What Does Long Term Alcohol Abuse Do to the Body and Brain?

Effects of Alcohol Abuse - Holding Glass of Whiskey

Alcohol is a depressant that slows the activity of the brain and central nervous system. This substance can help you feel calm and relaxed when used in small or moderate amounts, but when used regularly on a long-term basis, alcohol can cause serious, extensive damage to your brain and other major organs. Long-term alcohol abuse can also eventually lead to alcohol dependence and addiction.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions. Here’s a closer look at the effects of long-term alcohol abuse, and how alcohol detox at an inpatient residential rehab center can help.

Heart Damage

Long-term alcohol abuse can damage the heart and has been linked to high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, weakened heart muscle, and blood clots. Heart damage caused by these factors can eventually lead to stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2016, alcohol caused an estimated 593,000 cardiovascular deaths globally, which represents 3.3 percent of all cardiovascular deaths.

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Liver Damage

Alcohol is broken down by the liver; however, too much alcohol in the body can overload the liver and make it difficult for this organ to perform its job. Heavy, long-term drinking can cause serious, life-threatening liver problems such as fatty liver disease (an increased buildup of fat in the liver), alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation caused by drinking too much alcohol), fibrosis (the formation of an abnormally large amount of scar tissue in the liver), and cirrhosis (a late stage of fibrosis of the liver).

An aforementioned report from the NIAAA states that of the 83,517 liver disease deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2018, nearly 48 percent involved alcohol. Additionally, alcohol-related liver disease is the primary cause of nearly one in three liver transplants in the U.S.


Alcohol is a known human carcinogen that increases the risk of cancer over time when consumed regularly and in high amounts. Another report from the NIAAA states that in 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. were alcohol-related. Cancers that have been linked to alcohol abuse include breast cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, and head and neck cancer.

Brain Damage and Impairment

Alcohol interferes with brain chemicals and neurotransmitters to cause changes in mood, behavior, memory, and balance and coordination. Alcohol also interferes with the body’s absorption of important nutrients including thiamine (vitamin B1) to cause brain disorders associated with nutritional deficiency.

The NIAAA reports that up to 80 percent of people with alcohol use disorder are deficient in thiamine, and at higher risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) as a result. Alcohol addiction is the number-one cause of WKS. WKS is a brain and neurological disorder characterized by symptoms including double vision, loss of muscle coordination, confusion, and memory loss.

Dependence and Addiction

Long-term alcohol abuse can easily pave the way for alcohol dependence and addiction — also known as alcohol use disorder. An estimated 14.4 million adults in the U.S. have alcohol use disorder, which represents 5.8 percent of this age group. However, less than 8 percent of adults with alcohol use disorder receive professional treatment in the form of alcohol detox and drug rehab.

Alcohol detox is a treatment that helps people safely withdraw from alcohol. People who try quitting alcohol abruptly after becoming physically dependent face a high risk of complications including seizures and death, but alcohol detox helps individuals avoid these complications by allowing them to recover in a safe medical environment where they are closely supervised. After alcohol detox, many patients transition into an inpatient residential rehab program to receive customized treatment for alcohol addiction, including individual and group counseling and behavioral therapy.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Dana Point Rehab Campus

Dana Point Rehab Campus offers alcohol detox and a wide range of drug rehab programs for alcohol use disorder. Call us at 949-347-5466 today to begin the treatment process.