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Alcohol Side Effects

Alcohol Side Effects

Did you know that more than half of Delaware’s adult population drinks alcohol at least once a month? In 2019, over 14% of Delawarians reported binge drinking, and another 7% reported heavy or chronic alcohol use. Many who participate in habitual drinking are unaware of the consequences, and it’s no wonder – alcohol has been woven into the fabric of pop culture for many years. But what society sometimes fails to mention is that alcohol use comes with side effects.

You’ve likely been taught about the dangers of drunk driving or the toll alcohol can take on your liver, but there’s more to it than that. Alcohol impacts the brain and body in many ways that aren’t always talked about. At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we make sure to talk about it because we know education saves lives. Today, we’re talking about the side effects of alcohol use that you may not have heard of before.

The Alcohol Side Effects You May Not Know About

When people think of “alcoholism” (more accurately known as alcohol use disorder), they often think of liver problems, strained family lives, drunk driving accidents, and other large and formidable events. Around 4,000 drunk driving arrests are made in Delaware each year, and around 28 people die every day in the United States from alcohol-related car crashes. These things are common, and that’s why we hear about them the most. But there are other side effects caused by alcohol use that aren’t talked about as often, but they’re just as important. 

The common denominator in all alcohol-related side effects is typically the same: excess alcohol consumption. This can mean large quantities of alcohol in one night or it can mean large quantities over a lifetime. Side effects rarely occur when just one or two drinks are consumed. 

A common misconception is that you need to be “an alcoholic” to experience any “real” side effects, and that’s not true. If you’re drinking alcohol in excess, regardless of how long you’ve been drinking it, you’re prone to side effects.

Alcoholism or Excess Alcohol Consumption: How it Affects the Body

It’s fairly well-known that alcohol and liver damage go hand-in-hand, but did you know that alcohol can affect other areas of the body as well?

Alcohol and the Central Nervous System

The central nervous system (CNS) is made up of both the brain and the spinal cord. In other words, the CNS is responsible for regulating actions, sensory information, and messages sent between the brain and body. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it impacts the CNS and slows/inhibits brain activity. Because of this, the following side effects are possible with excess alcohol consumption:

  • Slowed breathing and respiratory rate
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Issues with memory (you probably know this as “blackouts”)
  • Slurred speech
  • Feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy
  • Confusion
  • Lowered inhibitions that lead to increased risk of injury 

Here Are Some Other Ways Alcohol Affects the Body

Alcohol’s effect on the CNS is not the only culprit for physical side effects. Alcohol causes blood vessels in the skin to get larger, which causes the heart to pump more blood (to keep it circulating correctly). In other words, excess alcohol consumption causes your heart to work harder than it normally would. Sometimes it’s noticeable, from a racing heart to your body becoming shaky. Many times, this isn’t noticed because intoxication has already begun.

That’s not all. Your body breaks alcohol down into a damaging chemical called acetaldehyde. This chemical creates irreparable damage to your DNA, which can cause mouth, throat, breast, voice box, colon, and even rectal cancers. It can also cause high blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress, heart disease, and more. 

In moderation, alcohol is not known to cause side effects like these. If you feel like you’re working to manage an alcohol use disorder on your own, these side effects may sound scary or inevitable. Many of the side effects caused by excess alcohol use can be reversed. Treatment can help you regain your physical health (and your life). 

Alcoholism and Mental Health

Because alcohol is a depressant, it has also been shown to create issues with the neurotransmitters responsible for brain regulation. Have you ever heard of the term “hangxiety”? It got its name because, the morning after drinking, many are prone to bouts of anxiety or panic. This is caused, in part, by the disruption of those neurotransmitters. 

“Hangxiety” can also be caused by dehydration, which is why we often feel better when we’ve hydrated and had something to eat. In other words, large quantities of alcohol might make you feel good at the time, but the morning after, both your body and brain need to re-regulate. 

If your drinking has become habitual, issues with dopamine production can happen, which can cause long-term anxiety or depression.

Alcohol Poisoning

One of the side effects of long-term or excess alcohol consumption that isn’t often talked about is alcohol poisoning, which can happen after a single night of alcohol use. When the body is overwhelmed with alcohol, vital organs can shut down and put people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory failure. 

Severe cases of alcohol poisoning can lead to long-term problems, as well. A couple of these complications include:

  1. Brain damage. This can happen if someone stops breathing during an overdose, which is often caused by someone vomiting while passed out. Alcohol depresses the gag reflex, which makes it easy to choke on vomit.
  2. Hypothermia. This can happen if the body temperature drops low enough to cause cardiac arrest. This can lead to heart and lung problems in the future. 


Getting Help For Your Alcohol Use Disorder Today

If you or someone you love is having a hard time controlling how much alcohol you drink (or how often you drink), it might be time to seek treatment. At SUN Behavioral Delaware, we know that every patient’s healing journey is unique. That’s why we offer a large variety of treatment programs for alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox happens in the first 72 hours after your last drink. It’s the process your body goes through to flush the alcohol out of its system. During this time, your body is working hard to rid itself of any toxins left behind. This is when withdrawal symptoms usually start, peak, and subside.

SUN Behavioral Health’s Alcohol Detox happens during this time. You’ll come in and meet with one of our clinicians to be assessed for your needs and to create some goals for yourself. People who choose detox stay in our facility so we can monitor their condition, treat their withdrawal symptoms, and help them heal safely and efficiently.

Inpatient Treatment 

Inpatient treatment provides patients with a stable and supportive environment. Here, they can focus on their recovery while being surrounded by trained and licensed professionals and others who are going through the same thing. 

During inpatient treatment, patients stay on sight at the rehab facility 24/7. They get to experience a wide variety of activities and programs during their day from individual therapy sessions and group sessions to activities such as yoga or hobbies that help rebuild new habits and focus the mind on healing.

Outpatient and PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) 

If inpatient treatment doesn’t work for your schedule or your lifestyle, outpatient and PHP can help. Outpatient programs can also act as a stepping stone between inpatient and the end of treatment. This type of care usually does not require patients to stay at the facility while being treated. When visiting the facility, patients spend time in customized sessions throughout the day. This can be beneficial for full-time employees seeking treatment because it allows patients to continue to maintain a life outside of treatment.

If you or someone you know is living with an alcohol use disorder, SUN Behavioral Health Delaware can help. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our available treatment options, call us today at 302-604-5600 so we can help you get your life back.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder, or “alcoholism” as some may call it, is the inability to stop consuming alcohol – even when it’s hurting you (or the people you care about). 

Can the side effects of alcoholism be deadly?

Excess alcohol consumption can lead to overdose, which can cause death. Long-term alcohol consumption or chronic alcohol use can lead to cancer or organ failure, which can also be deadly. 

What is alcohol poisoning?

When the body is overwhelmed with alcohol, vital organs can shut down and put people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory failure. This is called alcohol poisoning. 

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