The Long Term Effects of Alcohol

Unveil the long-term effects of alcohol, from mental health to mortality rates. Discover the lasting impact today.

Leora BH Staff
April 11, 2024

Effects on Mental Health

Alcohol consumption can have significant long-term effects on mental health. It can contribute to the development of various mental health disorders and impair cognitive function. In this section, we will explore three specific effects: depression and anxiety, severe brain damage, and cognitive impairment.

Depression and Anxiety

Excessive alcohol consumption over time can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Research has shown a strong association between alcohol abuse and depression and anxiety. Alcohol can disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain, leading to changes in mood and emotional well-being.

Individuals who abuse alcohol may initially experience temporary relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, over time, alcohol can exacerbate these conditions and lead to a worsening of symptoms. It is important to note that alcohol should not be used as a self-medication for mental health issues, as it can ultimately contribute to a vicious cycle of dependency and worsened mental health.

Severe Brain Damage

Prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption can cause severe brain damage. One specific condition associated with alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). This syndrome is characterized by amnesia, extreme confusion, and eyesight issues. WKS is caused by a deficiency of thiamine, also known as vitamin B-1, which is a common consequence of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol-related brain damage can also manifest as general cognitive impairment, affecting memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities. However, the good news is that within a year of stopping drinking, most cognitive damage can be reversed or improved.

Cognitive Impairment

Alcohol abuse can result in cognitive impairment, affecting various cognitive functions. People with alcoholism may experience deficits in processing speed, learning new material, abstraction, problem-solving, and visuospatial abilities. These cognitive impairments can have a significant impact on daily functioning and quality of life.

It is important to note that cognitive deficits can exist in individuals with alcoholism even if they do not exhibit obvious signs of a clinical condition such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Sophisticated tests have revealed cognitive impairments in alcoholics who do not display apparent clinical signs of anterograde amnesia.

To summarize, the long-term effects of alcohol on mental health can include depression, anxiety, severe brain damage such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and cognitive impairment. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse and its associated mental health effects, it is important to seek professional help and support.

Effects on Physical Health

Alcohol consumption, especially heavy and prolonged drinking, can have significant impacts on physical health. It can lead to various health conditions and diseases. In this section, we will explore the effects of alcohol on heart diseases, liver damage, and pancreatitis.

Heart Diseases

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period can damage the heart, increasing the risk of developing heart diseases. Alcohol can weaken the heart muscle, leading to conditions such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure. These conditions can have serious consequences and may even result in heart failure or stroke.

It's important to note that while moderate alcohol consumption may have some cardiovascular benefits, heavy or prolonged drinking can negate these potential positive effects. If you have concerns about your heart health, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional.

Liver Damage

The liver is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking can lead to various liver issues and inflammations. One of the most common conditions associated with alcohol abuse is alcoholic liver disease. This disease encompasses a range of liver problems, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. These conditions can cause permanent damage to the liver and impair its ability to function properly [1].


Alcohol consumption can also have detrimental effects on the pancreas. The pancreas plays a crucial role in producing enzymes that aid in digestion. However, excessive alcohol intake can cause the pancreas to produce harmful substances that can lead to inflammation, known as pancreatitis. This dangerous condition can disrupt the normal functioning of the pancreas and cause severe abdominal pain, digestive problems, and other complications [1].

It's important to remember that the effects of alcohol on physical health can vary depending on individual factors such as the amount of alcohol consumed, the frequency of consumption, and overall health. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol-related health issues, seeking medical advice is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding the long-term effects of alcohol on physical health is essential in making informed decisions regarding alcohol consumption. It is always recommended to consume alcohol in moderation, and for those with existing health conditions, it may be advisable to avoid alcohol altogether.

Increased Cancer Risk

Excessive and long-term alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing various types of cancer. The link between alcohol and cancer is supported by a strong scientific consensus, and it is estimated that 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States are alcohol-related National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Various Types of Cancer

Heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to elevate the risk of several types of cancer, including those affecting the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and intestines WebMD. Alcohol can also enhance the penetration of cancer-causing substances into the body's cells, further increasing the risk.

To understand the impact, let's take a look at some of the specific cancer types associated with alcohol consumption:

Cancer Type - Increased Risk

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Esophagus
  • Liver
  • Breast
  • Intestines

All of these cancer types are associated with an increased risk.

Data from WebMD

It is important to note that the risk of developing these cancers is influenced by various factors, including the amount and duration of alcohol consumption, genetic predisposition, and overall health.

Weakened Immune System

Excessive alcohol intake can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to diseases. Chronic drinkers are at a higher risk of contracting diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The weakened immune system can compromise the body's ability to fight off infections and diseases effectively.

The impact of alcohol on the immune system can have long-term consequences, leaving individuals more vulnerable to various health conditions. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and limit alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of immune system dysfunction.

Understanding the increased risk of cancer and weakened immune system associated with long-term alcohol consumption underscores the importance of moderation and responsible drinking. By being mindful of the potential long-term effects, individuals can make informed decisions about their alcohol consumption and prioritize their health and well-being.

In addition to the physical effects, alcohol abuse can also have social, behavioral, economic, and mortality impacts. These aspects will be explored in the subsequent sections of this article.

Long-Term Consequences on the Body

The long-term effects of alcohol consumption can have a significant impact on the body, leading to various health issues. In this section, we will explore three specific consequences: alcoholic fatty liver disease, impaired liver function, and the impact on the heart.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

One of the most common consequences of long-term alcohol abuse is alcoholic fatty liver disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can have a detrimental impact on the liver, resulting in the accumulation of fat in liver cells. Over time, this can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver tissue, impairing its normal function.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease can progress to more severe conditions, such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis, if alcohol consumption continues. It is important to note that alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversible if alcohol intake is stopped early enough. However, if left untreated, it can lead to irreversible liver damage.

Impaired Liver Function

In addition to alcoholic fatty liver disease, long-term heavy alcohol use can also result in impaired liver function. The liver plays a crucial role in filtering toxins from the blood, producing bile for digestion, and metabolizing nutrients. However, excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can disrupt these functions and lead to liver damage, including cirrhosis.

Impaired liver function can have wide-ranging effects on the body, as the liver is involved in many vital processes. It can affect metabolism, hormone regulation, and the body's ability to fight infections. As liver damage progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging for the liver to function properly, leading to more severe health complications.

Impact on the Heart

Drinking too much alcohol over a long period or in a single occasion can also have a negative impact on the heart. Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of heart diseases. It can weaken the heart muscle, leading to reduced pumping efficiency and potentially causing conditions such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure.

Long-term heavy alcohol use can also contribute to the development of other risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity and high triglyceride levels. These factors, combined with the direct effects of alcohol on the heart, can increase the risk of heart-related complications and mortality.

It is crucial to understand the long-term consequences of alcohol consumption on the body, including the impact on the liver and heart. These effects serve as a reminder of the importance of consuming alcohol in moderation and being aware of the potential risks associated with excessive and prolonged alcohol use. Seeking professional help and support can be instrumental in addressing alcohol-related health concerns and making positive changes for overall well-being.

Social and Behavioral Impact

The long-term effects of alcohol extend beyond physical and mental health. Excessive alcohol consumption can have significant social and behavioral consequences, affecting various aspects of an individual's life and relationships.

Alcohol-Related Crimes

Alcohol contributes to criminal behavior, reducing inhibitions and leading individuals to behave irrationally. This can result in incidents such as assault, sexual assault, damage to property, disorderly behavior, and driving under the influence, potentially leading to arrest, jail time, or community service [3]. The impaired judgment and impaired coordination caused by alcohol consumption increase the risk of engaging in risky and illegal activities.

Relationship Strain

Drinking too much alcohol can have negative consequences on personal relationships. Excessive alcohol use can lead to ridicule, social ostracism, bullying, and impacts on work performance. It can also result in personal relationship difficulties, leading to relationship break-ups and friction within families. The behavioral changes and emotional instability associated with heavy alcohol consumption can strain relationships and erode trust over time.

Teenagers with parents who have alcohol problems are particularly vulnerable to social consequences. They may be more likely to engage in heavy drinking and experience the negative effects of alcohol use, including difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

Workplace Consequences

Excessive alcohol consumption can have detrimental effects on an individual's professional life. Hangovers from excessive drinking can lead to time off work, poor work performance, workplace accidents, and potential job loss. Alcohol-related impaired cognitive function and physical coordination can hinder job performance and compromise workplace safety. It is essential to recognize that alcohol misuse can have a significant impact on an individual's career and overall work-life balance.


The long-term effects of alcohol consumption extend beyond the physical and mental health aspects. Alcohol-related crimes, relationship strain, and workplace consequences are among the social and behavioral impacts that can arise from excessive alcohol use. It is crucial to be aware of these potential consequences and make informed decisions regarding alcohol consumption to maintain healthy relationships, personal well-being, and professional success.

Economic and Mortality Impact

The long-term effects of alcohol extend beyond individual health consequences and have significant economic and mortality impacts. Understanding these impacts is essential for comprehending the overall burden of excessive alcohol consumption.

Economic Burden

Excessive alcohol use in the United States alone incurred a cost of approximately $249 billion in 2010, translating to approximately $2.05 per drink. Binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks per occasion for women and five or more drinks per occasion for men, contributed significantly to these costs. In fact, 77% of the economic burden was attributed to binge drinking. The costs associated with excessive alcohol use include healthcare expenses, losses in workplace productivity, law enforcement and criminal justice expenses, and losses from motor vehicle crashes related to excessive alcohol use.

Economic Impact by Category

  • Workplace Productivity: 72%
  • Healthcare Expenses: 11%
  • Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Expenses: 10%
  • Losses from Motor Vehicle Crashes: 5%

These figures highlight the substantial economic impact of excessive alcohol use, but it's important to note that the study's calculations do not encompass the full extent of the economic burden. Factors such as underreporting of alcohol consumption data and the exclusion of expenses like pain and suffering from alcohol-related injuries and diseases contribute to a broader economic impact.

Reduced Life Expectancy

Alcohol use disorder has a profound effect on life expectancy. Individuals with alcohol use disorder have a life expectancy that is 24-28 years shorter than the general population. This substantial reduction in life expectancy is a cause for concern.

Mortality Rates and Alcohol Use Disorder

People with alcohol use disorder experience higher mortality rates compared to the general population. The mortality rate ratios for individuals with alcohol use disorder are significantly elevated across various causes of death. These ratios range from 3.0-5.2 for all causes of death, 2.3-4.8 for all diseases and medical conditions, and 9.3-35.9 for suicide. The difference in life expectancy between individuals with alcohol use disorder and the general population is particularly pronounced in men but has decreased in women over time.

Mortality Rate Ratio by Cause of Death

  • All Causes of Death: 3.0-5.2
  • All Diseases and Medical Conditions: 2.3-4.8
  • Suicide: 9.3-35.9

The mortality rate ratios for alcohol use disorder are higher in younger age groups. In Denmark, the ratios increase for most age groups, especially those aged 30-59 years. In Finland, the ratios increase for individuals aged 30-44 years. In Sweden, the ratios increase for men aged 30-74 years and women aged 45-74 years.

Alcohol consumption not only affects individuals but also has a societal impact. The economic burden, reduced life expectancy, and increased mortality rates associated with alcohol use disorder highlight the need for comprehensive strategies to address this persistent issue.


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Leora Behavioral Health offers a comprehensive addiction treatment program to help you get your life back on track. Our trained professionals will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to Leora Behavioral Health today.

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