I want to be someone who is in control of my drinking, and I want to be able to have just a glass of wine with dinner and be done. I want to be able to go a week without alcohol and suddenly realize “woah I wasn’t even thinking about it!”
I’m not trying to be that person anymore. I’ve spent too many years claiming that if I could just cut back a little bit, then I’d be able to keep drinking. This was the lie I told myself because I was dependent on alcohol.
In my many years of dependency, I wish I had better understood the negative effects alcohol was having on my mental and physical health. I wish that I’d been more honest with categorizing myself as a heavy drinker, and I wish I didn’t think I was so invincible that I could be the exception to the rules.
But I finally learned that alcohol was actively making it harder for me to be healthy. Only since I’ve gotten sober have I fully understood just how harmful it was to me.
Below I’ve outlined a few negative effects that alcohol can have on the body for moderate to heavy drinkers. What’s important to note is that although these effects may worsen over time, it only takes a few months or years of moderate or heavy drinking for them to occur in some people.
This is a safe place and I don’t want you to feel judgement. That is not my goal. My aim with this post is to lay out some health information that may help in your quest to work on your relationship with alcohol.
Moderate vs. Heavy Drinking
Below are the CDC guidelines for what it means to be in a specific category of drinkers. The US tends to have stricter guidelines than many other countries regarding categorization of drinking types. Anything less than moderate can be considered light drinking.
|Moderate Drinking||Heavy Drinking||Binge Drinking|
|1 drink per day for women; 2 drinks per day for men||8+ drinks per week for women; 15+ drinks per week for men||4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women; 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men (most often within a 2-3 hour period)|
A recent international study summarized here has pointed out that the limits for many countries might be far higher than what could be considered “safe” drinking. This includes the guidelines for the United States. Always take country guidelines with a grain of salt. You could be well within the guidelines and still have a problem, if YOU think it’s a problem.
I would ask you to categorize yourself based on the CDC guidelines listed here and keep that in mind for the remainder of this post.
So, what does alcohol do to the body?
Alcohol Can Make You Depressed
You don’t have to have any type of depression, or be genetically predisposed to it, for alcohol to make you depressed. And, the more often you drink, the longer your episodes of depression may last.
Depression may occur for many people only as long as their hangover lasts, but for some moderate or heavy drinkers, the depression can linger for weeks or months.
For many, this begins a cycle of depression drinking. They drink enough to experience depression, then drink more because they feel depressed. There’s a persistent hope that develops, that alcohol can help them feel better. This causes the depression to worsen, and this cycle can be very difficult to break.
Alcohol Doesn’t Mix Well with Medication
If you’re taking medication for a mental health or neuropsychological condition, it’s important to know what effects alcohol can have on your medication.
It may reduce the effectiveness overall, leading you to think your medication isn’t helping. Too much of your medication mixed with too much alcohol can have severe consequences like impaired motor control, liver damage, and increased risk of overdose.
If you’re taking any of the following types of medication, please read this article on how alcohol use and/or abuse can negatively interact with them:
- Anti-anxiety medication
Alcohol Can Cause Cognitive Impairment
If you drink, you may well know the short-term effects on your brain. Difficulty with speech (slurring), lowered inhibition, impaired motor coordination, impulsivity.
But long after you’ve sobered up, if you’re a moderate to heavy drinker, alcohol continues to have a negative effect on your brain. It causes damage to brain cells though overactivation of neurotransmitters, and it can literally make your brain shrink.
The damage to your neurotransmitters, neurons, gray matter and white matter can cause cognitive impairment – including issues with language, processing speed, and problem solving.
If you have ADHD, this damage can cause problems with your working memory, your ability to pay attention, and your impulsivity, so areas of the brain that already experience underdevelopment may lag even further.
Alcohol Can Cause Weight Gain
I’m not here to shame anyone for their size or the number on the scale. But if it’s a concern for you, you may be able to look to alcohol as one of the causes.
Many alcoholic drinks are higher in calories than you might imagine – especially beer and red wine. It’s easy to lose track of how many drinks you’re ingesting in a night and those calories add up. You may also experience “the drunk munchies” and your lowered inhibitions cause you to reach for what’s easy, sugary and possibly greasy.
Plus, the act of metabolizing alcohol can lower your blood sugar – which some researchers suggest may cause you to reach for simple carbohydrates and sugary foods during a hangover because your body is trying to raise your blood sugar levels.
Alcohol Can Weaken the Immune System
Over time, moderate to heavy consumption of alcohol can have a negative impact on your immune system – making you more likely to catch illnesses like a cold, influenza or pneumonia.
A weakened immune system makes it harder for your body to fight off infections. You may find it takes longer for you to heal or the symptoms you experience are heightened. This applies to both viral and bacterial infections.
Things Aren’t Hopeless
I’ve outlined just a few ways that alcohol can be detrimental to your health if you’re a moderate or heavy drinker over a significant period of time. If you’re seriously considering sobriety and looking for more information, consider checking out this article on Healthline about the effects of alcohol on the body.
However, I don’t want you to think that things are hopeless. Not everyone who drinks will suffer from health problems. And many of these problems are reversible if you do experience them. If you think alcohol is having a serious impact on your health, consider a month of sobriety. Use it to see how you feel by not drinking. Then consider sticking with sobriety or reintroducing alcohol in smaller amounts.
Already feeling sober curious? Talk to me about it!
There are many names for it: Alcohol Abuse Disorder, Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction. Whatever you call it, it’s a serious disease that affects millions around the world, and their loved ones. If you’re concerned about how much alcohol you are, or someone you know is, consuming right now, there are countless resources that you can turn to for help. Please see this resource page from Alcohol Rehab Guide for options.