Adverse Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption, even in moderate amounts, can have a range of adverse consequences for both physical and mental health. These effects can be both immediate as in experienced shortly after drinking, but also over the long-term with regular alcohol consumption.

In this section we cover the range of effects that alcohol cause and also give an indication of the number of units consumed at which point the effect may occur. However, it’s important to note that individual responses to alcohol can vary, and what may be considered moderate for one person might have different effects on another.

Immediate Effects

  • Consuming over 2-3 UK units in a short period can cause impaired coordination, reflexes, judgement and decision making which can increase the risk of accident or injury
  • Hangover with nausea, vomiting, dehydration, dizziness
  • Aggression and an increased risk of violent behaviour
  • Impaired memory and even memory blackouts are more likely above 6 units with loss of short term memory and difficulty in recalling events
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Drinking 12 units or more in a single session carries a risk of Respiratory distress due to a depressed gag reflex

Long Term Effects 

The longer term health impacts develop over many years. Someone drinking regularly in their 40s may feel completely well and free of symptoms of any description.  There is however an accumulated effect over time which may not declare itself in a long term health diagnosis until the 60s or beyond. The risk of developing adverse health consequences increases with the amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis.

These conditions include:

Liver Damage: Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to liver diseases, such as fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis; cirrhosis of the liver has been shown to increase to 10-20% with consumption of 50 or more units per week.

Cardiovascular Issues: High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, abnormal heart rhythms and stroke.

Cancer: Alcohol is a risk factor for several types of cancer: mouth, throat, oesophageal, liver and breast and colon.

Weakened Immune System: Chronic alcohol use can compromise the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.

Mental Health Issues: Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Dependency and Addiction: Regular alcohol consumption can lead to dependency and addiction, requiring professional intervention for treatment. Depression rises 30% with consumption over 12 units per week.

Low Risk (<14 units per week for men, <10 units per week for women)

Moderate Risk (14-35 units per week for men, 10-28 units per week for women)

High Risk (>35 units per week for men, >28 units per week for women)

Alongside the above, there are also the considerations of the effect of alcohol consumption on relationships and employment as well as potential legal consequences from alcohol related offences.

As mentioned above we are all different in how we respond to alcohol but the safest approach is to minimise consumption.

It’s important for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with alcohol consumption and make informed choices. If someone is concerned about their alcohol use or its impact on their health, seeking professional help and guidance is advisable.

If you’re unsure about how many units you are drinking then check out of guide to calculate them here:  Knowing your units