The Physical and Mental Effects of Alcohol Use

While alcohol may be legal for adults to purchase and often consumed without incident, many people engage in problematic patterns of drinking and experience severe consequences from its use.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 47.5% of Americans ages 12 and older reported any type of alcohol use in the month prior to surveying and 21.5% reported binge drinking in the past month.1

Read on to learn more about how alcohol use affects the brain and body.

Alcohol Health Risks

Excessive drinking can have serious health risks. Excessive alcohol use can include:2,3

  • Binge drinking, which is 4 or more drinks in one sitting for a woman and 5 or more drinks in one sitting for a man.
  • Heavy drinking, which is 8 or more drinks a week for a woman, and 15 or more drinks a week for a man.

Potential adverse health outcomes and other risks associated with excessive drinking include:2

  • Injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes, falls, or other accidents.
  • Risky sexual behaviors that could result in unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in people who are pregnant.
  • Violent behavior, including suicide or violence against others.
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

An alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning essentially means that so much alcohol is in your bloodstream that areas of the brain important for life-supporting functions like breathing, heart rate, and the regulation of your body temperature begin to malfunction. Alcohol poisoning can kill you. The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:4

  • Mental confusion and decreased level of consciousness.
  • Inability to be awoken after losing consciousness.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Slow or otherwise irregular breathing.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Paleness or bluish skin.
  • Clammy, cold skin.

Alcohol overdose can be fatal. Call 911 if you’re concerned that you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol poisoning symptoms.

Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use

In some people, excessive drinking over longer periods may lead to:5

  • Progressive liver disease and dysfunction.
  • Pancreatitis, both acute and chronic.
  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure and increased stroke risk.
  • Other heart problems, including alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, including head and neck, esophageal, liver, and breast malignancies.5,6

People who engage in chronic alcohol use are also at an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

One of the more severe neurological outcomes of long-term alcohol use is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This disorder develops as a result of a lack of thiamine, or Vitamin B1, a nutritional deficiency common among people with drinking problems.7

Wernicke-Korsakoff disease actually consists of two distinct stages—the more acute Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a more chronic, longer-lasting phase known as Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome. Many people who develop the encephalopathy (characterized by mental confusion, problems with muscular coordination and movements, as well as vacillations in blood pressure and body temperature) will then go on to develop Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome, which involves profound disorientation and problems with memory consolidation and retrieval.7

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Medical professionals may diagnose someone with AUD when they meet certain criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) (DSM-5). As potential signs of an alcohol use disorder, these criteria include:8

  1. Drinking more alcohol or over a longer period than intended.
  2. Persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts made to reduce or quit drinking.
  3. Spending lots of time obtaining alcohol, drinking, or recovering from alcohol use.
  4. Craving alcohol or strong urges to drink.
  5. Alcohol use interferes with important obligations at home, school, or work.
  6. Drinking continues despite social or interpersonal problems related to alcohol use.
  7. Continued drinking even after it results in social, occupational, or interpersonal problems.
  8. Engaging in physically hazardous behavior while drinking (e.g., driving).
  9. Continued drinking despite knowing it has negatively impacted one’s physical or mental health.
  10. Developing a tolerance to alcohol’s desired intoxicating effects.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal when abstaining or drinking less, or drinking to avoid withdrawal).

According to the DSM-5, meeting 2 or more of the above criteria within 12 months could indicate the presence of an alcohol use disorder.8

Alcohol Addiction Rehab in Tampa, FL

Though compulsive drinking may be associated with several debilitating health issues, treatment can help. Utilizing medical detox and withdrawal management, AUD treatment medications, as well as focused behavioral therapies, professional substance use rehabilitation efforts have helped many with alcohol use disorders begin to recover.

River Oaks provides several levels of addiction treatment including:

If you or a loved one is ready to get help for alcohol use, we can help. Call our Admissions Navigators at to talk to a compassionate, knowledgeable person about your options for treatment at our alcohol rehab near Tampa.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
We are here to help you learn how to live without reaching for the next drink. Retreat to the sunny climate near Tampa, Florida for a stay at the gold standard of treatment facilities. At River Oaks, we offer customized care plans to help you on your recovery journey at our beautiful Hillsborough County campus.