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Alcohol Side Effects

Last updated: 12/21/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A drinking problem can easily turn into alcohol addiction when you drink heavily on a regular basis and start prioritizing alcohol use above important life areas and responsibilities. But aside from causing addiction, alcohol abuse has serious side effects for your health that are just as detrimental, and that can compromise your quality of life. Some side effects of alcohol abuse can even be deadly.

Alcohol use on any level can trigger the following common side effects:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased perception and coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blackouts

However, a drinking problem can cause the following less obvious side effects that may surprise you.

Shifty Eyes

Alcohol abuse can cause visible jerky eye movements, or shifty eyes when placing your head in sideways positions. This is known as positional alcohol nystagmus, or PAN, and occurs when alcohol creates an imbalance in the bloodstream and ear canals.

There are two different types of PAN: PAN I and PAN II. PAN I causes shifty eyes when you tilt the right side of your head downward, and typically happens when your blood alcohol concentration level is rising or peaking. PAN II causes shifty eyes when you tilt the left side of your head, and occurs when your blood alcohol concentration level begins falling, or when you’re hungover.

The overstimulation of the ear canals triggered by PAN causes the unsteadiness, vertigo, nausea, and balance issues experienced by those who are intoxicated. The effects of PAN can often last up to two days, which can make activities like driving and operating heavy machinery extremely dangerous.

Thinning Bones

A drinking problem can interfere with the way the body absorbs calcium and inhibits vitamin D production to increase the risk for thinning brittle bones and osteoporosis. Alcohol also increases the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, which is found to contribute to thinning bones and bone loss.

Teens who abuse alcohol face the risk of experiencing reduced bone mass and weaker bones as adults. This can lead to fractures and a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis. However, evidence suggests that chronic alcohol use has harmful effects on bone development and maintenance in people of all ages.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which is typically caused by long-term or excess exposure to toxins. Alcohol produces a range of toxic chemicals when processed by the liver. Those who abuse alcohol are often overworking their livers, which are being forced to work harder at expelling excess toxins from the body. Many times, those who drink heavy amounts of alcohol suffer alcohol-induced hepatitis as a result of their livers being unable to filter and process large amounts of toxins.

Lung Infections

Those who suffer from alcohol abuse are generally more prone to developing lung infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia. Chronic alcohol use impairs the immune system in ways that make people more susceptible to these types of illnesses. Alcohol abuse is an independent risk factor that increases the likelihood of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome by up to 4-fold. Up to 50% of people with this lung injury die from their condition.

Pancreatitis

A drinking problem to the level of abuse is identified as a potential risk factor for pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Roughly one-third of acute pancreatitis cases in the U.S. are caused by alcohol, and between 60 and 90% of people with pancreatitis have a history of chronic alcohol use. The toxins in alcohol can interfere with pancreatic cell function and drive inflammation to cause pancreatitis. Those who drink heavily for long periods can cause permanent damage to their pancreas, and often require long-term intensive care for this condition.

Cancer

Heavy drinkers face a higher risk for developing cancer of the mouth, neck, esophagus, stomach, intestine, liver, and breasts. Alcohol is a known human carcinogen that contributes to inflammation throughout the body due to the way it interferes with cell production and function. Alcohol abuse can prevent the body from absorbing and producing essential vitamins and nutrients and upsets hormones in ways that drive cancer, such as increasing estrogen to cause breast cancer. If you suffer from alcohol abuse, the best way to reduce your risk for cancer and other serious health problems is to stop drinking and receive professional treatment at an alcohol rehab facility.