The physical consequences of alcohol abuse

While many of us know that scientific research indicates low to moderate alcohol consumption might offer some health benefits, we are all acutely aware of the dangers posed by alcohol addiction. What might not be as well-known is the extent of the damage alcohol addiction can inflict on our bodies. In this blog, we will delve into the lesser-known facts about how alcohol abuse can exacerbate or cause issues with certain illnesses, some of which may surprise you.

Liver damage and cirrhosis

Alcohol addiction can severely damage the liver, leading to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver is so scarred it cannot function properly. Cirrhosis impedes the liver’s ability to process toxins, nutrients and drugs and can cause jaundice, where the skin and eyes turn yellow due to a buildup of bilirubin. Football legend George Best, who struggled with alcohol addiction, highlighted the devastating impact of this disease. In his final days, he allowed a photograph of himself in a hospital bed, visibly jaundiced, to be taken and shared publicly as a stark warning of the consequences of alcohol abuse.

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Cardiovascular complications

Alcohol addiction significantly impacts heart health, mainly by leading to high blood pressure and causing a condition called cardiomyopathy. Regular heavy drinking can cause a continuous increase in blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. This increased pressure makes the heart work harder to circulate blood, causing strain and potential damage over time. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure or irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), greatly raising the chance of a heart attack.


Alcohol abuse can lead to pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. This occurs when excessive alcohol consumption causes the pancreas to release digestive enzymes prematurely, leading to inflammation and damage.

Chronic alcohol abuse is a major risk factor, contributing to both acute and chronic forms of pancreatitis by creating toxic metabolites and oxidative stress that harm pancreatic cells. The severity of pancreatitis can vary, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions.

Tim Bergling, known by his stage name Avicii, was diagnosed with pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse. In 2014, a documentary showed the DJ in Australia undergoing surgery for the removal of his gallbladder and appendix as a result of a pancreatitis flare-up. He passed away in 2018.

Weakened immune system

Alcohol can weaken the immune system by disrupting the immune pathways in our body. This disruption makes it harder for the body to defend against infections, slowing down the response to pathogens.

Regular consumption of alcohol can damage immune cells and the stomach lining, reducing the production of white blood cells and impairing the body’s ability to repair itself. This makes individuals more susceptible to illnesses and infections.

By affecting the balance and function of immune cells, alcohol compromises the body’s natural defence mechanism, leading to a reduced ability to fight off diseases effectively.

Shane Macgowan, the lead singer of the Pogues, suffered the effects of a weakened immune system after a life of substance and alcohol abuse. The frontman battled numerous ailments, including viral encephalitis. Shane had been in and out of hospital battling this infection before his death in 2023.

Dental and oral health

Alcohol consumption contributes to the deterioration of oral hygiene in two primary ways. First, many alcoholic drinks are sugary and acidic, which can wear down your tooth enamel and lead to cavities. This environment is also perfect for harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay to thrive.

Second, alcohol tends to dry out your mouth. Saliva is really important for keeping your mouth healthy because it helps neutralise acids, clean away bits of food, and repair early tooth damage. So, when you drink too much and your mouth gets dry, you’re more at risk for gum disease and tooth decay.

Shane MacGowan has had a well-documented dental issues history, attracting significant public attention over the years. According to MacGowan in a book titled ‘A Drink with Shane MacGowan ‘, he was exposed to alcohol, reportedly receiving two alcoholic drinks a day during his childhood. This early alcohol exposure is believed to have contributed to a lifelong struggle with addiction. Alcohol addiction, along with other factors, likely played a role in the deterioration of his dental health.

Neurological damage

Alcohol disrupts the delicate communication pathways between brain cells, leading to impaired thinking, memory and decision-making abilities. This interference affects the brain’s structure and function, making it hard to process and recall information.

Additionally, chronic alcohol use can lead to a deficiency in vital nutrients, notably vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is crucial for brain health. A lack of thiamine can trigger severe neurological disorders, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, characterised by significant memory problems, confusion and coordination issues. These changes not only affect cognitive abilities but can also cause lasting damage to the brain’s overall structure and functionality.

Increased risk of cancer

When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can damage your DNA, leading to harmful mutations that kick-start cancer. This conversion is a key reason why alcohol can be so dangerous.

Additionally, drinking alcohol can interfere with how your body absorbs vital nutrients like vitamin A and folate. These nutrients are crucial for keeping your cells healthy and your DNA in good shape. Without them, your body’s defences against cancer weaken, making it easier for cancerous cells to start growing and spreading.

When you abuse alcohol, you increase the risks of the following cancers:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Liver cancer

Reproduction and pregnancy issues

Alcohol abuse can significantly impact reproductive health for both men and women, influencing their ability to have children and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Here, we look at how this issue uniquely affects men and women.

For men

  • Lowered testosterone: Drinking a lot can drop a man’s testosterone levels, which might lead to a decreased sex drive, trouble getting an erection and other sexual health issues.
  • Sperm problems: Alcohol can harm the shape, movement and number of sperm, making it tougher for men to father children.
  • Hormone imbalances: Too much booze can throw off the hormones that are crucial for male reproductive health, messing with fertility and sexual function.
  • Erectile dysfunction: A common side effect of heavy drinking in men is erectile dysfunction, which happens because alcohol interferes with the signals between the brain and the penis or affects blood flow.

For women

  • Irregular periods: Drinking too much alcohol can lead to unpredictable menstrual cycles, missed periods or problems with ovulation, all of which can make it harder to get pregnant.
  • Fertility issues: Alcohol affects the hormones that control ovulation, which can lower a woman’s chances of conceiving.
  • Higher miscarriage risk: Drinking during pregnancy raises the risk of miscarriage, especially early on. There’s no safe amount of alcohol when you’re expecting a child.
  • Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): If a woman drinks during pregnancy, it can lead to FASD, which includes a range of issues like physical, behavioural and learning problems for the child. The most severe condition in this spectrum is foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can cause growth problems, facial abnormalities and nervous system issues.

I’m worried about my alcohol use; how can I get help?

If the content discussed today has raised concerns for you, it might be the right moment to reflect on your drinking habits and consider reaching out for professional assistance.

At UKAT, we are dedicated to helping individuals overcome alcohol addiction through our comprehensive and affordable alcohol rehab services. Our journey together begins at our in-house clinic, where we offer specialised alcohol detox treatment under round-the-clock medical care. We understand the importance of a safe and supportive environment during this crucial first phase of recovery.

Once the alcohol detox is completed, we delve deeper into the heart of the matter. Through personalised therapy sessions, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), we explore the root causes of your addiction. Our aim is to not only understand why the addiction started but also to equip you with effective coping mechanisms for a life free from alcohol.

Our commitment to your recovery does not end when you leave our alcohol detox centre. We believe in providing a continuum of care, which is why we offer aftercare support to ensure you have the ongoing guidance and support needed as you reintegrate into your daily life.

Reach out to UKAT today to begin your recovery journey and live a life free from alcohol.