The short term effects of alcohol amount to more than just a little light headedness. Find out what they are and what causes them.

Hangovers are no fun at all. They vary from person to person but are typically caused by imbalances in our electrolyte and fluid levels. This is how your body lets you know it needs some time out and to fix itself. Find out more about hangovers with our guide to hangovers and handy tips for avoiding the worst.



Physical effects
– vomiting, diarrhoea and in extreme cases death

Alcohol irritates the lining of the throat, stomach, and small and large intestines. This irritation is even worse when you drink on empty stomach.  To protect itself from further damage the body then produces extra mucus and bile. Feeling queasy yet? Drinking too much alcohol can make you sick, and the mucus and bile is what you’ll vomit. Nice eh? Not only that, if alcohol causes the small intestine to become inflamed it can affect the absorption of nutrients passing into the large intestine and lead to diarrhoea.

Chronic alcohol consumption can inhibit the functioning of your lungs, leading to lung disease and even death.



– poor coordination and distorted thinking

As alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, there are notable effects on our thought processes, body and behavior that can cause accidents. The current UK drink drive limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Above this level, alcohol can make it difficult to coordinate body movement and thought processes can be distorted. Plus the part of brain that controls impulses can become delayed or over-ridden. This affects our decision-making. The combination of poor coordination, distorted thinking and impaired decision-making mean the more you drink, the more likely it is that you’ll have an accident.



– difficultly getting to sleep and disturbed sleep

It’s a myth that alcohol helps you sleep. Alcohol actually increases the risk of insomnia.

Even small amounts of alcohol can affect normal sleep patterns. But after heavy drinking, you are especially likely to wake up early or have a disrupted sleep. At first normal patterns of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are skipped as you fall straight into a deep sleep. Then as your body attempts to process the alcohol, and sober you up, you are more likely to move from deep sleep into a lighter and easier to wake up from REM sleep.

If you’re a regular heavy drinker then your body may be used to a certain amount of alcohol in its system. If you typically wake up in the morning craving alcohol or find yourself craving it during the night, this could be a warning sign of alcohol dependence. Find out more with our guide to alcohol dependence and addiction.

Most people find that cutting down on alcohol actually improves their sleep. So there may be good reason to say no that nightcap.



Hormone change
– moobs and moods
Alcohol affects biochemical pathways outside of the brain by changing the function of our endocrine system (glands excreting directly into the body, usually into the bloodstream). This system is linked to moods, metabolism and tissue function.

A powerful depressant, alcohol might be one reason why we experience miserable Mondays.

Alcohol is also thought to change the sex hormones in both men and women. In men, alcohol tends to raise naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone. This can cause reduced sperm count, enlargement of breast tissue or ‘moobs’ (gynaecomastia), and erectile dysfunction. In women alcohol can raise testosterone levels, which can cause abnormal periods and increased aggression and irritability.



Mental effects
– loss of inhibitions, confusion and dodgy decisions
Lots of us enjoy the fact that alcohol can allow us to lose our inhibitions. But this can cause some people to come to rely on alcohol to help their confidence in social situations. Loss of inhibitions can also cause some social situations to turn violent.

Plus, because alcohol can affect your thought processes it can also lead to dangerous decisions to walk home alone, have unprotected sex or have one night stands. It can lead to feelings of confusion, delusions and suicidal thoughts.


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