When most of us think about the effects of drinking too much, the first thing that comes to mind are the mental/psychological effects. We think about judgment impairment, memory loss, a decrease in decision-making abilities – all the telltale signs.
However, while the psychological effects are incredibly dangerous in themselves, the physiological effects are just as serious. At our alcohol treatment center California, we see many people who are not only suffering from the psychological effects of drinking too much but the physiological effects as well. And while alcohol typically has short-term physiological effects when used in moderation, it can have long-term, even lifelong effects when used in excess.
Drinking Too Much? How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?
Both alcohol’s short-term and long-term effects on the heart can be incredibly life-threatening. The higher the blood-alcohol content (or BAC), the harder it is for the heart to pump blood through the veins.
Your BAC gets too high if you consume more than a reasonable amount of alcohol (about one drink per hour). If your bloodstream has to process more than a reasonable amount of alcohol, your BAC gets too high, and if your BAC gets too high, it can result in a slowed heart rate and possible alcohol poisoning. If your BAC gets too high on a frequent basis, your heart’s functions begin to weaken over time, thus causing possible high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke, heart attacks, and even death.
When your bloodstream cannot properly hold the amount of alcohol in your body, the alcohol crosses the “blood-brain barrier”, which protects the brain from harmful substances that can negatively affect it. This means they are not only dangerous to your heart, but to your brain as well.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain When You Drink?
In most people, alcohol’s effect on their brain is the first noticeable sign of alcohol abuse. The first place alcohol starts working is the brain’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for decision-making, judgment, memory, and more. Basically, the things that keep you from acting in ways that could be dangerous. Alcohol lessens the functions of the frontal lobe, thus the reason for people drinking too much and doing things they wouldn’t normally do, such as saying hurtful things or driving a car when intoxicated. This can result in serious physical injuries, such as broken bones or head injury from falling or car accidents.
Alcohol’s effect on the frontal lobe is also the reason for blackouts and memory loss. Once the frontal lobe is heavily effected, alcohol can affect further parts of the brain, causing memory loss, confusion, forgetfulness, lethargy, and more. Ultimately, alcohol can cause permanent brain damage if used in excess – it affects more than just the night of drinking.
A study done in 2008 by the Archives of Neurology showed that long-term, frequent alcohol use can actually shrink the brain over time. This is a sign of brain aging, which means the brains of people who drink excessively and too frequently can age sooner and more quickly. A study in the Neurology journal also showed that frequent alcohol abuse/binge drinking has resulted in early memory loss and dementia – much earlier than non-drinkers.
While it may not seem like it while you’re drinking, alcohol has actually been shown to worsen existing mental illness. It can also bring about alcohol-induced mental illness that was not previously apparent. Alcohol is technically a depressant – although it would appear this means it increases depression. A depressant is technically a drug or substance that “depresses” the central nervous system. This provides a relaxation effect and slows down brain function and activity. Alcohol’s depressant effects show their negative side when BAC begins to get back to a normal level, typically the day after binge drinking. In other words, when hangover strikes.
What Else Does Alcohol Affect?
We often hear about the correlation between alcohol and the liver, but many of us don’t know exactly what the liver and alcohol do together. The liver has many functions, including carrying necessary nutrients to the rest of the body. In relation to alcohol, the liver’s job is to break down and process the alcohol before it goes to the digestive tract. If the liver has to process too high an amount of alcohol for extended periods of time, it can become inflamed, slowing down its vital processes. Eventually, this can result in scarring known as cirrhosis: the last stages of liver disease, which can result in death.
While alcohol also affects and targets these specific areas of the body, it can also target multiple areas at once. Oftentimes, affecting the entire body in dangerous and often life-threatening ways. Some of the long-term health risks that have been linked to alcohol abuse are as follows:
- Liver cancer
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
Seeking Help for Drinking Too Much From Alcohol Treatment Center California
Clearly, drinking too much can have serious and dangerous physiological effects on a person. Thankfully, Ocean Hills Recovery, an alcohol treatment center California is here to help.A recent study shows that 18.6% of adults in California alone report excessive drinking in 2019. That means, it’s not uncommon, and it’s perfectly normal to need and get help. If you believe you or a loved one are dealing with alcohol abuse and/or suffering from the physiological effects, one of our highly-trained experts will be happy to help you. You deserve a better life, and we’re here to help you find it. Contact Ocean Hills Recovery today.
 Elbaz, Alexis, et al. “Alcohol Consumption and Cognitive Decline in Early Old Age.” Neurology, Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on Behalf of the American Academy of Neurology, 28 Jan. 2014, n.neurology.org/content/82/4/332.
 MacMillan, Amanda. “Here’s What Really Happens to Your Brain When You Drink Too Much Alcohol.” Health.com, 24 Apr. 2018, www.health.com/condition/alcoholism/effects-of-alcohol-on-the-brain.
 “Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.html
 “Public Health Impact: Excessive Drinking in California.” America’s Health Rankings, United Health Foundation, 2020, www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/annual/measure/ExcessDrink/state/CA.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.