It’s easy to forget that alcohol is a drug and a dangerous one at that. Social alcohol consumption is considered normal at all levels of society. Those who enjoy a glass of wine with their evening meal even proudly reference studies about how the antioxidants in the wine are good for you. But what happens when you drink alcohol every day? Is alcohol as harmless as we think?
What Happens When You Drink Alcohol Every Day?
Alcohol acts on many different organs in the body. In the short term, recreational drinkers notice they feel more relaxed or get a slight “buzz” from consuming alcohol. However, if someone is drinking daily, they may find it takes an increasing amount of alcohol to produce the same effect. This is known as building up a tolerance to alcohol.
The Short-Term Impact of Alcohol Consumption
When you drink alcohol, it isn’t broken down in the stomach. Rather it passes through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and is filtered into the bloodstream. Alcohol affects your brain, kidneys, lungs and liver.
It takes most healthy adults one hour to break down one unit of alcohol. When you consume alcohol it widens your blood vessels, causing a short-term drop in blood pressure and a feeling of warmth. Alcohol also has an impact on your brain, reducing your inhibitions but also slowing your reflexes and impairing your coordination. This is why people are told not to drive or operate heavy machinery while they’re under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines. This isn’t something most people notice if they drink only recreationally, but it can cause problems for people who regularly suffer from heartburn or indigestion. It also has a diuretic effect, which explains why many people feel the need to go to the bathroom more often when they’re drinking.
The diuretic effect is what causes people to feel hung over in the morning after a night of drinking. Some people find they’re less likely to experience hangovers if they eat before drinking alcohol and alternate between an alcoholic drink and a soft drink or glass of water. This helps not only reduce the total amount of alcohol consumed but also replaces some of the water lost through the diuretic effect of the alcohol.
To reduce the risk of ill effects, the Centers for Disease Control advises people to avoid binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumption. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, and five or more drinks on a single occasion for men.
The Long-Term Impact of Alcohol Consumption
Drinking every day can have several short-term effects on your organs, including:
Damage to the Gastrointestinal Tract
When you drink alcohol the first thing that happens is it passes through the GI tract. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the GI tract, causing inflammation and swelling. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to irritation while helping heal damaged tissue. However, regular drinking can cause chronic inflammation, worsening the symptoms of acid reflux and increasing your risk of certain cancers.
Alcohol’s Impact on the Heart
Heavy alcohol use can increase your risk of sudden cardiac death. This occurs when the heart can’t keep up a steady rhythm, so it stops suddenly. Sudden cardiac death is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and it is particularly common among older men who drink regularly.
Stress on the Kidneys and Liver
Alcohol is a diuretic and when you drink it causes your kidneys to produce more urine. It also causes other cells in the body to hold water. This depletes the kidneys’ water, making them work harder to remove toxins. Alcohol also places a strain on the liver, because the liver produces enzymes to break down toxins (such as alcohol). Daily drinking can cause scarring of the liver tissue, leading to issues such as alcoholic hepatitis.
Are There Benefits to Alcohol Consumption?
Recreational drinkers choose to indulge in alcohol for many different reasons:
- It tastes good
- Certain drinks go well with certain foods
- It’s part of a tradition (e.g., wine at certain religious ceremonies)
- They like the way it makes them feel when it’s consumed in moderation
- It’s a part of a social activity they do
Social drinking is important in many groups, and those who are able to drink in moderation may find this affords them networking opportunities that those who cannot drink, or choose not to drink, find harder to access. It’s up to everyone to consider whether they’re able to drink in moderation, or whether drinking is too risky for them.
Alcohol and Mental Health
Alcohol can help people feel more relaxed. This leads to some people drinking when they’re stressed, anxious or depressed. However, one side effect of consuming alcohol is that it can make the symptoms of anxiety or depression worse. Some people who are fighting depression find they notice an improvement if they stop drinking for a few weeks.
The Risks of Alcoholism
Drinking alcohol every day can increase your risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular diseases and a stroke. It can also increase your risk of developing certain cancers. In addition to these risks, regular alcohol consumption can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. The short-term negative effects of alcohol consumption can usually be reversed once a person stops drinking regularly.
The longer a person is a heavy drinker, the more severe the damage is likely to be. However, people who have been drinking heavily for a long time are likely to see an improvement in their well-being if they work with professionals to stop drinking in a safe and sustainable manner.
Sunlight Recovery Can Help
If you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption, remember that help is available. Call the team at Sunlight Recovery for support. Our skilled counselors and recovery experts are here to help you on the path to recovery from alcoholism or other addictions.