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Effects of Alcohol on the Body: What you Need to Know

Alcohol has some potentially positive benefits. Moderate alcohol consumption can be healthy, especially for the heart. Alcohol is a type of sugar—called an “alcoholic” sugar because it can only be broken down by enzymes in the human body when it’s combined with another substance, called an enzyme. This means that you cannot digest alcohol on its own. It turns out that the body can only digest certain kinds of alcohol and not others.

If a person drinks ethanol, it doesn’t stay in their system for very long, but if they drink methanol instead, the effects are quite different. The body digests ethanol quickly, so most of it leaves your system within one hour after drinking. However, because methanol does not get broken down as readily as ethanol does, its side effects last much longer than those of ethanol. Both types have their pros and cons—find out what they are below!

Pros of Alcohol Consumption

  • The heart-health benefits of alcohol – Studies show that, in moderation, alcohol can benefit the heart by lowering levels of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that may indicate increased risk of heart disease.
  • Cancer prevention – Alcohol contains antioxidants, which prevent cell damage and are associated with lower rates of certain cancers, such as breast cancer and esophageal cancer.
  • Weight loss – Alcohol can help people lose weight because it has fewer calories than most other drinks.
  • Improved sleep – Alcohol is often used as a sleep aid, especially for people with insomnia.

Cons of Alcohol Consumption

  • Increased risk of certain cancers – Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, colon, and breast.
  • Immune system suppression – Alcohol has been linked to a weakened immune system, which can make people more susceptible to viruses and infections.
  • Liver damage – Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage, which can cause liver failure or even death.
  • Addiction – Alcohol can be addictive, leading to cravings and the need to increase how much you drink.
  • Poor nutrition – Choosing to drink over eat can lead to poor nutrition.
  • Weight gain – Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of weight gain because it contains many more calories than most beverages. And alcohol may decrease your motivation to exercise.

Who Should Not Drink Alcohol?

  • Pregnant women: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause birth defects and developmental problems in infants.
  • Children and teens: Alcohol consumption during childhood and adolescence can affect the growing brain and lead to poor school performance, addiction, and death.
  • Liver disease patients: People with liver disease, including those with hepatitis C, should avoid alcohol because it can worsen liver damage.
  • Individuals with a history of mental illness: People with a history of mental illness, including depression, should avoid alcohol because it can worsen symptoms and make it more difficult to detect when one is suffering from an episode.
  • People taking certain medications: People who take blood thinners, insulin, diabetes medications, or other medications should avoid alcohol because it can have a harmful interaction with these drugs.

The Benefits of Drinking in Moderation

  • A healthy heart – Moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Weight maintenance – Drinking in moderation may help people maintain a healthy weight.
  • Improved sleep – Alcohol can help some people sleep better, although not as well as medication can.
  • Better liver health – Moderate alcohol consumption can help improve liver function in people with hepatitis.
  • Lower risk of depression – In some people, alcohol consumption may lead to a decreased risk of depression. The effect of alcohol on depression is complex and may be different in different people.
  • Improved socialization – Alcohol consumption has a positive effect on socialization and communication.
  • Lower risk of other diseases – Moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
  • Higher creativity – Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to increase creativity in some people.
  • Improved mental function – Moderate alcohol consumption can improve cognitive function in seniors.
  • Better social support – Moderate alcohol consumption can help people feel more supported by their peers.
  • Better health – Moderate alcohol consumption can improve general health.
Effects of alcohol infographic
Effects of alcohol infographic – Illustration by Freepik

The Downside of Excessive Alcohol Consumption

  • Poor nutrition – Alcohol can displace nutritious foods, leading to poor nutrition.
  • Addiction and social problems – Alcoholism can lead to serious health problems and even death.
  • Weight gain – Having four or more drinks per day can cause weight gain due to the high calorie content of alcohol.
  • Liver damage – Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious liver damage and possibly death.
  • Poor sleep – Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to poor sleep quality and insomnia.
  • Cognitive impairment – Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to impairment in cognitive function, including slower reaction times.
  • Increased risk of depression – Alcohol dependency can increase the risk of depression, which may be related to feelings of guilt and shame related to drinking too much.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

The amount of time that alcohol stays in your system depends on many factors, including your gender, body mass, metabolism, hydration level, and the type of alcohol consumed. Alcohol remains in the blood for about one and a half hours after drinking, and the effects of alcohol last for one to three hours, depending on your metabolism.

Alcohol remains in the breath for two to six hours after drinking, and it takes seven to 10 hours for alcohol to leave the liver. It is said to leave the intestines and enters the bloodstream within two hours of drinking, and it takes five to six hours for alcohol to leave the colon. Alcohol leaves the blood and travels to the brain within 10 to 30 minutes of drinking, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

How to Get Rid of a Hangover?

  • A good sleep: The best way to get rid of a hangover is to have a good night’s sleep followed by a healthy and nutritious breakfast.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet: This will help replenish the nutrients lost during a night of drinking.
  • Eat breakfast: Studies show that eating a healthy breakfast will help reduce the symptoms of a hangover.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water will help your body flush the alcohol and toxins out of your system.
  • Take a multivitamin: Eating a balanced and healthy diet is important, but it’s not always possible to get all the nutrients we need through food.


Alcohol has some potentially positive benefits, but its negatives outweigh its positives. Drinking alcohol in moderation may have some health benefits, but excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a plethora of health issues and other problems. The best way to reduce the risks associated with alcohol is to stop its consumption or consume it in moderation.

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