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Physical health - Alcohol's effects on the body

After the hangover – longer term health effects

Often people don’t really believe that their couple of pints or a few glasses of wine will make much of a difference to their health.

But over time, drinking above the low risk-guidelines can start to cause health problems – from unhealthy weight gain to increasing your risk of heart problems, cancer and other diseases. 

A recent World Health Organisation report links drinking alcohol to an increased risk of developing more than 200 health conditions.1

You don’t need to be dependent on alcohol for it to affect your health

A head-to-toe guide to alcohol's effects on your body

Brain

Damage to brain cells leading to:

  • Poor memory
  • Mood changes
  • Learning and concentration difficulties
  • Mental health problems like anxiety and depression
  • Dementia

Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the brain

 

Heart
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, causing a strain on your heart
  • Weakened heart muscles
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Strokes and circulation problems

Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the heart

High blood pressure is the most common alcohol related health problem, but many people don’t realise they have it

 

Liver

Liver problems like:

  • Fatty liver
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)

 

Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the liver

You often don’t know you have liver disease until serious damage is done

Pancreas
  • Malfunction of the pancreas, causing it to produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis, a painful inflammation in the pancreas
  • A third of people with chronic (long-term) pancreatitis also develop type 2 diabetes

 Learn more about alcohol’s effects on diabetes and the pancreas

Cancer
  • Increased risk of several cancers, particularly for cancers in parts of the body that come into contact with alcohol like the mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver
  • Even a small amount of alcohol increases breast cancer risk
  • Smoking as well as drinking alcohol increases the risk of certain cancers even more

Learn more about alcohol and cancer risk

 

Stomach
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heartburn (reflux)

 Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the stomach

 

Sex and fertility
  • Temporary or permanent erection problems (erectile dysfunction)
  • Temporary or permanent infertility
  • Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) due reduced inhibitions and judgement, which can lead to unprotected sex

Learn more about alcohol’s effects on sex and fertility

Bones
  • Weakened bones, more likely to fracture or break
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis, which makes the bones softer and ‘spongy’

 

Central nervous system
  • Nerve damage
  • Neuropathy, which causes weakness, burning, pain and numbness in the hands and feet

 

Eyes

Bloodshot red eyes, from swollen blood vessels in the eye

Sensitivity to light leading to migraines

Immune system

Weakened immune system, making you more vulnerable to:

  • Repeated colds and infections
  • More serious infectious diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis

Read more:

Worried about your health?

Symptoms that alcohol may be affecting your health

Avoiding health problems

1 World Health Organisation (2014) Global status report on alcohol and health. WHO, Geneva.

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