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Dangerous Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol, According to the CDC

The nation's health protection agency warns of the dangerous effects of excessive alcohol intake, from shortened lifespan to increased risk of disease.
Woman pouring glass of white wine

Put down that glass and step away from the bottle. Yes, we're likely talking to you. More than half of adults in the United States drink alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Moderate consumption of alcohol—one or two drinks a day for women and men, respectively—is safe; however, when you start to exceed those recommendations, your body will show the effects.

Alcohol is a toxin after all, so it shouldn't be too surprising to find that sipping on the beverage can cause some negative repercussions.

We consulted the nation's health protection agency, the CDC, to take a closer look at exactly what side effects you should expect when drinking alcohol over a long period of time.

Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don't miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

Weakening of the immune system

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Excess alcohol intake can weaken the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick, according to the CDC. Experts suspect that organ damage, such as alcoholic liver disease, observed in people who drink alcohol heavily is due in part caused by alcohol-triggered autoimmunity. What this means is that the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues rather than on "invaders," as they aren't really there!

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2

Mental health problems

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Talk about brain drain. When you drink too much alcohol, one of the worst side effects is that you may experience cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain. Additionally, the CDC says additional long-term health risks linked to alcohol include learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.

3

Increased risk of death

Elderly caucasian sweating and fainting.
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When we say increased risk of death, we're speaking in terms of lifespan. Alcohol puts you at a higher likelihood of dying earlier than you would if it had not been for the habit. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

4

Increased risk of cancer

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Drinking too much alcohol raises the risk of some cancers, including cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon, according to the CDC.

The CDC explains that when you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called "acetaldehyde." This compound damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. "DNA is the cell’s instruction manual' that controls a cell’s normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor," says the CDC.

5

Liver issues

The doctor examines the patient.
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Excess alcohol intake has been linked to many different kinds of chronic health issues, like alcohol use disorder and liver diseases. According to the CDC, "excessive alcohol use takes a toll on the liver and can lead to fatty liver disease (steatosis), hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis."

6

Heart issues

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"Binge drinking and heavy drinking can cause heart disease, including cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), as well as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke," according to the CDC. Alcohol is a stimulant, so when you drink it, it can cause a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. When you put your body through that every day, it can lead to on-going increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle, and irregular heartbeat. If you want to take care of your heart, read more: These Are the Two Best Diets For Heart Health, According to Doctors.

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is a senior editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more
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