20 really dangerous side effects of Alcohol you didn’t know

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Apart from vomiting, alcohol has a host of other lesser known dangerous side-effects. These include pancreatitis, shifty eyes, acne, infertility, and much more.

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While a lot of people know about the adverse effects of drinking, this knowledge is mostly restricted to hangovers and nausea.

But an increasing number of studies are revealing newer adverse effects of drinking, some of which are quite unsettling.

When reading this, it is important to note that these side-effects won’t happen to everyone. They depend on the frequency and volume of drinking. Some side-effects only occur with excessive drinking, but others can happen when drinking in moderation too.

Moreover, it also depends on your body weight. Usually, people with higher body weight have a higher tolerance for alcohol. At any rate, we advise extreme caution while drinking.

  1. Increased risk of fracture: Drinking makes your bones more brittle, increasing the chances of a fracture on impact. For growing adolescents, it reduces the maximum strength that their bones can reach.

For adults, drinking disrupts the process by which new bone tissue replaces the mature tissue (bone metabolism). So no matter what your stage in life, you should be wary of this side-effect.

  1. Lung infections: Alcohol greatly increases susceptibility to acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS. Warning signs of ARDS comprise severe shortness of breath, labored and unusually rapid breathing, confusion, low blood pressure, and extreme tiredness. 

Analyses like this one serve to illustrate the seriousness of alcohol’s impact on the respiratory system, and the biological mechanism which explains this impact. Drinking puts you at increased risk of pneumonia and acute lung injury as well.

  1. Pancreatitis: This is inflammation of the pancreas. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, etc. The condition is acute when the inflammation is temporary. If the pancreas remains inflamed for an extended period of time, it is deemed chronic.

Alarmingly, chronic pancreatitis further increases your susceptibility to other diseases and conditions like type-2 diabetes and cancer. Evidently, therefore, this is a serious adverse effect of alcohol consumption.

  1. Greater risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Large quantities of alcohol reduce your body’s sensitivity to insulin, thus increasing the risk of type-2 diabetes. Symptoms are quite well-known and range from fatigue and blurred vision to feeling thirsty more often.

It also reduces blood clotting time which affects how quickly cuts and bruises heal. One should note, however, that this increased risk is only true for heavy drinkers.

  1. Loss of coordination: This is far more serious than most people realize. A study has shown that alcohol blurs the connection between the visual and motor centers of the brain, and that is the cause of the loss of coordination people under the influence experience.

Muscle movements become slower, control seems lost, etc.
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  1. Blackouts: If you consumed a large quantity of alcohol the previous night, chances are you won’t remember much of it. This is because alcohol directly affects your ability to form long-term memories and leave you with periods of time where you don’t remember anything. These gaps in memory are called blackouts.

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  1. Shifty eyes: Rising alcohol levels in your bloodstream can cause your eyes to appear ‘shifty’ or restless. Scientifically called positional alcohol nystagmus (PAN), this condition occurs because alcohol affects your sense of balance. There are two kinds of PAN:
    • PAN I: This describes the condition when the alcohol level is still rising in your blood. That is, when you’re still drinking.
    • PAN II: This is for the hangover stage – where people’s eyes can still be noticeably shifty.
  1. Hepatitis: Drinking can cause inflammation of the liver, which can take the form of alcoholic hepatitis. This happens because alcohol releases harmful chemicals while being processed in the liver.

Symptoms depend on the severity of the case. They include increased belly size, yellow skin and eyes, pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, etc.

  1. Fatigue: Alcohol makes you tired and simultaneously makes your sleep, less nourishing. It significantly increases the risk of persistent insomnia and sleep apnea. It does this in two ways:
    • Releasing epinephrine, which is a stress hormone, in your blood. Higher stress hormone levels always make the body feel tired.
    • Alcohol is a diuretic. An uneasy bladder disturbs sleep and thus makes it less restive.
  1. Lowering of body temperature: Contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol when it’s chilly won’t help prevent hypothermia or increase your body temperature. In fact, alcohol acts as a vasodilator and increases heat lost from your body. This means even one drink can lower your body’s core temperature, even though you might feel the alcohol is warming you up.
  1. Damage to heart: While drinking lightly may not adversely affect your heart, doing so in excess can be quite harmful indeed. It increases chances for:
    • Cardiomyopathy: A chronic disease of the heart in which the heart muscle is abnormally thickened and rigid.
    • High blood pressure or hypertension: When the pressure of the blood against your artery walls becomes dangerously high, you’re said to have hypertension.
    • Cardiac arrhythmia: A term used for the condition when your heartbeat is too fast, too slow, or simply irregular.
    • Sudden cardiac death: An unexpected death due to cardiac causes that occurs in a short time period (generally within 1 hour of symptom onset) in a person with known or unknown cardiac disease.
  1. Cancer: Studies show how even moderate consumption can increase the risk for breast, liver, skin, prostate, liver, and other types of cancer. In general, these risks become significant after one daily drink for women and two daily drinks for men. Again, this depends on body size and tolerance.
  2. Pain and tingling in the limbs: Also known as alcohol neuropathy, this is also said to happen from overconsumption of alcohol. The symptoms include numbness in arms and legs, abnormal sensations like ‘pins and needles’, pain in limbs, weakness, cramps, aches, muscle spasms, and more.

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  1. Depression: While pop culture continues to show us that depressed people seek solace in a drink, it belies the truth that alcohol actually aggravates depression. Alcohol is even categorized as a depressant – it reduces arousal and excitability. This means that alcohol can also trigger depressive feelings – not just aggravate existing ones.

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  1. Stomach aches and diarrhea: Put simply, alcohol irritates your digestive system. Even a little alcohol makes your stomach creates more acid than normal, which in turn could cause gastritis (the irritation of the stomach lining). This generates vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea and, in heavy drinkers, it could lead to bleeding.
  1. Infertility: Alcohol causes infertility in both men and women. It can reduce libido and cause impotence. In fact, especially for pregnant women, consuming alcohol can greatly increase the chances of birth defects in the baby, resulting in fetal alcohol syndrome.
  1. Depression of immune system: Extreme intake of alcohol can harm the body’s immune system in 2 ways. First, it could produce an overall nutritional deficiency, snatching the body of its precious nutrients which enhance the immune system.

Second, alcohol consumed in excess can reduce the ability of white cells to kill germs. These two factors together leave the drinker at a higher risk of contracting any disease – due to a weakened immune system.

  1. Malnutrition: For chronic alcoholics, malnutrition is a serious problem. Studies show that not only is ethanol a much poorer source of calorific energy, but the continued consumption of alcohol starves the body of protein, fats, and other useful nutrients.
  1. Acne and zits: Alcohol suppresses your immune response, which means more bacteria remain on your face. These bacteria get to work and by the time you wake up the next morning, you might have acne and zits on your face.
  1. Sexual dysfunction: Alcohol is a depressant, and using it heavily can dampen the mood, decrease sexual desire. This is just one of the numerous studies conducted on the subject which shows a clear correlation. In that study, more than 70% of the people studied had one or more form of sexual dysfunction.

These are some of the dangerous side-effects of alcohol that most people don’t know about. Spreading the information can help people protect themselves, so do share this information with your friends and family.

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Shaloo Singh is currently working in Portea as Associate Product Manager and manages Portea’s consumer app and clinician app. She works with different teams to get the best features out in the app for the users. Some of these interactions with the medical team and other research build the foundation for her articles. Over all she has 3 years of experience in product management.

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