How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body? (+ 7 Ways to Drink Safely)

Alcohol is harmful to your health. That’s no secret. You feel that anytime you indulge in one too many and wake up with that crushing morning hangover – head throbbing, nauseous, and totally wiped out.  Nobody says when they first wake up “I wish I had drank more last night”!

And that’s just the short-term effects of alcohol. Chronic heavy drinking can have disastrous effects on your liver, brain, gut health, and much more. The more you drink, the more severe the risks.

Yet many people enjoy having a drink now and then to celebrate a special occasion, enhance a delicious meal, or relax at the end of a long day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The trick is not overdoing it and finding ways to imbibe without wrecking your health goals. 

This article will explain how alcohol affects your body and offer tips to drink now and then in a safer, “healthier” way. Let’s dig in!

How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Body?

alcohol

Alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream within minutes of your first cocktail, beer, or glass of wine. It then visits your brain where it gets to work.

Alcohol is a depressant. That means it slows down your brain and impairs cognitive function. That’s why when you’ve had a few drinks, your inhibitions melt away.

The effects can be more severe depending on:

  • How much you drink
  • Your weight, sex, & body fat
  • How quickly you’re drinking
  • Whether you’re drinking on an empty stomach

If you’re drinking heavily, alcohol can lead to short-term effects such as:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Memory lapses
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Blackouts
  • Alcohol poisoning

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Health?

alcohol

Drinking alcohol affects your judgment, reflexes, and coordination in the short term. But what about in the long run? The following are some of the long-term effects of alcohol on the body.

Impairs Brain Function

Alcohol doesn’t kill your brain cells – that’s a myth. But it does damage the ends of your neurons, which may interfere with their communication. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Research shows alcohol can even make your brain shrink! The more you drink, the worse it gets. Yet, loss of brain volume can happen even if you only drink 1-2 drinks a day. 

Heavy alcohol use also increases your risk of dementia and stroke. Yet another reason to drink in moderation if you choose to imbibe.

Harms Your Gut Health

Drinking alcohol damages the tissues of your gastrointestinal tract. If you binge drink, this may lead to nausea and vomiting. This is your body’s way of purging the toxins and acids from the booze.

Alcohol causes intestinal inflammation. This can harm your gut microbiome and increase intestinal permeability, putting you more at risk of a leaky gut. 

Plus, alcohol inhibits the production of digestive enzymes. This can hinder absorption, leading to nutritional deficiencies down the road. We’ll get to more on that later…

Disrupts Your Sleep

As mentioned before, alcohol acts as a sedative, making you feel more relaxed – a huge part of its appeal. That’s why many people have a drink to unwind at the end of a long stressful day.

And while alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it disrupts your sleep later in the night. Research shows that alcohol reduces REM sleep, which is critical for learning, memory, and emotional processing.

Damages Your Liver

Your liver has a lot on its plate. Its job is to remove toxins – and with 84,000 chemicals in use in the US, it has plenty to do!

So here’s the problem: drinking alcohol disrupts your liver function. When your body is busy processing alcohol, it can’t put its energy towards detox. This can cause toxin build-up. Over time this can lead to cirrhosis or alcoholic liver disease.

Make You Pee…Way More

Feel like you’re always running to the bathroom when you drink? You’re not imagining things…

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more. It inhibits the release of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), causing your kidneys to release more water. This is why it’s so easy to become dehydrated when you drink.

Wrecks Your Blood Sugar

Alcohol takes your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride – and not a fun one. Drinking alcohol creates an initial blood sugar spike. Your body then releases insulin to tame the spike, lowering your blood sugar. This prevents your liver from releasing more sugar, causing hypoglycemia.  That’s why it’s common to crave high calorie and fatty foods like french fries and junk food after a binge.

Over time, drinking in excess can lead to pancreatitis. This is bad news for your blood sugar since your pancreas is in charge of secreting insulin. And when your pancreas is off, your insulin production is too, increasing your risk of diabetes. 

Weakens Your Immune System

As stated earlier, alcohol disrupts your gut microbiome. This spells trouble for your immunity since between 70-80% of your immune system lives in your gut.

Chronic alcohol consumption is linked with an increased risk of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, alcoholic liver disease, and even some cancers. But even a single bout of binge drinking can reduce infection-busting white blood cells.

Creates Nutritional Deficiencies

Your friendly gut bacteria help digest your food. Alcohol weakens them, along with your digestion. Alcohol also decreases the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. This can make it difficult to absorb your food, leading to malnutrition.

Research shows chronic drinking can leave you lagging in vitamin C, A, D, E, K, and B vitamins. Patients with alcoholic liver disease are also often low on zinc and magnesium – key nutrients for immunity, thyroid hormones, sleep, and mood.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

how much alcohol

Most health officials say there’s really no safe amount of alcohol. Any alcohol can have harsh effects on your health. So you have two options: to not drink, or drink in moderation. 

So what does “moderate” drinking look like? Well, here’s what the CDC has to say:

  • 2 drinks or less in a day for men
  • 1 drink or less in a day for women

But keep in mind, drinking less is always better than drinking more. Just because having a drink a day is considered “drinking in moderation” doesn’t mean you should do it! I’ll be sharing some tips for cutting back in the next section so stay tuned. 

Before we get to that, I should note that some people shouldn’t drink at all. This includes anyone who:

  • Is recovering from alcohol misuse disorder
  • Takes medications that interact with alcohol
  • Is pregnant
  • Younger than 21
  • Has trouble controlling the amount they drink

Also, If you’re healing from a gut infection such as candida overgrowth or SIBO or are on an elimination diet, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether for now.

But if your gut health is good and you’d like to drink now and then, there are several ways to diminish the damage.

The “Healthiest” Ways to Drink Alcohol: 7 Helpful Tips

Remember – even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can have ill effects on your health. But if you choose to imbibe, here are seven tips that’ll help you do so safely.

Eat Before You Drink

Before you indulge in a cocktail or glass of wine, get some healthy food in your belly. Alcohol absorbs slower when you have some food in your stomach. So have a meal before heading to that party, or pack a snack for the ride.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Alcohol dehydrates you. So if you plan to drink, keep the water coming. Down a big glass of water or two before the drinks start flowing. Then, for each alcoholic beverage you have, follow it with a tall glass of water.

Drink Slowly & Stick to a Limit

limit intake

The quicker you drink, the more stress you put on your body. So slow down. Savor each sip, have a limit in mind, and stick to it. Share your magic number with your partner, friend, or family member to hold you accountable.

Take Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal binds to toxins and chemicals, helping the body get rid of unwanted substances. It’s even used in emergency rooms as a treatment for poisoning! Since alcohol is a toxin, you’d think activated charcoal could “mop” it up. But the jury’s still out on this one. 

Activated charcoal only works before the toxins hit your bloodstream. And since alcohol makes its way to your blood within minutes, you’d have to pop a charcoal binder before drinking. Still, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that claims it can reduce hangovers, so it doesn’t hurt to try.

Make a Mocktail

mocktail

There is oftentimes a lot of pressure to drink in social gatherings. So if you’re trying to cut back or quit altogether, it’s easy to feel left out. 

One easy solution is to swap the booze out for a mocktail. You can go simple and sip on some kombucha in a wine glass or get fancy and whip up a new recipe. Here’s my go-to favorite:

Dr. Amy’s Signature Mocktail 

  • 8 oz sparkling water
  • ¼ tsp digestive bitters
  • Lime juice to taste

Choose Gluten-free Booze

Alcohol is highly inflammatory. But for many people, so is gluten. So if you’re going to have a drink, pass on the whiskey and beer and opt for gluten-free options. For cocktails, try tequila or potato vodka.  

They even make gluten-free or “crafted to remove gluten” style beers that taste fairly good. Nowadays, there are a ton of gluten-free beer and hard cider options out there. 

Switch to Natural Wine

Love wine? Me too. The trouble is, most wine is loaded with sugar and harmful additives. That’s why I switched to pure, natural wine, and boy did I notice a difference! 

Natural wine is free of toxic additives like sulfites, lower in alcohol, and extremely low in sugar. So you can still enjoy a glass of wine, minus the blood sugar spike. But above all, natural wine just tastes better and has natural probiotics and the polyphenols like resveratrol that are good for your health.  Domestic wines are full of sulfites, low in probiotics, high in sugar, and high in alcohol (hence the headaches and restless nights). 

The thing is, finding natural wine off the shelf is like looking for a needle in a haystack. That’s why I was thrilled to find Dry Farm Wines. All their wine has zero sugar, uses wild yeast, is additive-free, lower in alcohol, uses no irrigation water, and is grown organically without any chemicals. 

Best of all, if you want to try them out, , you can get your first bottle for a penny! Yep, that’s right – for one cent. Click here to check it out.

Takeaways

How does alcohol affect your body? It depends entirely on how much you drink and how often. Drinking alcohol has numerous long-term effects on the body, from shrinking your brain to overwhelming your liver to disrupting your gut health. And the more you drink, the greater the damage. 

Clearly, the healthiest option is to forgo alcohol altogether. Yet, if you choose to drink, be smart. Know your limits, drink in moderation, stay hydrated, and pick “healthier” options. That way, you can still partake now and then without sabotaging your health.

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