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The Long-Term Effects of Abusing Alcohol

The Long-Term Effects of Abusing Alcohol

Alcohol occupies a strange position in our society. Despite the fact that we’ve known for a long while it can be harmful to use in excess, it’s still a large part of many cultures and considered an acceptable and relatively ‘safe’ drug to use. The fact that there isn’t much stigma around drinking can actually make it hard for people with alcohol abuse issues to seek help, especially if their social circles don’t recognize the extent to which a problem even exists.

As well as the short-term impacts alcohol abuse can have — such as negatively affecting motor function, thought processes, and impulse control — there are a ton of long-term effects that will only set in after a significant period of alcohol abuse. These long-term effects of alcohol abuse can be scary, especially if the time spent using alcohol to excess has been going on for a long while. In the following blog, we’ll be talking about some of the side effects of abusing alcohol over the long-term. By the end, hopefully, you’ll have a better grasp on just how harmful alcohol can be if the usage of it isn’t controlled.

Close up of a man clutching his stomach due to liver problems

1: Liver Problems

Probably the most well-known long-term side effect of abusing alcohol is the negative impact it can have on the liver. Because the liver is the organ in the body responsible for deciding what’s waste and what’s worth keeping in, it’s an important part of how we function. Too much alcohol can flood the liver, overworking it to the extent that it starts to break down and lose the same ability to function it once had.

Liver function in long-term alcoholics can be as low as 20%-30% after a sizeable enough period, meaning that too much alcohol abuse can steer the addict on a path directly towards liver failure. Short of actual liver failure, there are other issues that can arise as well, such as liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, both of which are serious health implications that can take a lasting toll on the alcoholic’s quality of life, with the potential to culminate in death if left unchecked.

2: Memory Loss

Everybody knows that if you drink too much on a night out, you’re running the risk of completely overdoing it and eventually forgetting large chunks of the night in question. This can be distressing because you won’t know what exactly went on and you’ll have a hard time figuring out if something bad happened or not. However, short-term loss of memory isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to alcohol abuse.

One of the most profound effects of alcohol abuse on the mind is the fact that the parts of the brain which are responsible for memory can be negatively affected, often to an extreme degree. Problems with creating new short-term memories can arise, but long-term memories that were already laid down are also at risk of being damaged. This can result in a significant lowering of the quality of life the alcoholic experiences, and will often play a part in contributing to an overall shorter life span, not to mention the reduced functioning capability that will be noticed in both personal and professional relationships.

3: Diminished Brain Functioning

Similar to the loss of normal memory capabilities, the brain can also be negatively affected by alcohol abuse in a more immediate way. Alcohol is actually capable of diminishing the amount of white and grey matter in the brain, especially if used to excess regularly and for a long time. This sounds pretty drastic — and to be honest, it is.

With less grey and white matter in the brain, plasticity is reduced, making it harder for the brain to adapt to new changes, as well as causing issues when it comes to other kinds of cognitive functioning, like reaction speed and attention span. The ability to concentrate for long periods of time will also be significantly harmed, making it that much harder for alcoholics to continue to function in their job and at home. By targeting the brain itself, alcohol abuse can inflict serious, irreversible harm on the alcoholic and the way they go about their everyday lives.

Black and white close up of a woman crying

4: Mood Problems

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it’s a chemical that depresses the central nervous system rather than stimulates it. That’s part of why it makes you fall asleep if you’ve had too much of it — it’s also part of why so many chronic alcoholics experience mood problems such as major depressive disorder and anxiety. It’s not uncommon for panic attacks to appear in mid- to late-stage alcoholism, especially after the point at which dependency has been formed and the body craves alcohol in a physical as well as a mental sense.

The mood problems alcohol can induce in people who use too much of it for too long can lead to a vicious cycle whereby more of the drug is needed in order to numb the pain of the depression. And the more alcohol is consumed, the more serious the depression is likely to get. For this reason, chronic alcoholism is often best treated with what’s known as a dual diagnosis method of therapy, which is targeted at both a substance abuse issue and a mood issue, aiming to clear them up in tandem in order to prevent relapse and further problems with dependance down the line.


This article has only really scratched the surface of the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. As hospitals everywhere are putting more and more time into studying exactly what alcohol does to the bodies and minds of people who abuse it, we’re always learning new things and discovering new ways we can help treat these serious side effects of abusing the drug.

If you have a specific question about alcoholism you’d like answered, you could send us an email and we’d be happy to talk you through everything you want to know.


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