What Are The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction?

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When an individual develops an alcohol addiction, their physical health suffers, their relationships suffer, and the lives of others around them are negatively impacted as well. What may initially start as a beer or glass of wine each day may easily turn into something more dangerous, so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of addiction as well as its long and short-term effects.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”

While a single drink once in a blue moon isn’t going to lead to addiction, binge drinking and regular drinking habits may prove to be dangerous. In fact, an estimated 16 million people in the United States are suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder and may benefit from alcohol addiction treatment.1  

The severity of a person’s alcohol addiction can range from mild to severe based on the criteria they meet, as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A person may be diagnosed with AUD if they meet two of the following criteria within the same 12-month period.

  1. Have you had moments when you ended up drinking more than you planned to?
  2. Have you tried to stop drinking several times but couldn’t?
  3. Have you spent a significant amount of time drinking or being hungover?
  4. Have you experienced strong urges or cravings for alcohol?
  5. Have you found that drinking frequently interfered with your family, employment, or school responsibilities?
  6. Have you continued to drink even though it was causing problems with family and friends?
  7. Have you neglected activities and hobbies that you enjoyed in order to drink?
  8. Have you gotten into dangerous or life-threatening situations while drinking (or after drinking) more than once?
  9. Have you continued to drink even though it made you depressed, anxious, or complicated an existing health problem?
  10. Have you found that drinking the same amount of alcohol does not give you the effect it did before?
  11. Have you experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, hallucinations, shakiness, or irritability when the effects of alcohol wear off?

If two or more of the above criteria apply to you or a loved one within the last year, you should seek help to get treatment.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Organs?

An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.10

Alcohol addiction can cause serious bodily harm, especially when it is abused over a long period of time. Here are just a few of the many ways alcohol can negatively affect your body:

  • The brain: 80% of alcoholics are deficient in vitamin B1, which the brain needs to function.11 This can lead to serious brain disorders such as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Dementia and seizures can also be a result of consistent heavy drinking.
  • The lungs: Large amounts of alcohol can cause a person’s breathing to stop. People who drink heavily are also more susceptible to infections and are more likely to have pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.12
  • The heart: Chronic drinking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.13 It can also cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and anemia.
  • The pancreas: 67% (or two-thirds) of cases of chronic pancreatitis occur in people who have a history of heavy drinking.14 Chronic drinking damages the pancreas, often leading to chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, which has a very high mortality rate.
  • The intestines: Alcohol abuse irritates and damages the tissues in the digestive tract, which hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and digest food. This damage can lead to bouts of diarrhea, stomach pain, malnutrition, ulcers, and colon cancer.15
  • The liver: 47.9% of all cirrhosis deaths in 2013 were alcohol-related. Of those deaths, 76.5% were among people ages 25-34.1 Heavy drinking severely damages the liver and can cause liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • The reproductive system: Men who drink heavily are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and women who drink too much may stop menstruating, which increases their risk for infertility. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol On the Body?

The long-term effects of alcohol addiction contribute to many physical problems and can result in many serious health issues. According to WebMD, researchers have linked chronic heavy drinking to more than 60 diseases.2,3,4 Some of the side effects of long-term drinking include:

  • Anemia
  • Cancer (mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, colorectal)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dementia
  • Cirrhosis
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Gout
  • Pancreatitis
  • Nerve damage

Regardless of whether a person drinks too much on a single occasion or over a long period of time, the side effects of long-term drinking in excessive quantities is very harmful to the body. It affects just about every organ, causing stomach distress, heart, liver, brain, and bone damage, diabetes complications, birth defects, and infertility. Malnutrition is also a hallmark of alcohol addiction.

Short-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption also include:

  • Memory lapses
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impaired judgment and coordination
  • Distorted breathing and hearing
  • Unconsciousness5

Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns, or drowning are also examples of serious side effects of long-term drinking or even a single instance of overconsumption.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol On the Brain?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the NIAAA, the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain are severe. Chronic excessive alcohol consumption severely affects the brain on a short-term and long-term basis, causing:

  • Decreased reaction time
  • Decreased ability to walk
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired vision
  • Impaired hearing

Research has shown that some of the effects on the brain will even persist long after a person has been sober, and some individuals may also develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disease that results in mental confusion, nerve paralysis, and impaired muscle coordination.6

What Are The Psychological Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction?

The side effects of alcohol abuse can also be psychological. According to the NIAAA, heavy alcohol use directly impacts the brain function and hormonal systems that are involved in the development of several common mental disorders, especially mood disorders.7 It is common for individuals suffering from alcohol addiction to develop psychological issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors

Alcoholism is also associated with the following psychiatric disorders that develop independently, either before or after the alcohol abuse begins:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizophrenia7

What Are The Social Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction and Alcohol Abuse Disorder also have a severe impact on social interactions and situations.

  • Missed work/lost productivity: Individuals who are suffering from alcohol addiction may miss work often due to hangovers and sickness. As a result, they typically experience a loss of productivity at work and increased pressure from management and coworkers.
  • Relationship problems: Alcohol addiction also frequently leads to family problems and broken relationships. This is because addicted individuals are often unreliable, act irrationally, may be aggressive or irritable, and put others in dangerous or life-threatening situations.
  • Financial problems: In addition, many people who are addicted to alcohol will neglect responsibilities such as paying bills, taking children to school, or spending and saving money responsibly. All of this contributes to broken relationships at home, school, and work.
  • Physical/emotional abuse: Domestic violence and sexual assault are also common symptoms of alcohol addiction, as irrational and aggressive behaviors are more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol.5

How Common is Alcohol Addiction?

In 2016, more than 3 million people died from alcohol abuse.8 The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence also cites several powerful statistics that illustrate just how common alcohol abuse is in America and the world.9

  • 237 million men and 46 million women across the globe are “problem drinkers.”
  • One in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking.
  • 28 percent of deaths linked to alcohol use were due to injuries, 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent were due to cardiovascular diseases.
  • Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Alcohol use in the U.S. is responsible for $191.6 billion in resource and productivity costs.
  • Global consumption of alcohol is predicted to rise in the next 10 years.
  • Of the 2.3 billion people who drink alcohol worldwide, the average daily consumption is 33 grams of pure alcohol a day (equivalent to two glasses of wine, a large bottle of beer, or two shots).

Risk Factors and Consequences of Drinking and Driving

Alcohol addiction and impaired driving both come with a host of risks and serious consequences, especially for repeat offenders who have a habit of driving while intoxicated. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 g/dL or higher involved in fatal car crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have prior DWI convictions than were drivers with no alcohol.16

Regardless of how many times you’ve gotten away with it, if you or a loved one decides to drink and drive, you may be faced with some of the following consequences:

  • Hefty fees and fines – If you are pulled over by the police while driving under the influence of alcohol, you could be arrested and face $10,000 or more in fines or fees. You may also even lose your license.
  • Serious injury or death – In addition to facing fines, arrest, and jail time, you may also seriously injure yourself or someone else in a car accident as a result of your alcohol abuse. Alcohol-related traffic incidents can also be fatal.
  • Court-ordered addiction treatment – If you are caught drinking and driving, you may be required to complete court-ordered rehab against your will, with the potential alternative being jail time.

How to Prevent Drunk Driving

Deadly alcohol-related car crashes are completely preventable. Before attending an event or party this year, consider the consequences of drunk driving and plan ahead.

  • Attend an alcohol-free event.
  • Choose a designated driver before leaving the house to attend any parties.
  • Don’t let your friends or loved ones get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.
  • Take an Uber or a taxi instead of driving yourself.

You may have struggled with alcohol addiction and abuse for months or years now, knowing full well that you need help. If so, you may want to consider some major life changes. Checking yourself into a drug and alcohol detox program is a great way to start.

What Is the Best Way to Quit Drinking?

Completing an alcohol detox program at a medically assisted detox center has many benefits and can be much more comfortable and safe than detoxing independently at home. By checking yourself into an alcohol detox program, you’ll also avoid potentially harming yourself or others by driving drunk and you can get the help you need to start living sober.

A medically-assisted alcohol detox program provides several important aspects of treatment that will help you get sober:

  • Safe medical and clinical treatment during alcohol withdrawal: If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, alcohol withdrawal can sometimes be very severe or long-lasting, which makes it very difficult to get sober. However, medical detox ensures your safety and comfort while detoxing. During detox, a treatment team of doctors and nurses will monitor your vitals 24/7 to make sure you are progressing through alcohol withdrawal safely. They will also administer medication to treat uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and to prevent any medical emergencies or severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures.
  • Therapy and counseling: You’ll also meet with licensed counselors, therapists, and recovery specialists to work through the psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Many people experience severe depression and anxiety when they stop drinking, but therapeutic support can help you manage these symptoms and establish healthy ways of coping with them.
  • H&I meetings: Additionally, Briarwood Detox offers H&I meetings for clients enrolled in an alcohol detox program. These meetings serve as a low-pressure introduction to the 12-Step Program. They also provide opportunities to connect with potential sponsors and other individuals who have successfully maintained a sober lifestyle after being addicted.
  • Referrals for ongoing treatment in rehab: Once you’ve completed an alcohol detox program, your treatment team should provide referrals for ongoing alcohol addiction treatment at a rehab center. Residential alcohol rehab, outpatient alcohol rehab, or online alcohol rehab can help you establish positive habits and lifestyle changes as you adjust to sobriety. It will also provide professional treatment and assistance to uncover the causes of your addiction and gain skills to manage life’s challenges without relying on alcohol. After rehab, a sober living program can help you sustain your recovery with essential recovery support services.

Can Your Body Heal If You Stop Drinking?

Although much of the physical damage caused by alcohol abuse is irreversible, your body can heal from some of it. For example, liver damage from consistent long-term alcohol abuse is common, cutting back or quitting entirely can help your liver heal. With time, your liver may heal and regenerate itself.

Psychological healing can also occur with extended sobriety, but that will require recovery support group attendance, individual therapy, professional addiction treatment, or a mixture of all three.

Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

As you can see, the damaging effects of alcohol addiction are widespread and all-encompassing. They take a serious toll on the addicted individual as well as all those around them. If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s never too late to seek help. Whether you’re a college student, a high-ranking business executive, or a stay-at-home mother, Briarwood can provide an Austin detox program that caters to your personal and professional needs. Contact the admissions team at Briarwood Detox Center to learn more about our individualized alcohol detox program or executive detox program and receive recommendations for ongoing addiction treatment after detox. 


  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
  2. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/12-health-risks-of-chronic-heavy-drinking#1
  3. http://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body
  4. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
  5. http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/short-term-long-term-effects.html
  6. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
  7. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm
  8. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-alcohol-who/alcohol-abuse-kills-3-million-a-year-most-of-them-men-who-idUSKCN1M11M9
  9. https://www.facingaddiction.org/news/2018/10/30/national-opioid-addiction-rates-hit-plateau-2
  10. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  11. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590617/
  13. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochurewomen/women.htm
  14. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/diseases/alcohol-and-pancreatitis/
  15. https://www.sccollege.edu/StudentServices/HealthWellnessCenter/AlcoholEffects/Pages/intestines.aspx
  16. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving#alcohol-abuse-and-cost

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