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Do You Know How to Recognize the Physical Effects of Alcohol?

There are ways to tell if someone has been drinking. Have you thought about that? This may seem like an odd question to start with, but knowing how drinking makes people act can save lives. People talk, and so do their bodies. There are many "silent" signs, of which people are often unaware, that can suggest that a person has been drinking alcohol. These silent signals can become very obvious depending on the degree of alcohol intoxication, so recognizing them should not be difficult.

37 Minutes Read | Published Aug 04 2023 | Updated May 31 2024 Expert Verified
Edwin Gomez
Reviewed by
Edwin Gomez
Reviewed by

Appearance and movement patterns are key in determining whether a person has been drinking, as well as their odor and tone of voice. It is important to note that although it sounds somewhat invasive to seek to recognize signs of alcohol consumption in others, in reality, it is a very important task for the benefit of the person who is drunk, but also for society since identifying the physical effects of alcohol can be a way of providing healthcare for the people who have consumed this substance and others around them.

What Are the Alcohol Effects on the Body?

Alcohol affects many body functions and systems in various ways. It slows down the central nervous system, which makes it hard to plan your moves, act quickly, speak clearly, and make smart choices. A lot of it can make you forget things, fall asleep, or even pass out.

In the beginning, drinking alcohol may temporarily raise heart rate and blood pressure. However, heavy drinking for a long time can cause major heart problems like hypertension, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and a higher risk of stroke.

Drinking too much can damage your liver, which is responsible for breaking down alcohol. This could result in fatty liver, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis -which at the same time would decrease the threshold for intoxication-. Every one of these illnesses is extremely dangerous and even lethal.

Alcohol also irritates the stomach walls, which is another way it damages digestion. This can cause gastritis, ulcers, feeling sick, and throwing up, which can cause Mallory-Weis syndrome or, even in the worst-case scenario, an esophageal rupture. It can make it harder to receive nutrients, leading to deficiencies. It also raises the risk of pancreatitis and cancers of the GI tract.

When you drink, your immune system gets weaker. This increases your chances of becoming ill because you cannot fight off bacteria and viruses. The immune system is usually highly affected by alcohol consumption but also because of the association with alcohol, malnutrition, and vitamin deficiency.

Changes in the balance of hormones in the endocrine system can also make periods uncertain for women and lower testosterone levels in men, which could make them unable to have children. But also, drinking a lot can make you thirsty and mess up your fluids. This is accompanied by increased urine output due to the temporary inactivation of the antidiuretic hormone, which may cause electrolyte imbalances and hurt your kidneys.

Drinking is heavily linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as a higher risk of violence and suicide. When someone abuses drinking for a long time, they may become dependent on it or addicted to it, which can be hard to fight and could bring. These effects make it clear how important it is to drink less and stay healthy.

What is a Hangover? What Are the Physical Signs?

A hangover appears in many different ways on the body that others can notice. These ways show that someone is suffering from the effects of drinking too much alcohol. An obvious sign is a headache, which can be seen when the person scratches their temples or acts in a way that shows they are in pain. Clearly, someone is tired and weak because they look sluggish, have trouble keeping their energy up, and don't seem excited or aware.

It can be easy to tell if someone feels bad if they constantly go to the bathroom or look pale and uncomfortable. Dehydration and thirst are also evident, with the person continually drinking water or other fluids and complaining of a dry mouth or thirst. Muscle aches may cause the person to move stiffly or to stretch and rub uncomfortable areas, indicating discomfort repeatedly.

Dizziness and vertigo can cause a person to have difficulty maintaining balance or to sit or lie down frequently to avoid feeling faint. Sensitivity to light and sound can be seen when someone squints in bright light, prefers darkly lit places, or reacts unfavorably to loud noises. Sweating might be visible if the person appears especially clammy or sweats excessively despite being in a normal temperature environment.

Tremors or shakiness manifest as unsteady hands or shaking fingers when the person attempts to handle or move objects. Dry mouth and eyes may cause the person to lick their lips often, drink fluids, or rub their eyes.

These obvious indicators of a hangover alert others to the possibility that someone is suffering from the consequences of excessive alcohol use. 

So… How Do You Recognize the Physical Effects of Alcohol?

To spot the physical effects of alcohol, you need to look for certain short- and long-term signs. There are usually a few clear signs that someone has been drinking in the short term. These include smelling like alcohol, having red, watery eyes, and skin that turns pink. They can also make it hard to move and speak clearly.

Other effects that happen right away include slower reactions and worse judgment, which can make the person look lost or less coordinated. When someone is very drunk, they might have more severe symptoms, like feeling sick, throwing up, and having trouble staying awake.

Long-term, drinking alcohol regularly causes effects on the body that last longer and are often worse. Due to liver damage, people can notice changes like their face staying red or puffy, getting spider lines on their skin, and their eyes and skin turning yellow.

A person who drinks alcohol for a long time may also lose or gain a lot of weight and generally look unhealthy, usually because they don't eat well. Sexual dysfunction, especially in males, is common and could be associated with the intoxication itself or the increased levels of estrogen due to hormone imbalance. Muscle weakness and trembling, especially in the hands, are also physical signs. If you notice these long-term effects in someone, it may mean that this person has a past of heavy drinking and needs medical help and support.

Other physical signs can be considered way more specific, and that will depend on the short- and long-term effects and the organ or system affected:

Organ/System

Short-Term Effects

Long-Term Effects

Central Nervous System

-  Impaired coordination.

-  Slurred speech.

-  Delayed reaction times.

-  Blackouts.

 

-  Memory loss.

-  Cognitive impairments.

-  Delirium tremens when withdrawn.

-  Peripheral neuropathy.

-  Increased risk of dementia.

-  Increased risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Cardiovascular System

-  Increased heart rate.

-  Increased blood pressure.

-  Hypertension.

-  Cardiomyopathy.

-  Arrhythmias.

-  Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

-  Increased risk of stroke.

Hepatic System

-  Increased CYP 450 metabolism, affecting the degradation of some medications.

-  Acute alcoholic hepatitis.

-  Alcoholic fatty liver disease.

-  Alcoholic hepatitis.

-  Fibrosis.

-  Cirrhosis.

-  Portal hypertension.

Digestive System

-  Nausea.

-  Vomiting.

-  Mallory-Weis Syndrome.

-  Esophageal perforation.

-  Gastric irritation.

-  Chronic gastritis.

-  Pancreatitis.

-  Increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers.

-  Malnutrition.

Immune System

-  Immune suppression in the gastric mucosa for up to 24 hours after consumption.

-  Weakened immune response.

-  Long-term increased susceptibility to infections.

Renal System

-  Dehydration.

-  Increased urine production.

-  Chronic kidney disease.

-  Uremia.

Renal System: Electrolyte Balance

-  Mild imbalances due to dehydration.

-  Chronic imbalances (e.g., low potassium, low magnesium).

-  Risk of severe conditions like hypokalemia or hyponatremia that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

Endocrine System

-  Temporary imbalance in hormone levels of ADHD, insulin, and cortisol.

-  Hormone imbalances like decreased testosterone in men and menstrual irregularities in women.

-  Increased risk of osteoporosis due to effects on the endocrine function of the kidney.

Reproductive System

-  Reduced inhibition.

-  Possible short-term increase in sexual arousal.

-  Erectile dysfunction.

-  Infertility.

-  Reduced libido.

-  Impotence.

Skin

-  Flushed appearance.

-  Persistent redness. Spider veins.

-  Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) due to liver damage.

Motor Functions

-  Impaired motor skills.

-  Muscle weakness.

-  Tremors.

-  Muscle wasting.

Each effect can potentially present a physical symptom. For example, dehydration will show dry mucous membranes; the increase in estrogen in men can cause gynecomastia; the development of uremia can cause the person to bleed profusely or have delirium; and Mallory-Weys syndrome will present with vomiting that has streaks of blood, among other symptoms.

 

Resources

bullet National Library of Medicine
"Alcohol's Effects on the Body"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet Wiley
"Caring for alcohol-intoxicated patients in an emergency department from the nurses’ point of view – focus on attitudes and skills"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet Wiley
"Sleep, substance misuse and addictions: a nationwide observational survey on smoking, alcohol, cannabis and sleep in 12,637 adults"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet MDPI
"Alcohol Intake and Arterial Hypertension: Retelling of a Multifaceted Story"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet UpToDate
"Mallory-Weiss syndrome"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"Alcohol and the Immune System"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet Wiley
"Harm reduction—a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet American Psychological Association:
"The biphasic effects of alcohol on human physical aggression"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet Springer Link
"Long-term effects of alcohol consumption on cognitive function: a systematic review and dose-response analysis of evidence published between 2007 and 2018"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet European Addiction research
"Seasonality and Delirium Tremens in Hospitalized Patients with Alcohol Dependence Syndrome"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet MDPI
"A Clinician’s View of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet Clinics in liver disease
"Metabolism of alcohol"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
bullet MDPI
"The Assessment of Overall Hangover Severity"
Retrieved on May 31, 2024
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