Alcohol Awareness Month: How Alcohol Affects the Body


April is recognized as Alcohol Awareness Month across the United States. Initially spearheaded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), Alcohol Awareness Month emerged from the recognition that alcoholism was a major public health issue in need of better education and acceptance as a treatable medical condition in the United States.

Yumlish’s focus is on nutrition education and understanding how the foods and beverages we consume impact our health. This week we recognize Alcohol Awareness Month by discussing the effect alcohol has on the body and why it can often leave you feeling unwell.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Alcohol can have both short-term and long-term negative effects on various body systems. The severity of the effects depends on factors like the amount and pattern of drinking. Here’s an overview:

  1. Central Nervous System (CNS): Alcohol acts as a depressant on the CNS, slowing down brain function, which in turn impairs judgment, coordination, and reaction time. In higher doses, it can lead to loss of consciousness or even coma.
  2. Cardiovascular System: Even small amounts of alcohol can have a temporary effect of dilating blood vessels, leading to a feeling of warmth. However, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to long-term issues such as high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and increased risk of stroke.
  3. Liver: The liver metabolizes alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption is usually processed without significant harm. Excessive or chronic alcohol consumption can lead to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and ultimately cirrhosis, which is irreversible scarring of the liver tissue.
  4. Endocrine System: Alcohol can disrupt hormone production and regulation, leading to various issues such as sexual dysfunction, infertility, and disturbances in menstruation.
  5. Mental Health: While alcohol may provide temporary relief from stress or anxiety, excessive drinking can worsen mental health conditions and increase the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

Excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of developing other chronic health conditions such as pancreatitis, or various cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.

Reasons Alcohol Can Make You Feel Unwell

There are a few key reasons why alcohol can make you feel unwell during or after drinking it, and whether you consumed a moderate amount or a little too much. The following are the most common culprits:

  1. Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes the body to lose more fluids than it takes in. This can lead to dehydration, which can cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
  2. Digestive issues: Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and slow down digestion, leading to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  3. Age: Body mass declines with age which in turn influences the way the body metabolizes alcohol.  
  4. Blood Sugar Fluctuations: Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels, leading to symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and mood swings.
  5. Alcohol withdrawal: As the body metabolizes the alcohol, the sudden drop in blood alcohol levels can cause withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, tremors, and increased heart rate.

Alcohol also affects the brain’s neurotransmitters and can disrupt normal brain function. This can lead to mood changes, anxiety, irritability, and emotional instability the next day. Additionally, alcohol triggers an inflammatory response in the body, causing the release of cytokines. This can contribute to symptoms like nausea, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. The severity of symptoms can vary depending on factors such as the amount of alcohol consumed, individual tolerance levels, hydration status, and overall health.

Excess Alcohol Consumption and Metabolism

When consumed in excess, alcohol has a complex impact on our bodies, notably affecting metabolism and eating behaviors. The body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol—a substance it deems a toxin—over other nutrients, which can lead to varied effects on hunger and the way our bodies process food. This process can increase feelings of hunger by disrupting the balance of hunger and fullness hormones, potentially leading to increased food intake and, in the context of high caloric consumption, excess storage of fats. 

Moreover, excessive alcohol intake can irritate the stomach, sometimes resulting in nausea or vomiting, as the body attempts to expel the irritant. Beyond these immediate metabolic and gastrointestinal effects, chronic excessive alcohol consumption poses serious health risks as mentioned previously.


In summary, understanding the effects of alcohol on the body is important for anyone regardless of age and personal health status. Alcohol can have both short-term and long-term negative effects on various body systems, including the brain, immune system, digestive system, and cardiovascular system. 

Excessive or chronic use of alcohol can lead to a wide range of negative health consequences. It’s essential to drink responsibly and be aware of the potential risks associated with alcohol consumption.

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