Heavy Drinking and the Toll It Takes

6 minute read

By Kathleen Corrigan

A lot of the best things in life aren’t good for us in large amounts and alcohol is no different. Fortunately, you can learn about the negative impacts of heavy drinking and find help with a search online.

While the short-term affects of relaxation, euphoria, and lowered inhibitions might sound fun, the long-term affects of heavy alcohol use are quite damaging and could significantly shorten your lifespan.

Mental health

Alcohol is a downer, otherwise known as a depressant, and although many people believe that booze helps to “drown their sorrows,” it could actually be adding to them. Aside from the negative affects that alcoholism can have on one’s career and personal relationships, excessive drinking alters your brain chemistry and makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.

For those who are already dealing with mental health issues, alcohol can also make antidepressants and other medications less effective. Statistics show a strong link between suicide and alcohol, and it’s estimated that nearly 22% of all suicides in the United States involve intoxication.

Fertility issues

By now everyone knows that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix, but did you know that excessive drinking can have an impact on future pregnancies too? Scientists don’t yet fully understand why alcohol consumption affects fertility, but studies have shown that drinking between 1-5 alcoholic beverages a week can reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving later in life.

Alcohol has also been linked to erectile dysfunction in men. Males who drink just five servings of alcohol a week have a lower sperm count than men who drink less or not at all.

Cardiovascular disease

Even though many like to rave about the heart health benefits of the flavonoids and antioxidants in red wine, overall excessive drinking can have a negative impact on your cardiovascular system.

Alcohol has been found to raise triglyceride fat levels in the blood, putting habitual drinkers at a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. It can even lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.

Brain damage

We now know that even just a few nights of hard partying in your youth can lead to cognitive and memory problems later in life, so it’s not surprising that a lifetime of heavy drinking can have a significant impact on your long-term neurological health.

Years of drinking can result in a deterioration of white matter, which can affect your ability to memorize, plan, judge, and reason, as well as gray matter, which connects to the body’s sensory organs. The longer someone drinks, the more damage that gets inflicted on the brain.


If you’ve ever been on a calorie counting diet, you know how a few drinks can easily double your daily calorie intake. Alcoholic drinks can add between 1,000-3,000 extra calories per day on top of your regular diet if you are a heavy drinker.

Obesity can, of course, lead to other issues such as type II diabetes, heart problems, depression, and sleep apnea. Even though they call it a “beer belly,” don’t think that sticking to spirits will help you slim down; even a single gin and tonic can pack as much as 300 calories per serving.


Anemia is a condition caused by having a low red blood cell count and is characterized by fatigue, weakness, headaches, and dizziness. Alcoholics are more susceptible to anemia because alcohol has been known to lower the red blood cell count in the body. This is compounded by the fact that alcoholics tend to eat poorly and are not getting enough B12 and iron, two nutrients that are essential to a healthy red blood cell count.

In extreme cases, this can even result in a condition known as macrocytosis which causes gastric issues, pale skin, loss of appetite, bleeding gums, numbness, and confusion.


Multiple studies have shown that there is a link between heavy alcohol consumption and several different types of cancer. Alcohol is a known carcinogen that can damage your DNA and interferes with your body’s natural ability to absorb nutrients, which increases your chances of getting head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer.

Alcohol has also been known to increase estrogen levels in the blood, which means female drinkers are 1.5 times more at risk of breast cancer. Statistics show that heavy alcohol use is linked to around 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States.


A lifetime of drinking is understandably hard on your liver, and some chronic alcoholics can even end up scarring it. Cirrhosis is a condition where the liver becomes so damaged that blood flow is blocked, which inhibits multiple organs from functioning properly.

Early symptoms include weight loss, poor appetite, nausea, and fatigue. If left untreated, it can get pretty horrific; it can result in jaundice, gallstones, internal bleeding, fluid in the legs and abdomen, personality changes, and even a coma. In extreme cases, a liver transplant is required for a full recovery.


Once known as “the King’s Disease,” gout is a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the blood that crystalizes around your joints, resulting in swelling and pain. Elbows, fingers, knees, and ankles can be affected, but the most common site of pain is the big toe, and it tends to occur when the sufferer is sleeping.

Gout can also lead to uric acid deposits in the kidney, otherwise known as kidney stones, but luckily attacks generally tend to dissipate after 3-10 days. Men are more likely to have gout than women, particularly if they are overweight and have a diet that’s heavy in beer, meats, and seafood.


A life long drinking habit can also do damage to your pancreas, the large gland responsible for creating stomach acid, insulin, and glucagon, which are essential for your digestive system. Chronic drinking can result in the pancreas becoming inflamed, which causes the enzymes it produces to attack it. This leads to infection, bleeding, and potentially permanent damage known as pancreatitis.

Characterized by nausea, vomiting, fever, and swelling in the abdomen, pancreatitis can be an acute attack, but can develop into a chronic problem for some alcoholics if left untreated. In extreme cases, surgery to remove part of the pancreas could be required.


Seizures don’t just occur in people suffering from epilepsy, they’ve been known to occur in chronic alcoholics too, particularly when they are in withdrawal after a night of partying. A seizure is when the body convulses due to a burst of electrical activity in the brain and it can be startling, especially if you’ve never experienced one before.

If you think it takes decades of heavy drinking to be at risk for a seizure, think again. Alcohol-induced seizures can sadly happen to binge drinkers of all ages, and is a sure sign that your body needs a long vacation from drinking.

Suppressed immune system

Have you ever caught a cold after a night of drinking and wondered if the two were connected? Studies have shown that large quantities of alcohol can suppress the body’s natural immune responses, leaving you susceptible to viruses and infections.

This isn’t only a problem for chronic drinkers. Just one night of binge drinking can have an affect on your immune system, and it can even start to happen just 20 minutes after your first drink.

Lung infections

Heavy drinking can not only interfere with the functions of your immune system, the respiratory system seems to be particularly vulnerable to infections, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in alcoholics. Studies have shown that much like how alcohol consumption causes fat deposits around the liver, it can also cause fat build-up around the lungs, which leads to inflammation.

The lung cells of alcoholic subjects were found to have increased triglyceride production by 100% and fatty acids by 300%, while immune cells were rendered less effective. This led researchers to coin the term “alcoholic fatty lung” to describe this specific problem.

Nerve damage

Alcoholic neuropathy is a condition caused by excessive drinking and poor nutrition, which often comes with alcohol abuse that has damaged the peripheral nerves, which carries signals between the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the body.

The condition is characterized by pain, numbness, tingling in the limbs, muscle spasms, and can even lead to problems with the bowels and bladder. Alcoholic nerve damage can usually be treated with sobriety and proper nutrition, however in extreme cases the damage can be irreversible.

Kathleen Corrigan