Effects of Alcohol

Table of Contents


The effects of alcohol start presenting from the moment you consume an alcoholic drink, even if you don’t always immediately feel those effects.

While drinking alcohol in moderation might induce a sense of euphoria and disinhibition, abusive patterns of alcohol consumption can trigger a variety of adverse effects, both short-term and long-term. In some cases, the effects of alcohol can be lethal.

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What Are the Effects of Alcohol?

According to NSDUH 2020, 220 million adults in the United States report drinking alcohol at some stage. Among these, 177 million people reported past-year alcohol use and 138.5 million people reported past-month alcohol use. 

This means most people have some experience of the effects of alcohol, from the warm initial buzz through to the unpleasant hangover that often presents the morning after a night of excessive alcohol consumption. 

For those who drink in accordance with CDC guidelines for moderate drinking, the effects of alcohol may not be cause for concern, particularly among infrequent moderate drinkers. 

Regrettably, consuming any amount of alcohol could trigger unwanted consequences. 

If you engage in patterns of binge drinking, you increase the risk of health effects manifesting sooner. 

Chronic and long-term alcohol consumption can lead to physical dependence or alcoholism (clinically known as alcohol use disorder). 

The sustained use of alcohol is associated with cognitive issues like memory and learning problems. Long-term alcohol use can also cause or inflame mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD. 

Side Effects of Alcohol

There are many immediate effects of alcohol on the body. These effects differ in presentation and intensity depending on the degree of alcohol intoxication. 

The side effects of consuming small amounts of alcohol are rarely dangerous, but as you consume more alcohol, so the risk of serious and adverse side effects increases. 

Small quantities of alcohol can cause the following immediate physical effects: 

  • Impaired coordination
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Delayed reaction times

Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol typically intensifies the physical effects, causing: 

  • Vision problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Flushed skin
  • Skin reaction
  • Increased urination
  • Sleepiness

Consuming large amounts of alcohol triggers the most intense and potentially dangerous physical side effects, including: 

  • Problems with bowel control
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular breathing
  • Losing consciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Coma
  • Death
An image of a man contemplating the many effects of alcohol on the body

We’ll explore these alcohol harmful effects in more detail as we examine how consuming any amount of alcohol could impact your body and mind, both short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is absorbed efficiently into the bloodstream within minutes of consumption. Alcohol enters the system through the blood vessels of your stomach lining and through your small intestine. From here, alcohol enters the brain. Here, the short-term effects of alcohol present. The short-term effects will differ according to the following factors: 

  • Amount of alcohol consumed
  • Speed of consumption
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Body fat percentage
  • Food in stomach

Immediate short-term effects of alcohol include relaxation and disinhibition. Occasionally, consuming alcohol can induce giddiness, even in small amounts. 

The primary short-term effects of alcohol intoxication are as follows: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Clumsiness
  • Headaches
  • Distorted senses and perceptions
  • Memory lapses
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of consciousness

When BAC (blood alcohol concentration) reaches a certain level, this cause alcohol toxicity, otherwise known as alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning. Here is an indication of what to expect: 

  • When BAC levels reach 0.25%, this triggers alcohol poisoning.
  • At BAC levels of 0.4%, there is a chance of coma and respiratory arrest.
  • BAC levels of 0.5% or above typically lead to fatal alcohol overdose.

Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant. As such, consuming too much alcohol can slow breathing and prevent enough oxygen getting to the brain. 

The most common signs of alcohol overdose include: 

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blue skin
  • Coma
  • Seizure

In the event of alcohol intolerance, insensitivity, or allergy, the immediate side effects can include sickness. If this occurs, expect to encounter the following symptoms: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushed skin

Consuming alcohol together with CNS depressants can impair the functioning of the respiratory system and the central nervous system. This can occur with OTC medications, prescription medication, or illicit drugs that act as CND depressants. Alcohol is especially dangerous when mixed with: 

  • Ketamine
  • GHB
  • Rohypnol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Tranquilizers
  • Sleep aids

The other short-term adverse outcome associated with alcohol is hangover. Consuming too much alcohol causes toxicity as your body is unable to efficiently process excessive amounts of the substance. One of the primary symptoms of hangover is dehydration. Other negative effects of hangover include: 

  • Headaches
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems with concentration
  • Racing heart
  • Dry eyes

What are the long term effects of alcohol, then?

a man looks out at the ocean representing prozac and alcohol

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

If the long-term abuse of alcohol leads to the development of alcohol use disorder, studies show this is associated with an increased risk of the following mental health conditions: 

  • Major depressive disorder
  • GAD (generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

In some cases, the above conditions present independently from alcohol use disorder. If a mental health condition co-occurs with alcoholism, dual diagnosis treatment deals with both issues simultaneously.  

Alcohol is a contributory factor to hundreds of diseases and health conditions, such as: 

  • Assaults
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Burns
  • Falls
  • Drownings
  • Assaults
  • Cancers
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)

CDC reports there were over 52,000 alcohol-induced deaths in the United States in 2021.

The long-term abuse of alcohol is linked with many negative health outcomes.

Alcohol abuse is associated with the following cardiovascular issues:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood clots
  • Anemia
  • Stroke
  • Cardiomyopathy

WHO (World Health Organization) states that alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases are responsible for over 600,000 deaths each year worldwide.

Liver disease is one of the most serious medical consequences of chronic alcohol abuse. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause: 

  • Cirrhosis
  • Fatty liver
  • Liver cancer
  • Fibrosis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis

When you drink alcohol, your liver metabolizes the substance, transforming it into an easily digestible by-product. Your liver is only able to process small quantities of alcohol, causing excess quantities to continue circulating in the system.

Consuming too much alcohol can cause your pancreas to start producing harmful substances. If untreated, this can trigger pancreatitis, disrupting digestion and inflaming the pancreas. 

Habitual alcohol abuse can also damage the lining of your stomach. You will be at increased risk of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux

disease). This condition,

informally known as acid reflux, involves stomach acid flowing back to the esophagus,

potentially damaging the stomach and causing ulcers. 

Abusing alcohol can also cause problems with blood sugar regulation, according to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

Excessive patterns of alcohol consumption can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Over time, alcohol abuse can cause permanent changes to the structure and function of the brain, possibly even causing brain damage.

How Long Do the Effects of Alcohol Last?

Research shows that the stomach absorbs 20% of alcohol with the small intestine absorbing 70%. Around 5% of alcohol in the system leaves through the skin, kidneys, and lungs. The liver removes the remaining alcohol. 

The liver is only capable of processing one standard drink at a time. This means the system can become saturated with alcohol if you consume too much too quickly. 

It takes anywhere from two to three hours for your body to metabolize the alcohol from one drink. For those who consume eight to ten drinks, by contrast, it can take up to 24 hours before all alcohol is purged from the system. 

Hangovers can last for up to 24 hours. You should not drink alcohol for at least 48 hours after a heavy drinking session. This will allow your body time to recuperate. 

image of woman on beach representing phases of recovery

Alcoholism Treatment at California Detox

Here at California Detox, we provide treatment for alcohol use disorder at all levels on ASAM’s continuum of care, including: 

  • OPs (outpatient programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • Inpatient programs (residential alcohol rehab)
  • Virtual IOPs (remote alcohol rehab)

Before you start a course of treatment for alcohol addiction, you must first detox. If you require a medically supervised detox, we offer this service at our licensed beachside detox center. Flush alcohol from your system with continuous emotional and clinical care provided, along with medications to reduce the intensity of withdrawal and cravings.

Our dual diagnosis treatment program for allows you to engage with simultaneous treatment for alcohol use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. 

All of our alcohol use disorder treatment programs connect you with the following evidence-based therapies and interventions: 

  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Holistic therapies
  • Family therapy

Once you complete your course of treatment for alcoholism, you can shift down to a less intensive form of care or transition right back into daily living. At California Detox, we’ll help you build the firmest possible foundation for sustained sobriety, and we’ll guide you from detox to discharge and beyond. 

Kickstart your recovery by calling admissions right now at 949.567.8790.


Alcohol affects nearly every organ of the body, but can take an especially heavy toll on the liver, leading to liver cirrhosis.
Your mental state is the first thing alcohol affects, impacting judgement, reason, impulsiveness, and more.


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