Tell me about: What alcohol does to my body


A woman tries to awake a man near empty beer mugs stands at a table in a festival tent of the Bavarian Oktoberfest beer festival at the Theresienwiese in Munich, during the last evening on October 6, 2013. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE

By Dr Y.L.M 

I’m a social drinker. I like to go for a couple of beers after work with the guys. At night, I like a glass of red or white wine to go with my dinner. It’s all right to be a social drinker, right?

It depends on what you mean by a “social drinker”. Social drinking means only drinking alcohol in the company of others when they are drinking, too.

However, if you keep drinking every day in the company of others, and you drink A LOT, you may trip into the land of alcoholism.

A little alcohol, especially a glass of red wine a day, is good for your health. But when you drink too much, you have to be aware of what alcohol can do to your body.

What can alcohol do to my body?

These can be divided into immediate effects, short-term effects and long-term effects.

Let’s talk about the immediate effects first.

When you drink alcohol, 20% of it is immediately and rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. The other 80% goes into your gastrointestinal tract.

Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it can literally go into any tissue in your body. You have to remember that every one of your cell membranes is highly permeable to alcohol.

The trouble arises when you take more alcohol than your body can efficiently metabolise. So your blood alcohol level rises. How fast your blood alcohol rises varies from one person to the next, depending on your weight, age, gender, body composition, health and whether you are taking other drugs or medications.

What do you mean by short term effects? Is drunkenness a short term effect?

Yes. When you start drinking alcohol, you may feel relaxed initially. In fact, a lot of people drink to calm their nerves down. You may feel more confident and happy.

As you drink some more, more negative things come to play. Your reflexes may slow down and you may have reduced coordination of your body. If someone swings a fist at you, you may be slow to duck or punch back.

Your thought processes and judgment goes down. You may feel depressed and forgetful. You start to lose control of your body.

All these may lead to violent behaviour, such as beating up on your spouse and children. There is also a higher risk of unprotected sex and being raped. If you drink and drive, you can be involved in an accident.

What about long-term effects?

If you consume a lot of alcohol over a long period of time, it can affect many of your body’s organs, and indeed, every part of your body.

Alcohol consumption leads to a higher risk of you acquiring many cancers, such as liver, breast, oesophagus, mouth, laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers.

Alcohol dependency: This is an addictive disorder that is characterised by the inability to control the amount of alcohol you consume. You also have a need to consume larger and larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same level of “high” or intoxication.

You have a constant and continuous urge to consume alcohol. This is what people term as being an “alcoholic”.

Liver: You may get alcoholic fatty liver. This can lead to alcoholic hepatitis. A liver filled with fat cannot perform efficiently.

Your liver performs many functions such as detoxifying your body and manufacturing a lot of essential things. Fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis, which is a risk factor for liver cancer. Liver failure can ensue.

Heart: Alcohol can stretch and dilate the heart muscles (cardiomyopathy) so that they can’t contract properly or conduct electrical impulses. This can lead to irregular heartbeat and inflammation.

Alcohol can also raise your blood pressure and blood lipids, leading to a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Stomach: Alcohol can irritate and inflame the stomach lining, which leads to gastric ulcers and bleeding.

Pancreas: Alcohol can cause pancreatitis, which may lead to pancreatic cancer. Heavy alcohol consumption can also impair the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin, which leads to diabetes.

Bones: You can have a higher risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Alcohol is a diuretic and it can flush out calcium from your bones.

Central nervous system: Alcohol can damage your nerves, causing weakness, burning, pain and numbness in your hands and feet. This is called neuropathy.


Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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