What effects does alcohol have on health?

Alcohol is a depressant drug, which can slow down the parts of the brain that affect thinking, behaviour, breathing, and heart rate. Like the body, the human brain is still developing throughout adolescence and early adulthood, generally until about 25 years of age. The frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to mature and is involved in planning, strategizing, organizing, concentration, and controlling impulses. Drinking alcohol while these changes are occurring can have negative effects on the brain’s development (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019).

Consuming small amounts of alcohol can help a person feel relaxed or less anxious. More alcohol causes greater changes in the brain, resulting in intoxication. People who have overused alcohol may stagger, lose their coordination, and slur their speech. Depending on the person, intoxication can make someone very friendly, talkative, or very aggressive or angry. When large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time, alcohol poisoning can result.  Alcohol poisoning can cause vomiting, extreme sleepiness, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, low blood sugar, seizures, and may even result in death. Alcohol poisoning is a serious problem and requires medical attention to ensure the person is properly cared for.

Consuming large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, or too much on a single occasion, can damage the heart, causing problems including cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and stroke, and may lead to high blood pressure. Heavy drinking can lead to a variety of problems affecting the liver including: steatosis or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Frequent alcohol consumption can also lead to pancreatitis, several types of cancer, and may weaken the immune system.