is due to alcohol use 13.5% of deaths in people 20-39 years of age are attributable to alcohol use 5.3% of all deaths in the world are due to alcohol use Alcohol and its metabolites are toxic to the human brain and body, and therefore can cause many symptoms and health problems, especially in people who abuse alcohol. Fortunately, alcoholism treatment and alcohol rehab are widely available for those who need and are ready to accept the right help. Symptoms of Alcoholism As an individual crosses the line from alcohol use to alcoholism, typical side effects of alcohol usually begin to develop. The physical harms of alcohol use are often not outwardly apparent initially, so many of the more obvious symptoms are behavioral. Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) diagnostic criteria, the World Health Organization’s AUDIT questionnaire and the CAGE questionnaire, some of the common symptoms of alcoholism are: Using more alcohol or for longer than intended Inability to cut back or stop drinking, despite a desire to do so Obsessive or intrusive thoughts about using alcohol Alcohol use interferes with responsibilities and important commitments Continued alcohol use despite mounting negative consequences Having blackouts while using alcohol Withdrawal symptoms (such as insomnia, shaking, sweatiness, restlessness, rapid heart rate or irritability) Developing tolerance Developing social problems from alcohol use (conflict with family or friends) Developing job, legal, financial, mental or health problems from alcohol use Using alcohol to cope with stress or negative feelings or emotions Hiding or lying about alcohol use Feeling guilty about drinking Criticism from others about alcohol use, feeling annoyed by that criticism Drinking alone Drinking at odd times of the day Related Topic: Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Physical Symptoms of AlcoholismPsychological Symptoms of AlcoholismOther Symptoms of Alcohol AbuseSome of the physical symptoms of alcoholism can appear early on, and include: Blackouts Insomnia Headaches Digestive problems, especially nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and appetite loss Poor balance and coordination Vertigo (dizziness) Sexual dysfunction Fatigue, low energy Poor memory Withdrawal symptoms (especially shaking, sweating, nausea and craving; more severe withdrawal symptoms include seizures, hallucinations, delirium and psychosis) Some of the early symptoms of alcohol use can be easily visible to others, and include: Bloodshot eyes Alcohol body or breath odor Tremor (shaking) Central obesity (from high-calorie alcohol) Red palms Ruddy complexion (alcohol causes a skin condition known as rosacea) Unkempt or deteriorating physical appearance As a psychoactive drug, alcohol causes a number of psychological symptoms in people who abuse it, including: Irritability Depression Anxiety, panic attacks Craving, obsessive thoughts about alcohol use Negative feelings: guilt, anger, resentment, self-pity, low self-esteem, regret, self-loathing and remorse Related Topic: Alcohol and Depression Other symptoms of alcohol abuse are related to the increasing amounts of time that affected individuals spend using alcohol or recovering from alcohol use (i.e. in a hangover), resulting in neglect of responsibilities and life in general. These symptoms include: Job problems or job loss Financial difficulties Marital or relationship conflict Loss of drivers license (if caught driving while impaired) Social isolation, including alienation from children and family Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse Long-term use of alcohol can affect a number of body systems and cause numerous health problems, including: Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (abnormal enlargement of the heart) Pancreatitis Liver cirrhosis Cancer: esophageal, oral, liver, colorectal, breast or pancreatic Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) Dupuytren’s contractures (where the flexor tendons of the palm of the hands contract and cannot be opened) Numbness and tingling in the extremities Related Topic: Alcohol Use Disorder About Alcohol Abuse and AddictionAlcohol Abuse TreatmentHow Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?Alcohol Withdrawal & DetoxAlcohol IntoleranceAlcohol Liver DiseaseSee More Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse Health problems can develop over the short-term from alcohol consumption, or even from a single episode of binge drinking, including: Irregular heartbeat Acute alcoholic hepatitis High blood pressure Stroke Motor vehicle or other accidents and injuries Acute gastritis (inflamed stomach) Seeking Help From Alcoholism? Whether you're calling for yourself or a loved one, our Intake Coordinators are here to help. Your call is confidential, and there's no pressure to commit to treatment until you're ready. We are ready and waiting to answer your questions or concerns 24/7. 561-582-2030 Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions Alcohol use has a close reciprocal relationship with mental health disorders. They share many of the same genetic causes and risk factors. Recent discoveries of the effects of alcohol on the brain have shown that alcohol use causes changes in the brain cell connections that bring about mental health disorders. A co-occurring mental health disorder (comorbidity) is present in 50-70% of people with alcoholism. Many people who develop alcoholism did so because of using alcohol to self-medicate their mental health symptoms. Even though the alcohol effects may provide a brief numbing of uncomfortable mental symptoms, in the short- and long-term, alcohol use worsens mental health disorder symptom severity. As well, alcohol use opposes the effects of otherwise effective medications used to treat mental health disorders. As such, a short- and long-term effect of alcohol use is the development or worsening of mental health disorders, as well as blocking treatment efforts. Alcohol Poisoning Alcohol poisoning, or acute alcohol toxicity, happens in degrees. Alcohol is toxic to the body and especially the brain in any amount. Milder degrees of alcohol toxicity are the drunk symptoms that people seek when using alcohol. As blood levels increase, the symptoms progress: Symptoms by Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)BAC 0.025% (25 mg/dL)A sense of warmth and well-being BAC 0.025-0.050% (25-50 mg/dL)Euphoria, impaired judgement BAC 0.050-0.100% (50-100 mg/dL)Loss of coordination, slowing of reflexes, reaction time, thought processes, speech. BAC 0.100-0.250% (100-250 mg/dL)Ataxia (slurred speech, abnormal eye movements, loss of coordination and muscle control) Above BAC 0.250% (250 mg/dL)Coma. Death generally occurs at levels above 400 mg/dL (0.400%), as the person stops breathing Note that the amount of alcohol ingestion required to reach various BACs varies greatly, according to certain factors inherent to each individual, such as: Tolerance Genetic metabolism factors Type of alcohol used (liquors are absorbed more quickly than are wine or beer, for example) Time of day during which the alcohol is consumed Gender Bodyweight General health Effects of Alcohol on the Body Alcohol and its metabolite acetaldehyde are toxic to all body tissues, and their toxic effects add up as alcohol use accumulates. There are some body tissues that are especially affected and have the greatest adverse health effects: Brain Liver Heart Immune system Additionally, because of the damage that the oxidant acetaldehyde does to DNA, alcohol is a potent carcinogen (cancer-causing chemical). Effects of Alcohol on the Brain Alcohol is psychoactive, meaning that it crosses the blood-brain barrier (which keeps most toxins out of the brain) and exerts its effects directly on the brain. Alcohol is metabolized into a toxic oxidant known as acetaldehyde, which has many adverse effects on the brain’s structure and function. Brain Cell Death: Alcohol really does kill brain cells. It causes apoptosis (premature death) of brain cells. Besides reducing the brain’s capacity to do its job, this also causes inflammation and scar tissue formation, which permanently replaces previously healthy brain tissue. Brain Inflammation: Alcohol and its oxidant metabolites damage DNA, which is a potent cause of cancer, premature aging, and reduced functional abilities of brain cells. It has also been recently discovered that alcohol alters the DNA that controls the brain’s immune function, resulting in chronic brain inflammation. This inflammation breaks down the connections between brain cells and promotes the formation of new pathways that support addictive tendencies and mental health disorders. This is part of the reason that people in recovery from alcoholism can relapse right back to where they were with even one drink, even after many years in recovery. This also helps explain the high correlation between alcoholism and mental health disorders. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Chronic alcohol use can also cause a brain disease known as wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome (collection of symptoms) is incurable and fatal, and is characterized by: Confusion, lack of awareness, poor concentration, lack of interest in the environment Visual impairments Unsteadiness standing or walking Memory loss and confabulation (making up stories to hide the memory loss) Nonsensical speech Psychosis Hepatic Encephalopathy: People who develop liver cirrhosis from alcohol often get toxins that are normally cleared by the liver accumulating in their brain, resulting in hepatic encephalopathy, which causes specific symptoms: A peculiar breath scent (known as “foetor hepaticus” or “breath of the dead”) Liver-flap (jerky, flapping uncontrollable movements of the limbs) Personality changes Excessive sleepiness Coma This condition can be treated, but it will come back if the affected individual continues using alcohol. Our Alcohol Detox and Inpatient Rehab Center The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health 4905 Lantana Rd Lake Worth, FL 33463 561-340-7269 Alcohol also has a profound effect on many brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. This is one of the reasons behind alcohol’s association with virtually all mental health disorders, as well as its association with other brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It is likely that as research continues, further effects of alcohol on the brain will be identified. Alcohol is, after all, a potent neurotoxin. Alcohol treatment in Florida is available for those who want to stop using alcohol but can’t on their own. The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health has exceptional programs for treating alcoholism and other substance addictions and mental health disorders. If you have concerns about alcohol use in yourself or a loved one and would like to discuss treatment options, please contact us for a confidential discussion with one of our staff. SourcesClinLab Navigator. “Alcohol (Ethanol, Ethyl Alcohol)” 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019. Crews, Fulton; Vetreno, Ryan. “Neuroimmune basis of alcoholic brain damage.” International Review of Neurobiology, 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019. Cui, Changhai; Shurtleff, David; Harris, Adron. “Neuroimmune mechanisms of alcohol and drug addiction.” International Review of Neurobiology, 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019. Jeanblanc, Jérôme. “Comorbidity between psychiatric diseases and alcohol use disorders: Impact of adolescent alcohol consumption.” Current Addiction Reports, September 28, 2015. Accessed July 5, 2019. Mitchell, Mack; Teigen, Erin; Ramchandani, Vijay. “Absorption and peak blood alcohol concentration after drinking beer, wine, or spirits.” Alcohol, Clinical and Experimental Research, May 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019. National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and cancer risk.” September 13, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2019. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s effects on the body.” (n.d.) Accessed July 5, 2019. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol use disorder: A comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5.” 2016. Accessed July 5, 2019. National Institutes of Health. “AUDIT.” Undated. Accessed July 5, 2019. Rehm, Jürgen. “The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism.” Alcohol Research & Health: the Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2011. Accessed July 5, 2019. Rusyn, Ivan; Bataller, Ramon. “Alcohol and toxicity.” Journal of Hepatology, February 4, 2013. Accessed July 5, 2019. Sullivan, Edith; Fama, Rosemary. “Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome revisited.” Neuropsychological Review, June 2012. Accessed July 5, 2019. Swaminathan, Mirashini; Ellul, Mark; Cross, Timothy. “Hepatic encephalopathy: Current challenges and future prospects.” Hepatic Medicine: Evidence and Research, March 22, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2019. World Health Organization (WHO). “Alcohol.” September 21, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2019. Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.