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The Physical Effects of Alcoholism

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Most people understand that alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) can have a negative impact on your body and mind. But many don’t realize the potential scope and severity of the physical effects of alcoholism.

If you or a loved one are struggling with the effects of alcohol, call us now. Our alcohol rehab in Atlanta can help you or a loved one create the space needed to heal. Call us now at 678-325-7250 or verify your insurance now.

What Are the Physical Effects of Alcoholism?

Both alcohol itself and the negative behaviors that are associated with heavy drinking can be sources of widespread physical devastation, including harm to tissues, organs, and systems throughout your body. The following are just a few of the many potential physical effects of alcoholism:

Liver damage

If you asked a random group of people to list the most common physical effects of alcoholism, liver damage would probably be one of the most frequent answers. However, while it’s relatively common knowledge that alcohol abuse can be harmful to your liver, the specifics of this risk aren’t as well known.

Alcohol-related liver disease occurs in three phases:

  1. Fatty liver: Also referred to as steatosis, this stage involves the accumulation of fat in the liver. People who have fatty liver often experience no symptoms, while some may notice that they have become more tired than usual, or that they have begun to unintentionally lose weight.
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis: This stage involves inflammation and scarring of the liver. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, confusion, and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). Once a person reaches the alcoholic hepatitis stage, they may begin to experience irreversible damage. 
  3. Cirrhosis: The final stage of alcohol-related liver disease includes the buildup of permanent scar tissue, which can cause liver failure. Symptoms of cirrhosis are similar to those of hepatitis, but they may become more severe. Cirrhosis-related damage is irreversible and potentially fatal, though in some cases the progress of the disease can be stopped.

Cardiovascular concerns

The physical effects of alcoholism can also include considerable harm to the cardiovascular system, which is how blood is delivered to organs and tissues throughout the body. 

Alcohol-related cardiovascular damage can include hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiomyopathy (injury to the heart muscle), and an increased risk of heart attack and heart failure.

Elevated cancer risk

Alcohol abuse can also increase a person’s risk for several types of cancer, including:

  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancers of the mouth and throat
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colon and rectal cancers 

In some cases, the connection between alcohol and cancer may due to alcoholic liver damage. 

When the liver is functioning effectively, enzymes briefly convert alcohol to a carcinogenic substance called acetaldehyde, then break the acetaldehyde down into nontoxic components. A damaged liver may not be able to complete this process, which can lead to a buildup of acetaldehyde and thus an elevated risk of cancer.

Muscles and bones

The continued abuse of alcohol can be detrimental to both muscles and bones. 

Alcohol’s effects on muscles include wasting and weakness. In severe cases, this can result in a potentially fatal condition called rhabdomyolysis, which occurs when electrolytes and proteins from damaged muscle tissue are released into the blood. 

The negative impact of alcohol on bones can include osteoporosis (decreases in bone mass and density, which can increase the risk of fractures) and osteonecrosis (bone death due to impaired blood flow). 


Alcohol is a calorie-rich substance. Unfortunately, these are what many people refer to as “empty calories,” because they have little to no nutritional value. The weight gain that often results from alcohol abuse can mask the fact that an individual is suffering from malnutrition.

An alcohol-related deficiency in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients can lead to a host of additional problems, including:

  • Confusion
  • Anemia
  • Scurvy
  • Insulin resistance
  • Muscle cramping

Alcohol-related malnutrition may also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a potentially debilitating neurological disorder that has been linked to insufficient levels of vitamin B1 (thiamine).

Are the Physical Effects of Alcoholism Treatable?

The treatability of the physical effects of alcoholism can vary depending on several factors, such as:

  • Which type of damage the individual has incurred
  • How advanced the damage has become
  • Whether or not the person has stopped abusing alcohol

In some cases, the physical effects of alcohol can be completely reversed. In other cases (such as the later stages of alcoholic liver disease), the best possible outcome may be simply to prevent further damage. Unfortunately, some effects (such as advanced cirrhosis and certain cancers) may be too severe to be effectively treated.

One common feature among the many different physical effects of alcoholism is that a person must stop abusing alcohol to have a chance at successful treatment. Continuing to drink will undermine virtually every effort to repair and heal from alcohol-related harm.

Find Alcoholism Treatment in the Atlanta Area

If you have been unable to quit drinking on your own, Peachtree Recovery Solutions is here to help. 

When you choose our alcohol addiction treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, you can complete alcohol withdrawal in our Atlanta detox, then develop essential relapse-prevention skills in our partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. We also offer an evening IOP as well as gender-specific options for men and women.

In every program, you can expect to receive close personal attention and comprehensive support from a team of highly skilled treatment professionals. We understand how the mental and physical effects of alcoholism can undermine your ability to live a full and satisfying life, and we can provide the customized services that will address the full scope of your unique needs.

Don’t let the despair of untreated alcoholism rob you of one more day. Contact Peachtree Recovery Solutions and discover your path toward improved health and long-term recovery.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.