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The latest alcohol and health data records 1.4% of the worldwide population struggling with alcohol addiction, with Canada making up about 2%. More locally, a study found 17% of Toronto adults with alcoholism. The triggers behind this alcohol addiction include peer pressure, trauma, mental health disorders, media advertising, and even genetics. 

If untreated, alcohol addiction causes physical and mental health complications spreading over to ruined relationships, career breakdowns, poor productivity, violence, accidents, and legal problems. That’s why it’s vital to catch and treat alcohol addiction early to avoid more damage. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the physical and mental health effects of alcohol addiction, how to identify the disorder, seek the right treatment, and more!

Physical Health Impact

Physical Health Impact of alcohol addiction

The physical consequences of alcohol addiction are far-reaching.

Immediate Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol’s short-term effects manifest anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks after intoxication. 

Impaired Motor Skills and Coordination

After drinking, one loses motor and cognitive function, making it hard to coordinate movements. This causes staggering, stumbling, and other imbalanced moves.

Digestive System Issues and Complications

Alcohol dries the mouth and hurries food through the gut, which inhibits proper digestion and causes bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Regular drinking also interferes with mucus production in the stomach, making it inflamed, a condition known as gastritis characterized by abdominal pain, indigestion, hiccups, appetite issues, and ulcers.

Constant digestive issues are common when struggling with alcoholism.

Cardiovascular Risks and Consequences

Regular drinking affects the cardiovascular system by constantly increasing blood pressure, which in turn, causes heart diseases and strokes.

Here’s how it works — Alcohol:

  • Releases hormones that tighten arteries, causing strained heart pumping which leads to heart attacks
  • Affects the nervous system’s blood pressure regulation and if the blood can’t get to the brain, cells die and a stroke occurs
  • Increases stress hormones, which increase heart rate and strain heart muscles, causing cardiomyopathy, and in turn, leading to heart failure
  • Increases weight gain which can trigger blood pressure complications

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. We encourage you to seek alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or your loved one as soon as you can (2).

Long-term Consequences of Alcohol Addiction

The following are the most common long-term effects of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Liver Damage and Cirrhosis

When the liver processes alcohol, some cells die. While the liver quickly makes new cells, that ability decreases with regular drinking until it damages beyond repair.

Alcohol-induced liver diseases come in three major stages, namely:

  1. Fatty liver disease – an early sign of alcohol abuse. It’s reversible once one stops drinking.
  2. Alcohol hepatitis – a liver inflammation after alcohol abuse for a couple of years. Quitting drinking early can reverse the damage.
  3. Cirrhosis – a condition of liver scarring from damage. Most cases are irreversible, but life can be prolonged after quitting drinking.

Avoid liver damage by stepping into recovery.

Increased Risk of Cancer

Alcohol is linked to cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum. Alcohol increases cancer risk by:

  • Breaking down ethanol into acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical that changes DNA and triggers cancer cell development
  • Inhibiting folate absorption, a cancer-fighting nutrient 
  • Affecting hormones like estrogen
  • Boosting body weight
  • Helping absorption of harmful chemicals like tobacco

Minimize cancer risk by reducing or quitting drinking.

Weakened Immune System and Health Complications

Alcohol weakens immunity by interfering with the workings of immune cells. 

It can reduce the amount of bacteria in your gut, leaving the immune system ill-equipped to fight infections. It also reduces T and B cells which are responsible for creating antibodies (types of proteins that identify and eliminate harmful substances) (3).

If one binge drinking spree can suppress immunity for 24 hours, imagine what alcohol addiction can do over time. That’s why alcohol abuse is tied to several health complications.

Mental Health Impacts

Mental health impact of alcohol addiction

Around half of ‌individuals with mental health disorders struggle with drug or alcohol addiction (4).

Short-term Effects on the Brain

Alcohol interferes with ‌communication pathways in the brain causing:

Impaired Judgment and Decision-Making

Alcohol lowers constraint by interfering with the frontal lobe, a brain region responsible for making decisions, activating self-control, and controlling muscle movements.

Memory Impairment and Cognitive Problems

Alcohol disrupts hippocampus function, the brain area controlling learning and memory-keeping. That’s why people experience blackouts after drinking too much alcohol.

Furthermore, alcohol addiction triggers long-term cognitive decline like the Korsakoff syndrome, so it’s best to start treatment early.

Emotional Instability and Mental Well-being

Alcohol is a depressant meaning it slows down brain processes, producing a relaxing feeling. But when ‌‌alcohol wears off, the brain struggles to normalize, causing emotional imbalance.

Furthermore, negative feelings worsen after sobering up since the brain demands the stimulation it got while drinking. Some choose to drink more, but it never helps their mental well-being. Instead, it worsens it.

Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders and Alcohol Addiction

A dual diagnosis is when a person has a mental health disorder and an alcohol use disorder. The person might have had a mental illness that led to coping with alcohol, or they had an untreated alcohol addiction that developed into a mental disorder.

Depression and Anxiety

People with a depression or anxiety history develop an alcohol use disorder more than people without. The vice versa is also true (5). Alcohol addiction co-occurring with depression records at 68.3% and 20% for anxiety in trending studies.

AUD affects people struggling with depression and anxiety by altering their brain chemistry, which worsens the conditions and encourages alcohol dependence for coping.

Simultaneously, depression and anxiety affect people with AUD by worsening withdrawal symptoms, complicating daily life, and increasing relapse plus suicide risk (6, 7).

Co-occurring disorders are challenging to overcome, but specialized addiction treatment that addresses mental health holistically is offered within our care network . 

Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

It is common for people with bipolar disorder to develop an alcohol use disorder (1). Genetics increase the risk for either disorder, meaning drinking can trigger alcohol addiction for one with bipolar family history and vice versa.

If someone experiences bipolar-like mental health difficulties and self-medicates with drinking, they can develop AUD and bipolar disorder. Moreover, bipolar manic episodes lower inhibition leading to excessive drinking, which in turn triggers alcohol addiction.

Dual Diagnosis: Addressing Substance Abuse and Mental Health

When addressing a dual diagnosis, one needs an integrated treatment approach to treat both conditions and ensure long-term, holistic recovery (8).

Treatment for alcohol addiction includes detoxification, withdrawal symptom management, behavioural therapy, relapse prevention strategies, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation plans, and support for co-occurring disorders.

Treatment for mental health issues may involve medication, counselling, self-help strategies, lifestyle improvements, and support groups.

Identifying Alcohol AddictionMan neglecting responsibilities because of alcoholism

Here’s how you can spot an alcohol addiction and get professional help.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

Check for the following signs to identify alcohol addiction.

Increased Tolerance and Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol tolerance is when someone regularly drinks the same alcohol amount but feels less drunk than before. It triggers excessive drinking, causing addiction. Realizing they’re getting addicted, one tries quitting drinking, but withdrawal symptoms get in the way.

Mild withdrawal symptoms include headaches, insomnia, stomach complications, anxiety, and sweating while serious symptoms include ‌hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens.

Neglecting Responsibilities and Relationships

When someone’s drinking interferes with work, school, family, or other responsibilities, chances are, they’ve developed an addiction. ‌Their cognitive and emotional instability makes it hard for them to handle daily matters.

Failed Attempts to Cut Back or Quit

After noticing the physical, mental, and social consequences of alcohol dependence, one can try to quit or reduce drinking. But due to altered brain chemistry, withdrawal symptoms draw them back to alcohol. Still, there’s hope. 

Seeking Professional Help and Intervention

Learn how expert alcohol addiction intervention works.

Importance of Medical Evaluations and Screenings

Medical evaluations and screenings are tools used to diagnose alcohol use disorder to create the right treatment plan for every individual.

For instance, ‌mild and severe alcohol addictions and dual diagnoses all need different treatment approaches. That’s why it’s crucial to have an expert screening.

Therapy and Counselling Options

Here are therapy and counselling approaches for treating alcohol addiction: (9)

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
  • Contingency Management (CM)
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
  • Family Therapy
  • Brief interventions

Practitioners use different approaches for their clients depending on the nature of the problem.

Support Groups and Rehabilitation Programs

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous help provide emotional support and accountability, which help recovery.

Rehabilitation programs also help by counselling, educating, and training people struggling with alcohol addiction to start functioning well in society.

Medically Assisted DetoxMedically assisted detox from alcohol safely at Neworld

Medically-assisted detox is the process of getting alcohol out of one’s system while managing withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. 

Medicine can be used to alleviate withdrawal pain, discomfort, and danger. It can also clear one’s mind before therapy, setting one up for success in their addiction treatment.

Furthermore, medical supervision is critical for tackling any complications during withdrawal.

And the best part is, detox programs provide individualized care plans by:

  • Providing a thorough evaluation of addiction, co-occurring mental health disorders, other health conditions, and lifestyle factors
  • Creating client-specific treatment goals
  • Using the most effective evidence-based interventions targeting client objectives
  • Adjusting care to better suit the person’s needs as they progress

While detox at home is possible, a medically-assisted detox is recommended for long-term success recovery.


Alcohol addiction doesn’t just leave nasty hangovers. It disrupts your movement, coordination and digestion, exposes you to cardiovascular failures and liver damage while also increasing cancer risks, and weakening your immunity. Mentally, it compromises your judgment, memory, cognition, and overall well-being, creating risks for developing mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Both the physical and mental impacts of alcohol addiction can be deadly. That’s why you should inquire about starting treatment as soon as you’re ready.

Medically assisted detoxification is a crucial first step in recovery. It reduces relapse chances, helping manage withdrawal symptoms safely and smoothly. 

So if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, encourage them to seek help at Neworld Medical Detox.


Information on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not replace personalized medical advice. You should never make any decisions about your health without consulting a healthcare professional, especially when related to substance use or mental health. To speak to a qualified member of our team for personalized advice, you can contact us here.



  1. National Library of Medicine – Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism
  2. CDC – Heart Disease Facts
  3. Good RX – How Alcohol Weakens Your Immune System
  4. Help Guide – Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Health
  5. University of Minnesota – People with anxiety and mood disorders more likely to experience alcohol use disorder symptoms than others who drink at the same level
  6. National Library of Medicine – Alcohol, Anxiety, and Depressive Disorders
  7. Royal College of Psychiatrists – Alcohol, mental health and the brain
  8. Very Well Mind – What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
  9. MedlinePlus – Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment