10 Things You Might Not Know Alcohol Is Doing to Your Body


Most of us enjoy the occasional drink without thinking too much about it. After all, a little bit here and there doesn’t cause any real harm. Consuming large amounts on a regular basis, however, is a cause for concern. What might start as a way to cope with stress could lead to dependency.

Alcohol is a drug restricted by law and people must be at least 18 to buy it in the UK. The national guidelines advise that we consume no more than 14 units a week in order to keep our risk of alcohol-related disease low.

Most of us have gone a little too far and had a little too much alcohol at some point, with the night usually ending at the bottom of the toilet bowl and a promise to ourselves never to do it again.

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However, for some people alcohol forms part of their weekly diet, accompanying every meal and social event. Thinking about the ways in which alcohol affects our bodies, we usually think of a bad headache and nausea, but alcohol can cause much more damage than that. We run through a list of ten things you might not know about alcohol.

Alcohol shrinks your brain

Researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption actually shrinks areas of the brain associated with learning and development [1]. Although the brain tends to shrink with age, alcohol can speed up that process.

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Drinking large amounts over a long period of time can eventually lead to brain damage and increase your chances of developing dementia, a firm reminder that alcohol consumption today can have devastating irreversible effects in the years to come.

Causes depression

Alcohol might lift our mood for a moment, but it can never be a long-term solution to improving mental health. Alcohol is a depressant which means it actually slows down the processes in your body (alcohol reduces your heart rate and breathing as well your brain and reaction times).

image of a brain with words scribbled around it

Researchers found that there is a link between alcohol and depression, in that increased alcohol consumption heightens the risk of having poor mental health [2] .

Makes you infertile

Studies also suggest that an increase in alcohol consumption decreases your chance of becoming a parent. Researchers found that habitual alcohol consumption actually decreases sperm quality. This decrease was found in men consuming as little as 5 units a week - that equates to a large glass of red wine and a pint of beer every seven days.

Alcohol also causes irregularities in female menstruation and ovulation, reducing a woman's chances of falling pregnant [4].

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Makes you gain weight

Alcohol is calorific, and if consumed in large amounts it can contribute to weight gain. Drinking alcohol also lowers inhibitions and can lead to excess eating.

For example, you’re more likely to grab a kebab or pizza on the way home if you’ve had a couple of beers. Alcohol in itself can be fattening and people who drink heavily are often overweight.

Makes you accident-prone

Drinking can make you more prone to having an accident. Studies suggest that you are at a higher risk of injury if you are a regular drinker [5]. Alcohol is also responsible for 13% of traffic related deaths. Although different countries have varying limits, even the smallest amount can have an effect on how quickly you can react behind the wheel.

Makes you lazy

It’s perfectly acceptable to have a relaxing glass of wine after a long hard week at work, but people often lost track of their alcohol consumption, particularly when there’s something to celebrate. What begins as a wild night out often results in a sore head on Sunday morning. The persistent fatigue that comes with a hangover usually makes us vow to never do it again.

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Alcohol is a sedative but it also causes disrupted sleep. This pattern of irregular rest creates long-lasting tiredness that prevents us from getting on with our day. If you’re a regular drinker, you may find yourself feeling quite lazy as your body tries to recoup and recover.

Causes cancer

You may be aware of the fact that alcohol causes liver cancer but did you know it actually contributes to seven different cancers in total? The most common types aside from liver cancer are breast, bowel, mouth, throat, larynx and esophageal cancer.

Alcohol is toxic and inevitably causes damage to our cells. You might be mistaken for thinking that only binge drinking contributes to cancer but that’s actually irrelevant. Whether you down seven pints on a Saturday or a single drink each evening, the risk of cancer is present whenever alcohol is.

Can damage your bones

Drinkers are at a greater risk of developing bone disorders such as osteoporosis. This disease is characterised by bones with reduced mass and this weakness puts you at a greater risk of breaking or fracturing your bones.

Osteoporosis: A Life Sentence - The Biotechnologist

Research suggests that heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis but the jury is still out as to whether or not moderate drinking has any effect. Either way, alcohol prevents the absorption of calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Taking that away can only be a bad thing.

Causes serious digestive problems

Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach and intestines. As a result, you might find that that heavy drinking session means you're sitting on the toilet for a while. This might be a short term inconvenience but prolonged drinking can also lead to irreversible damage.

Alcohol causes an increase in stomach acid production which is why you might feel nauseous after one too many, but if you’re violently sick you could cause real physical damage to your throat. Repeated inflammation can also lead to inflammatory bowel disorders.

Changes your personality

Not only does regular heavy drinking change your body but it changes who you are as a person. Alcohol consumption is a major contributory factor in many domestic abuse violence cases globally.

With fewer inhibitions people overstep boundaries and say and do things that can cause harm. Alcohol has profound effects on mental health and can turn you into somebody you or your family no longer recognise.

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[1]  Topiwala A, Allan C L, Valkanova V, Zsoldos E, Filippini N, Sexton C et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study BMJ 2017; 357 :j2353 doi:10.1136/bmj.j2353

[2] Boden, J. M., & Fergusson, D. M. (2011). Alcohol and depression. Addiction, 106(5), 906-914.

[3] Jensen TK, Gottschau M, Madsen JOB, et alHabitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen

[4] Quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish menBMJOpen 2014;4:e005462. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005462

[4] Van Heertum K, Rossi B. Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much?. Fertil Res Pract. 2017;3:10. Published 2017 Jul 10. doi:10.1186/s40738-017-0037-x

[5] Rehm, J., Room, R. and Taylor, B., 2008. Method for moderation: measuring lifetime risk of alcoholattributable mortality as a basis for drinking guidelines. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 17(3), 141-151.

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