Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on the Body for Better Health Decisions

Alcohol has been a part of human culture for millennia. It is the oldest drug we have and remains the most widely used across the globe. Drinking alcohol also serves an important social function, as people around the world use wines, beers, and spirits to celebrate births, marriages, funerals, and trade agreements.

Guest post by Katie Brenneman.


However, despite alcohol’s ubiquity, there is no evidence that it is good for us. Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependency-producing substance that is carcinogenic and impairs judgment. In Europe alone, around 200 million people develop alcohol-attributable cancer, and many more are hospitalized due to alcohol consumption.

Understanding the negative effects of alcohol is crucial if you want to lead a healthy, happy life. While you don’t necessarily have to give up your Pinots and Pilsners, you should consider whether or not a healthier beverage is a better option. This can help you form more mindful habits that support your well-being.


Physical Effects

The average American drinks around 2.83 gallons of alcohol per year — that’s around 603 “standard drinks”. While this represents a fall from the 1980s, when folks were drinking around 3.28 gallons per year, it is an increase in the mid-2000s when people drank around 2.5 gallons per year.

This level of alcohol consumption is sure to have a net negative impact on your physical health. The consequences of alcohol consumption on your body include:  


  • Digestion: Drinking beer and wine is associated with impaired digestion and increased stomach acid production. This may contribute to the development of conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as well as increasing your risk of liver cancer. 
  • Circulatory System: Excessive drinking is associated with heart conditions like stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy. Excessive drinking can impair your ability to handle lung infections and surface some cells in your circulatory system. 
  • Immune System: Chronic drinking can cause immunodeficiency and may weaken your ability to respond to bacteria, viruses, and other illnesses. 


Drinking alcohol regularly may also undermine your ability to engage in healthy habits like exercising regularly and eating balanced meals. You’re far less likely to get up and go on a morning jog when you’re nursing a hangover and may find that you cannot resist the temptation to enjoy a greasy kebab or pizza while under the influence.

It is important to point out that some speculative evidence suggests that alcohol may have some positive effects. For example, the antioxidants like resveratrol in wine are thought to have anti-inflammatory purposes. Resveratrol, which is found in plants, is known to reduce the risk of cancer, increase lifespan, and treat neurodegenerative diseases. However, it is important to point out that the levels of resveratrol in white wines are low and research is yet to confirm how antioxidants like resveratrol affect our health. 


Mental Health

In the right setting, alcohol can help you loosen up and enjoy social events. However, chronic alcohol use harms your mental health and cognitive function. Some studies show that alcohol damages your frontal lobes, which may result in memory loss, vision and speech impairment, and seizures. The endorphins released when drinking alcohol may also cause fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) also explains that alcohol impairs transmitters in your brain. This is what makes you feel calmer and less anxious while drinking, but may interfere with your ability to absorb essential minerals and vitamins like thiamine and magnesium, which are essential for brain function.

Additionally, the RCP suggests that regular drinking can cause brain damage. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) typically occurs in folks who regularly drink to excess due to: 


  • Nerve damage
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Cerebral damage
  • Brain shrinkage


The withdrawal symptoms associated with reducing your alcohol consumption can be extremely uncomfortable if you’re used to drinking regularly. Folks who wish to stop drinking should strive to find professional medical support to aid with sweating, shaking, and irritability. 



Sleep is crucial for your health and well-being. A good night’s rest is the perfect tonic for a long day at work and can help you recover after a hard workout or a demanding day of labour. Unfortunately, alcohol before bed undermines the quality and duration of your sleep, meaning that a nightcap may be harming your ability to rest and recover.

This sentiment is echoed by Professor Kevin Morgan, who explains that alcohol “boosts our levels of a chemical called adenosine, which can make us feel drowsy” however “these effects only last for a few hours, and when they wear off, our sleep will become more disrupted.” This means that while a quick sip of gin might help you drift off, you’re more likely to toss and turn if you rely on alcohol to fall asleep.

Furthermore, drinking alcohol during the day can make you feel fatigued. Even one drink can lead to drowsiness and may contribute to dehydration (which further robs you of energy). Rather than cracking open a cold one when you return home from work, consider reaching for a non-alcoholic beverage that can help you rehydrate and refresh in the evening. 


Mindful Drinking

Drinking alcohol has a net negative impact on your physical health, mental wellbeing, and sleep patterns. Yet, that fact won’t change the reality that many of us still love a tipple when socializing with friends or on the weekends. If you feel you aren’t able to give up alcohol entirely, consider adopting more mindful drinking habits instead.

Get the ball rolling by bringing increased awareness to your drinking habits. If you drink regularly, you may unknowingly get through more alcohol than you first thought. By keeping track of how often you drink, you can start to make proactive decisions to start drinking less.

Consider setting “no-alcohol” days throughout your week and only drinking a few units on the days when you do let yourself enjoy a tipple. Avoid the temptation to drink to excess on these days and try to savor the beer, wine, or spirit you’ve ordered. This will slow down your drinking habits and help you consider whether or not you want or need more alcohol in your life.

If you’re looking for something “fun” to drink on the days when you are not drinking, try herbal teas and low-sugar sodas. Herbal teas reward intentional drinking, as you’ll be able to taste the subtle flavours that have been included in the warm beverage. Low-sugar sodas can help you rehydrate and quench your thirst quickly, too. This is a crucial intervention if you typically reach for a cold beer when you’re thirsty and want to take a load off.

You can even make this commitment to more mindful drinking with a friend. This is a great way to aid a loved one who has an alcohol addiction. By learning about alcohol addiction together, you can quash your drinking habit and make better-informed decisions when you do go out to a bar or pub. Cutting down on alcohol with a buddy is a great way to offer relatable support to one another, too. 

Alcohol is a carcinogenic, toxic substance that impairs your sleep, undermines your physical health, and may lead to anxiety, fatigue, and depression. However, many of us still enjoy the occasional drink with family or friends. Rather than being ruled by alcohol, consider adopting a more mindful approach to alcohol. This can reduce the volume of booze you drink and may help you lead a healthier, happier life.




Mark Munroe is the Creator and EIC of ADDICTED. He's ADDICTED to great travel, amazing food, better grooming & probably a whole lot more!