Five Lesser-Known Impacts Alcohol Has on Your Health

Alcohol is widespread in our culture. People have been drinking ever since our primate ancestors learned that eating fermented fruit could make them drunk. For adults, having an occasional glass of wine or beer is unlikely to cause long-term health problems. It is a different story, though, for people who drink heavily regularly.

By the time most people are old enough to buy alcohol legally, they will know how alcohol can be harmful to health. But some of the health risks are less well known. Here are five of the less commonly known dangers of alcohol.

1. Paracetamol and alcohol can damage the liver

Paracetamol is a common drug that is often sold on its own or mixed in with other ingredients in cold-relief formulas. Available over the counter or by doctor’s prescription, paracetamol can reduce pain and fever when appropriately used. [1]

When consumed alongside alcohol, paracetamol can severely damage the liver. Your liver’s job is to treat everything that enters your poison until it can process it and break it down. Paracetamol is hard on your liver, to begin with. Even without alcohol, paracetamol poisoning causes around 30,000 hospitalisations a year. It is the most common cause of liver failure in the United States alone.[2]

The reason why paracetamol is toxic for your liver is due to the way your liver handles it. When paracetamol is consumed, enzymes in your liver work to break it down, where it can be excreted through urine or bile. As a result, your liver enzymes convert about ten per cent of the paracetamol into a toxin called NAPQI. Your body needs to get rid of this toxin quickly before it can cause damage. [3]

Alcohol is also considered a toxin by your liver. When you have alcohol and paracetamol in your system, the liver can quickly become overwhelmed. It cannot remove both toxins at the same time. Taking longer to metabolise toxins increases the risk of liver damage.

To be on the safe side, drink alcohol in moderation and only take paracetamol as advised while being sure not to exceed the recommended dose.

2. Gastrointestinal problems

Alcohol is a harsh chemical on organic cells. In labs, ethanol is often used to rupture the cell membranes, allowing researchers to get a peek inside. In your digestive system, alcohol can inflame your stomach lining and cause you to feel nauseous.[4]

Having too much to drink over time can lead to stomach ulcers and chronic (long-term) inflammation of the stomach, throat and gut. The inflammation makes it more difficult for your intestines to absorb the nutrients you need from food. Additionally, the booze can interfere with your natural insulin production and increase your risk of type-2 diabetes.[5]

3. Dampened immune system

Your immune system is vital for fighting off bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that can make you seriously ill. Drinking too much can slow down your immune system by reducing the ability of your immune cells to fight off germs. A weakened immune system makes the body a much easier target for disease.

People who drink too much are at greater risk of diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia when compared to people who drink in moderation. The impact on your immune system can even cause slower wound healing and slow a person’s recovery from infections. The effect of alcohol on the immune system can last up to 24 hours after getting drunk.[6]

4. Physical dependency

Drinking frequently and heavily can lead to a person forming a physical dependency or addiction. Physical dependence is where your body develops a tolerance to alcohol to maintain its normal functions. As a result, people with physical dependency experience painful and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. [7]

Alcohol withdrawal should only be attempted with professional help. Some of the symptoms of withdrawing when physically dependent include anxiety, tremors, high blood pressure, heavy sweating and an irregular heartbeat. In more severe cases, seizures and hallucinations may occur, so it is essential to seek help from a doctor if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know. [8]

5. Can make weight loss difficult

Drinking alcohol can interfere with your body’s natural processes. When a person has a drink, their body puts a high priority on metabolising the alcohol, at the cost of everything else it would be processing. [9]

Your body does not have a natural way of storing alcohol, unlike carbohydrates, fats or proteins. Because it cannot hold onto booze, your body will shove it to the front of the metabolism queue. When your body decides to burn up the alcohol first, any sugar in the line will be stored as adipose tissue (fat). [10] [11]

[1] Is it safe to mix acetaminophen and alcohol? [Internet]. Medicalnewstoday.com. Medical News Today; 2018 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322813#risks

[2]A perspective on the epidemiology of acetaminophen exposure and toxicity in the United States [Internet]. Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology. 2014 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1586/17512433.2014.904744

[3] Mazaleuskaya LL, Sangkuhl K, Thorn CF, FitzGerald GA, Altman RB, Klein TE. PharmGKB summary. Pharmacogenetics and Genomics [Internet]. 2015 Aug [cited 2021 Jul 16];25(8):416–26. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4498995/

[4] Slivinski N. Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking [Internet]. WebMD. WebMD; 2019 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/addiction-heavy-drinking

[5] Type 2 Diabetes Causes and Risk Factors [Internet]. WebMD. WebMD; 2007 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-causes

[6] Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2021 Jul 16];37(2):153–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/

[7] Tyler M. Alcohol Addiction [Internet]. Healthline. Healthline Media; 2014 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/alcohol

[8] Chitra Badii. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome [Internet]. Healthline. Healthline Media; 2018 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/withdrawal

[9] Health Impacts of Alcohol 1.docx – Microsoft Word Online [Internet]. Live.com. 2021 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://onedrive.live.com/edit.aspx?resid=D3916AB476BE6633!142&app=Word&wdnd=1&wdPreviousSession=72279591%2D099c%2D4d44%2Da532%2D9e3dfb2a4abc

[10] Cederbaum AI. Alcohol Metabolism. Clinics in Liver Disease [Internet]. 2012 Nov [cited 2021 Jul 16];16(4):667–85. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484320/

[11] Eleesha Lockett, MS. How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss? [Internet]. Healthline. Healthline Media; 2018 [cited 2021 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-weight-loss#alcohol-and-weight-loss


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