Alcoholism Side Effects

You just reevaluated your alcohol use. You have been thinking about how you’ve wanted to drink much more frequently, how you have been ignoring your friends to go to the bar, and how you don’t feel the effects of one drink anymore. You might be struggling with alcohol use disorder, also commonly called alcoholism.

According to County Health Rankings, 22% of adults in Norfolk County engage in excessive drinking on a regular basis. Pair this with the fact that 29% of all motor vehicle deaths involved alcohol, it’s clear that alcohol use is an issue worth addressing in Cohasset.

You want to get help but may not know where to start, and you are also not sure of the side effects alcohol will have on your body. In this post, we will discuss side effects of AUD and different options for treatment.

Binge Drinking vs. AUD

Typically, binge drinking is common when someone has alcohol use disorder. Binge drinking occurs when a person has a pattern of drinking where they drink more than the recommended amount within two hours or less. For men, this would be five drinks or more within that time frame, and it would be four drinks or more for women. This is also defined as drinking to where someone’s blood alcohol content reaches 0.08% or higher.

Binge drinking is common, as one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month, and is twice as common in men than women. While not everyone who binge drinks suffers from AUD, people with AUD are much more likely to binge drink. Consider binge drinking to be a symptom of AUD.

Binge drinking can lead to several different risks, including AUD. This can lead to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, accidents like car crashes and falls, and several forms of violence like assault.

Side Effects of AUD

There are several side effects associated with having an addiction to alcohol. While there are the common side effects of losing coordination and becoming dependent on the substance, many of the side effects of AUD affect the body in different ways.

Mental Health Disorders

There are several mental health disorders associated with AUD. About 80% of people with AUD are affected by a mood disturbance, and 30-40% experience a major depressive disorder. Alcohol-induced depression is marked by:

  • An independent major depressive disorder coexisting with AUD
  • An expected, time-limited consequence of alcohol’s depressant effects on the brain
  • A more organized pattern of signs and symptoms indicating alcohol-induced depression

Some people also experience depression independent from alcohol. These patients who have independent major depression have something called a co-occurring disorder. This just means that they struggle with a mental disorder while also struggling with alcohol addiction

Another disorder associated with AUD is bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is the second most common co-occurring disorder associated with dependence on alcohol. About 50-60% of people who already have bipolar disorder are more likely to misuse alcohol.

Many people who have AUD also have some form of an anxiety disorder. In fact, 19.4% of patients with AUD have a lifetime diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Alcohol-induced anxiety and independent anxiety disorders must be differentiated from one another. The way this is done is by looking at the onset of the anxiety disorder. Alcohol-induced anxiety typically goes away after alcohol withdrawal and treatment for AUD, while independent anxiety disorders were present before AUD and are still present after treatment and withdrawal.

Immune System

The immune system is affected when you drink heavily. Drinking can weaken your immune system, which makes your body a target for several infections and diseases. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are diseases that people with AUD are more likely to contract. Even on a single occasion, drinking a lot slows your body’s ability to fight off infections for up to 24 hours after being drunk.


AUD can affect the brain significantly. Alcohol can affect the brain when someone has too much to drink and becomes intoxicated (drunk). The symptoms of intoxication are:

  • Impaired memory
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slowed reaction times

That said, long-term alcohol use can cause significant brain damage. Many people who have struggled with AUD can develop a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). WKS happens due to a deficiency of a vitamin called thiamine, or vitamin B1. WKS is a mix of two different syndromes: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • Difficulty with muscle coordination
  • Mental confusion
  • Paralysis of ocular muscles (nerves that move the eyes)

While this is a short-lived condition, it is a severe one as well. Most people will not experience all three symptoms at the same time, but around 80% will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, which is long-lasting. This condition is marked by:

  • Retrograde amnesia (decreased ability to remember old things)
  • Anterograde amnesia (decreased ability to learn new things)
  • Frustration
  • Difficulty walking

Giving people thiamine has proven to help with these conditions, specifically in the early stages.


Excessive alcohol use can lead to several forms of cancer. Drinking alcohol is known as a human carcinogen, according to the National Cancer Institute. A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer, and clear patterns have shown up correlating certain cancers with excessive use of alcohol. These cancers include:

  • Esophageal cancer: The risk increases significantly for those who drink heavily
  • Liver cancer: Alcohol affects the liver primarily and can lead to different cancers and conditions throughout the organ
  • Head and neck cancers: These include the throat, the larynx (voice box), and the oral cavity other than the lips
  • Breast cancer: Studies have shown that increased alcohol intake in women can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.


Drinking too much on a single occasion can affect the heart negatively, as can excessively using alcohol on a regular basis. Alcohol can affect the cardiovascular system in several different ways:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Cardiomyopathy (thickening and/or stretching of heart muscle)
  • Irregular heartbeat

There have been studies that show excessive alcohol consumption can lead to coronary heart disease (CHD) and even heart failure.


The liver is probably the organ that is most affected by excessive alcohol use. The reason for this is because the liver helps to break down and get rid of the toxins within the body. Alcohol is processed through the body as the liver converts it into an enzyme (a protein that causes a chemical reaction) called alcohol dehydrogenase. The liver transforms this into another compound, which is then transformed into something else until it is transformed into carbon dioxide and water.

This entire process takes place within our liver. While there are different conditions that occur throughout the liver because of heavy drinking (alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, fatty liver disease), one of the most dangerous is a condition called cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Our liver is an organ that can repair itself. Each time we drink, the liver is injured but repairs itself, leaving minimal scar tissue. When someone has cirrhosis, scar tissue continues to form, to the point where the liver is beyond repair and unable to get rid of toxins in the body. Late-stage cirrhosis of the liver can be life-threatening.

Signs and symptoms of cirrhosis may not show up until the liver is heavily damaged, but they are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)

Cirrhosis can be a difficult condition to live with, but there are still options for treatment no matter what the severity of your addiction may be.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Addiction to alcohol can lead to effects on the body that are uncomfortable, chronic, and sometimes fatal. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You have the power to seek recovery. East Coast Recovery encourages you to seek alcoholic rehab.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A plan that works well for patients who may need more constant care and didn’t have much success with lower levels of treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP) is a way for patients to step away from the usual triggers of life so they can focus on their recovery.

A PHP is an intensive treatment plan where patients will attend the facility for up to seven days a week but will still live at home. Available for our patients ages 18 and older, the PHP ensures they will also have frequent support from medical staff while they are at the facility.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Plenty of patients may ask questions such as, “How can I get treatment and provide for my family? I have other obligations, so how do I balance those?” This is why East Coast Recovery offers an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

The IOP is a form of treatment where patients will attend the facility for sessions and go home afterward. This is sometimes the type of treatment that patients would be participating in after living at a facility. This type of treatment is intensive, which means that it has a bigger time commitment than other outpatient programs. There are at least ten hours of therapy per week during this intensive outpatient program. This includes one-on-one therapy and group therapy.

Both forms of therapy are helpful. One-on-one therapy will address the underlying reasons for the addiction and help patients find better coping skills. Group therapy will show patients that they aren’t alone on their road to recovery and will put their journeys into perspective. Group therapy can also be a great tool for practicing communication, and for learning how to deal with a certain struggle that someone else may have dealt with before in their life.

While the average length of IOP treatment is around 90 days, this is dependent on what the patient needs.

Family Therapy

Healing from addiction can awaken feelings of anger, resentment, and pain. This can be true for you as well as your family and loved ones. One of the most difficult parts of this is confronting your actions and explaining them to your family while listening to how those actions affected them. Family therapy is an outlet where these things can be discussed.

There can be resentment and anger on both sides, and it is important to have these discussions in a safe environment. These honest conversations with your family are not meant to be an attack or hostile, but rather they are meant to rebuild the bond of the family. During these sessions, you can learn how the family has been affected by your addiction, and the family can learn what they can do to support you on your journey.

Walk the Path With Us

East Coast Recovery is here to help you on your journey. Our mission is to help people suffering from addiction so they can achieve long-term success with their goals. Located 20 minutes outside of Cohasset, Massachusetts, our goal is to provide quality care and empathy for each of our patients. Call (617) 390-8349 to walk the path with East Coast Recovery.

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