5 Unexpected Ways Alcohol Is Bad for Your Health

Most people know and understand that drinking excessively has negative effects and consequences on your health.

These days, moderate alcohol consumption is also said to be somewhat good for your health. Some people believe that a glass of red wine a night is good for your health, as it’s full of healthy antioxidants [1].

However, the evidence is clear that excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking is bad for your health. Most people understand that the common consequences and effects of alcohol are [2]:

  • Increased chances of a heart attack
  • Increased chances of a stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Liver disease and liver cancer
  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Bowel cancer
  • Pancreatitis

It’s also well known that drinkers also experience withdrawal symptoms such as ;

In addition to the above, serious health concerns, long-term alcohol misuse does also lead to some less well-known consequences on an individual’s health.

Although these may be less well known, they can have equally damaging consequences on an individual’s health.

Here’s a list of a few, less well known and unexpected consequences that alcohol can have on an individual’s health.

1. Permanent Brain Damage

Many people know that drinking heavily can result in blackouts and memory loss.

However, not many people know that drinking excessively over a long period of time can lead to more permanent brain damage.

This is because alcohol affects the part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls your behaviour, emotions, judgement and control.

When you consume alcohol, the chemicals increase the glutamate receptor sites in the hippocampus.

Over a long period of time, these receptors can be permanently damaged. This affects your behaviour, the way you process emotions, your judgement, control and your ability to remember things [3].

2. Kindling

Kindling is not very well known but has major consequences on individuals withdrawing from alcohol. It involves tremors, agitation and seizures [2].

Even though the individual has stopped drinking, the effects on their brain are often heightened whilst withdrawing from alcohol.

Research has shown that when an addict stops drinking immediately, it activates brain and nerve cells which results in hyperexcitability [2].

At this stage, the brain and nervous symptoms become more sensitized, and any side effects that the individual is experiencing, such as loss of memory or behavioural changes, become more pronounced.

3. Fluctuations in Mood and Behaviour

People drink alcohol excessively in order to deal with difficult situations and emotions.

People reach for a drink all the time when they’re struggling when they’ve had a big week or even a bad day.

However, alcohol immediately intensifies your emotions and instead of helping to put things ‘to the back of your mind’ they often bring them to the forefront.

That’s why many people feel bad, overwhelmed, sad, emotional and even depressed when they drink or the day after they drink.

Excessive drinking can often cause types of psychosis, delusions and hallucinations.

People who drink excessively often experience highs when drinking, and excessive lows when they stop. In order to feel good again, naturally, they reach for a drink.

Individuals also experience excessive weight gain when drinking heavily, which also contributes to mood swings and behaviour changes.

Alcoholic drinks are actually very high in calories, due to their starch and sugar content [1]. Unfortunately, these aren’t the good type of calories. Calories from alcohol are empty and have no nutritional value.

4. Changes brain chemistry

In addition to mood changes, alcohol actually changes your brain chemistry.

Drinking alcohol regularly changes the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps when experiencing feelings of depression.

Alcohol also increases the level of dopamine in the brain, which makes you think you’re experiencing a high.

However, this is usually short-lived.

When the brain is exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, these chemical changes can last for a long period of time.

The brain then adopts in order to perform more ‘normally’ when alcohol is present [3].

This creates a sense of dependency, as people try to chase the positive (and false in some ways) feelings that dopamine brings.

5. Increased Anxiety

Most people associate depression with excessive alcohol use, but not many people associate anxiety with excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol-induced anxiety can last up to days, even when the alcohol is no longer in your system. Long term, excessive drinking might even develop a long term anxiety disorder.

Anxiety induced alcohol consumption can occur both when you’re drinking and whilst you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Other negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption such as memory loss, depression, confusion and blacking out can also lead to a heightened sense of anxiety.

Anxiety and excessive alcohol use is also linked to other mental health conditions such as; [1]

The Science Behind How the Liver Breaks Down Alcohol in the Body

When you consume alcohol, the liver is there to help detoxify all of the bad chemicals from your blood. This is called oxidation.

Once the liver has done its job, the alcohol is now successfully turned into water and carbon dioxide [4].

However, if the liver comes into contact with too much alcohol, it quickly can’t cope.

Soon, alcohol will build upon the liver and starts to destroy cells and then organs, starting with the liver itself [4].

This builds up fat in the liver, and can quickly develop into a disease called fatty liver disease [4].

Although fatty liver disease is reversible, if it goes untreated and the individual continues to drink heavily, it can soon turn into fibrosis and then cirrhosis which is irreversible.

The fat in your liver causes inflammation, which can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, liver failure, liver failure and ultimately, death [1].

It is also now well researched that women take longer to break down alcohol in the liver than men do. It also takes a woman’s liver longer to repair.

If you drink heavily, recognise any of the symptoms above and are worried about your health then you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

Alcohol Helplines

If you’re worried about your alcohol consumption and think you may be experiencing any of the above symptoms, then you can talk to one of the below helplines before or after seeking medical help.

Alcohol Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is for people suffering from any form of addiction. The only requirement to join is the want and desire to stop drinking alcohol, and there are no fees to join.

Phone: 08009177650

Website: alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk


Drinkline offers information and self-help materials, help to callers worried about their drinking and support to the family and friends of anyone suffering from an addiction.

Phone: 0300 123 1110


Addaction provides a free and confidential web chat service for anyone who’s worried about their addiction.


[1] https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/how-alcohol-affects-your-health

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/

[3] https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/125-133.htm

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/