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How Alcohol Works


Long-term Effects

In addition to the adaptations mentioned on the previous page, there are many adverse physical effects that result from long-term exposure to alcohol:

  • The increased activity in the liver causes cell death and hardening of the tissue (cirrhosis of the liver).

  • The brain cells in various centers die, thereby reducing the total brain mass.

  • Stomach and intestinal ulcers can form because the constant alcohol use irritates and degrades the linings of these organs.

  • Blood pressure increases as the heart compensates for the initially reduced blood pressure caused by alcohol.

  • Male sex-cell (sperm) production decreases because of decreased sex-hormone secretion from the hypothalamus/pituitary and, possibly, direct effects of alcohol on the testes.

  • Poor nutrition decreases levels of iron and vitamin B, leading to anemia.

  • Because alcoholics lose balance and fall more often, they suffer more often from bruises and broken bones; this is especially true as they get older.

Finally, alcohol abuse and dependence cause emotional and social problems. Because alcohol affects emotional centers in the limbic system, alcoholics can become anxious, depressed and even suicidal. The emotional and physical effects of alcohol can contribute to marital and family problems, including domestic violence, as well as work-related problems, such as excessive absences and poor performance.

While alcoholism has devastating effects on a person's health and social environment, there are medical and psychological ways to treat the problem. See the next page to learn more.

For more information on alcohol, treating alcoholism, and related topics, check out the links on the next page.