Rethinking Drinking: Know The Harmful Effects Of Alcohol

Updated: Jun 30


Many people associate having a drink with a feeling of relaxation or a warm ‘buzz’, essentially using alcohol as a means of harmless fun. Whilst one or two glasses of wine, or a few beers, can be a nice way of unwinding, excessive consumption can have a significant impact on your health. So how does alcohol affect your body? Slurred speech, poor coordination, nausea, vomiting, lack of judgment, volatile emotions, and blackouts can all follow excessive alcohol consumption. Most people will have experienced one or more of these effects at some point, crossing the line from a moderate intake to an unhealthy consumption.


Toeing the line between casual drinks and a boozy binge


For most people, it’s perfectly okay to enjoy a drink every now and then, but it’s important to be mindful of how much you consume. Drinking more than two standard drinks per day is associated with an increased risk of alcohol-related disease or injury while drinking more than four standard drinks at any given time is classified as binge-drinking,[1] which can have damaging effects on your physical, mental and social health.

Drinking more than two standard drinks per day is associated with an increased risk of alcohol-related disease or injury while drinking more than four standard drinks at any given time is classified as binge-drinking,[1] which can have damaging effects on your physical, mental and social health

Although excessive consumption is harmful to everyone, long-term alcohol misuse affects each person differently and can impact the following:


Brain: Alcohol negatively affects the way the brain, central nervous system, and body communicate with each other, leading to symptoms of impaired cognitive function, such as slurred speech and poor coordination. If alcohol is misused over a number of years, it can even lead to brain and nervous system damage[2],[3];


Liver: The liver is responsible for detoxifying and eliminating potentially harmful substances from our body, including alcohol. Regular intake can burden the liver’s detoxification pathways and cause inflammation that may damage liver cells, reduce liver function and, in extreme cases, cause liver disease[4];


Pancreas: The harmful effects of alcohol can cause inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis,[5] which negatively affects digestive processes, leading to gut symptoms including recurrent abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. The pancreas also produces hormones that control blood sugar regulation (such as insulin) and in extreme cases, chronic alcohol abuse can contribute to diabetes[6];


Stomach: Excessive alcohol intake can cause the stomach to produce more acid than usual, which may lead to bouts of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea[7];


Microbiome: Alcohol harms beneficial gut bacteria, promoting inflammation of the gut lining that can lead to a condition known as ‘leaky’ gut. A healthy gut lining acts as a barrier, keeping toxins and other potentially harmful substances within the gut, and out of the bloodstream. If the gut lining is ‘leaky’, these substances can cross the gut barrier increasing the risk of a diverse number of chronic diseases,[8] such as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, arthritis, and obesity.[9]


Heart: Alcohol can disrupt the electrical signals sent to and from the heart,[10] which can affect the heartbeat. This can increase the risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, ischemia (restricted supply of blood to the heart), heart disease and stroke[11],[12];


Cancer: Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of many different types of cancer, including cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, bowel, endometrium, ovary, kidney, breast and prostate.[13]


With this in mind, if your drinking is excessive, it may be time to ditch the booze, or at least take some steps to reduce your intake.


Getting yourself on the straight and narrow


Alcohol is a big part of many people’s social lives. Whether it’s relaxing at home with your partner over a glass of wine, ending the working week with a few drinks, or celebrating special occasions, it can be hard to moderate your drinking. Whatever the scenario, employing these strategies can help you reduce your alcohol intake:


  • Keep track of standard drinks and avoid exceeding four drinks (preferably consuming two or less) on any given occasion;

  • Drink slowly and put your glass down between sips to avoid continual drinking; 

  • Don’t let people top up your drinks as this makes it hard to keep track of how much alcohol you have consumed;

  • Avoid ’rounds’ to ensure you drink at your own pace;

  • Avoid salty snacks as these increase your thirst and stimulate you to drink more;

  • Pace yourself by having a ‘spacer’, such as water or another non-alcoholic drink between drinks;

  • Try low-alcohol alternatives, such as light beers and low alcohol premixed drinks;

  • Volunteer to be the designated driver for the night;

  • Aim for at least three alcohol-free days each week to give your body a break from drinking, or better yet

  • Participate in Dry July and have an alcohol-free month (why not this month!).


Skip a drink now and then.


Indulging in a drink or two may be a way to unwind from life’s pressures, however, before those two drinks turn into four, take the time to consider the detrimental impact alcohol has on your health when you next reach for a drink. If you or someone you know has difficulty

controlling their drinking, seek support from a doctor or Healthcare Practitioner, or from Alcoholics Anonymous.

Author: Julia Mellios.


[1] Australian Government Department of Health. How much alcohol is safe to drink? [Internet]. Canberra ACT: Australian Government Department of Health; 2019 [updated 2019 Feb 26; cited 2019 Jun 7] Available from https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/about-alcohol/how-much-alcohol-is-safe-to-drink

[2] Harper C. The neuropathology of alcohol-related brain damage. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 2009:136-140.

[3] Le Berre AP et al. Impaired decision-making and brain shrinkage in alcoholism. Eur Psyc. 2014;29(3):125-133.

[4] Duggan AE, Duggan JM. Alcoholic liver disease – assessment and management. Aust Fam Physician. 2011 Aug;40(8):590-3.

[5] Warren KR et al. Alcoholic liver disease and pancreatitis: Global health problems being addressed by the US National Institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism. J Gast Hep. 2013;28(S1):4-6.

[6] Drinkaware. Alcohol and diabetics. London UK: Drinkaware; 2019 [cited 2019 Jul 3]. Available from; https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/diseases/alcohol-and-diabetes/.

[7] Shield KD et al. Chronic diseases and conditions related to alcohol use. Alcohol Res. 2014;35(2):155-171.

[8] Engen PA, Green SJ, Voigt RM, Forsyth CB, Keshavarzian A. The gastrointestinal microbiome: alcohol effects on the composition of intestinal microbiota. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):223-36.

[9] Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, Ockhuizen T, Schulzke JD, Serino M, et al. Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterol. 2014 Dec;14(1):189. doi:  10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7

[10] Shield KD et al. Chronic diseases and conditions related to alcohol use. Alcohol Res. 2014;35(2):155-171.

[11] Taylor B et al. Alcohol and hypertension: gender differences in dose-response relationships determined through systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction. 2009;104(2):1981-90.

[12] Williams JF et al. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Amer Acad Peds clinical report. 2015;106(2):358.

[13] Cancer Council. Alcohol and cancer- position statement [Internet]. Woolloomooloo NSW: Cancer Council; 2015 [cited 2019 Jun 7]. Available from; https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/2397/about-us/our-annual-reports-and-research-activity-reports/our-position-statements-about-cancer-council-nsw/alcohol-and-cancer2/.

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