Health effects of alcohol

If you are someone who drinks alcohol it's likely you've experienced first-hand at least some of its short-term health effects, be it a hangover or a bad night's sleep. It's the longer term health effects of alcohol that people often only experience once it's too late. But it really doesn't have to be like that; use these pages to arm yourself with the facts about alcohol's effects.


Men

Men who regularly drink above the daily unit guidelines risk a whole host of health issues – from low energy and sexual difficulties in the short term, to heart disease and cancer in the long term. Click on the various part of the man's body to find out more about the long and short-term effects of alcohol.

More on alcohol and men Lower risk unit guidelines

Brain

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Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows down the brain. Alcohol also alters the brain’s chemistry and increases the risk of depression and anxiety. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also have long-term effects on memory.

Alcohol and mental health facts page Used for graphical purposes

Heart

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Long-term excessive drinking increases your risk of developing problems with your heart. The heart can sometimes have trouble coping with occasional heavy drinking sessions too. Drinking within the government’s daily unit guidelines is however unlikely to cause damage and some research has even shown that small amounts of alcohol may help to protect the heart.

Alcohol and heart disease Is alcohol good for the heart? Used for graphical purposes

Stomach

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Alcohol irritates the stomach, so heavy drinking can cause sickness and nausea and sometimes diarrhoea. In the longer term, alcohol is associated with an increased risk of cancer of the stomach.

Is alcohol harming your stomach?

Liver

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Regularly drinking over the government’s daily unit guidelines can increase your risk of developing liver disease and cause irreparable damage to this very important part of your body, often without the person knowing until it’s too late. Liver cancer is also one of the two cancers most directly linked with alcohol.

Alcohol and the liver

Pancreas

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Heavy drinking can cause pancreatitis, which is when your pancreas becomes inflamed and its cells are damaged. Around half of people with chronic pancreatitis develop diabetes.

Alcohol and pancreatitis Alcohol and diabetes

Bowels

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Alcohol is often linked with bowel conditions. It can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS ) and recent studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Alcohol and bowel cancer Is alcohol harming your stomach?

Bladder

Back to Men

Because alcohol is a diuretic it acts on the kidneys to make you pee out much more than you take in, which is why when you drink alcohol you find yourself going to the toilet so much more than when you drink water or soft drinks. So what’s all that drinking actually doing to your bladder? Read our feature to find out.

Why does alcohol make me pee more?

Reproduction

Back to Men

Alcohol can affect women’s reproductive systems, and damage fertility. Even small amounts can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and reduce the chance of conceiving. Alcohol can reduce a man’s testosterone levels, leading to loss of libido. It can also damage the quality, structure and movement of sperm by stopping the liver from properly metabolising vitamin A, which is needed for sperm development.

Alcohol and reproduction Is alcohol harming your fertility?

Blood Pressure

Back to Men

One in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. Regularly drinking too much alcohol is one of the known contributing factors to developing the condition. Men who regularly consume more than eight units of alcohol a day are four times more likely to develop high blood pressure, while women who regularly consume more than six units of alcohol a day double their risk of developing the condition.

Blood pressure facts page

Women

Women’s bodies, in general, process alcohol at a slower rate than men’s. When they drink similar amounts, women tend to feel the effects far more, even compared to a man of the same weight. Alcohol can affect fertility, put women at greater risk of breast cancer and increase some side-effects of the menopause.

More on alcohol and women Lower risk unit guidelines

Brain

Back to Women

Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows down the brain. Alcohol also alters the brain’s chemistry and increases the risk of depression and anxiety. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also have long-term effects on memory.

Alcohol and mental health facts page Used for graphical purposes

Heart

Back to Women

Long-term excessive drinking increases your risk of developing problems with your heart. The heart can sometimes have trouble coping with occasional heavy drinking sessions too. Drinking within the government’s daily unit guidelines is however unlikely to cause damage and some research has even shown that small amounts of alcohol may help to protect the heart.

Alcohol and heart disease Is alcohol good for the heart?

Breast

Back to Women

There is evidence to suggest that alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Drinking alcohol does not mean you will get breast cancer, it means your risk of developing it will be increased. How much you drink over your lifetime is what increases the risk. Staying within the daily unit guidelines when you do drink could help to lessen these risks.

Alcohol and breast cancer

Stomach

Back to Women

Alcohol irritates the stomach, so heavy drinking can cause sickness and nausea and sometimes diarrhoea. In the longer term, alcohol is associated with an increased risk of cancer of the stomach.

Is alcohol harming your stomach?

Liver

Back to Women

Regularly drinking over the government’s daily unit guidelines can increase your risk of developing liver disease and cause irreparable damage to this very important part of your body, often without the person knowing until it’s too late. Liver cancer is also one of the two cancers most directly linked with alcohol.

Alcohol and the liver

Pancreas

Back to Women

Heavy drinking can cause pancreatitis, which is when your pancreas becomes inflamed and its cells are damaged. Around half of people with chronic pancreatitis develop diabetes.

Alcohol and pancreatitis Alcohol and diabetes

Bowels

Back to Women

Alcohol is often linked with bowel conditions. It can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS ) and recent studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Alcohol and bowel cancer Is alcohol harming your stomach?

Bladder

Back to Women

Because alcohol is a diuretic it acts on the kidneys to make you pee out much more than you take in, which is why when you drink alcohol you find yourself going to the toilet so much more than when you drink water or soft drinks. So what’s all that drinking actually doing to your bladder? Read our feature to find out.

Why does alcohol make me pee more?

Reproduction

Back to Women

Alcohol can affect women’s reproductive systems, and damage fertility. Even small amounts can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and reduce the chance of conceiving. Alcohol can reduce a man’s testosterone levels, leading to loss of libido. It can also damage the quality, structure and movement of sperm by stopping the liver from properly metabolising vitamin A, which is needed for sperm development.

Alcohol and reproduction Is alcohol harming your fertility?

Blood Pressure

Back to Women

One in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. Regularly drinking too much alcohol is one of the known contributing factors to developing the condition. Men who regularly consume more than eight units of alcohol a day are four times more likely to develop high blood pressure, while women who regularly consume more than six units of alcohol a day double their risk of developing the condition.

Blood pressure facts page