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Surprising Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol, Say Experts

It's more than just you're liver you're putting in harm's way with those drinks.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman
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Whether you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or end the evening with a nightcap, drinking alcohol is a regular part of many people's routine. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 55 percent of U.S. adults drink alcohol in any given month. However, it's not just a buzz you're getting when you open up a bottle—there are numerous alcohol side effects that could plague your health long after your hangover has come and gone.

While alcohol may make you feel sleepy, experts say that it can actually have deleterious effects on your sleep hygiene that can have long-term effects on your brain.

"Alcohol can decrease our brain's capacity to enter much-needed REM sleep, where we solidify memories and thoughts. This can lead to mild cognitive concerns such as forgetfulness and memory recall concerns," explains addiction specialist Monty Ghosh, MD, who focuses Alcohol Use Disorder.

Ghosh adds that alcohol can also lead to sleep apnea, a dangerous condition in which a person starts and stops breathing during sleep, and which can increase a person's risk of sudden cardiac death.

In the short-term, sleep apnea can also "decrease oxygenation levels to the brain, which can also affect cognition, memory, as well as mood," explains Ghosh.

Those aren't the only health issues your alcohol intake could be causing, however. Read on to discover more surprising side effects of drinking alcohol. And if you want to makeover your eating and drinking habits, check out The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

You may experience anxiety or depression.

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Drinking alcohol may make you feel good in the moment, but it can also contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"Increased use of alcohol, as it is a depressant, can actually worsen mood and increase the intensity of anxiety and depression, which can lead to a vicious cycle where individuals drink more to escape," explains Ghosh.

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2

You may experience sexual dysfunction.

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It's not just the immediate effects of alcohol that can cause problems in the bedroom—alcohol can lead to long-term sexual dysfunction, as well.

"Chronic alcohol use can cause disruption in our hormonal axis between the brain and our reproductive organs. This can lead to not only a decrease in testosterone production in men, which is directly linked to libido, but can also lead to testicular shrinkage," says Ghosh, who notes that alcohol use can also lead to ejaculation issues, vaginal dryness, and a reduction in sexual desire among people of all genders.

3

Your liver may become scarred.

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"Alcohol and its toxic metabolites can cause increased damage to the liver, which can eventually lead to increased scarring and liver cirrhosis, as well as liver cancer," says Ghosh.

However, it doesn't always take decades of heavy drinking for the damage to take effect. According to a 2018 study published in Hepatology, alcohol-related cirrhosis mortality rates tripled among individuals between 25 and 34 years of age from 1999 to 2016. And if you want to keep your liver healthy, make sure to avoid these Popular Foods That Cause Liver Damage, According to Experts.

4

Your heart may enlarge.

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Your liver isn't the only organ that can experience serious long-term alcohol side effects and damage.

"Alcohol can also cause issues with the heart, leading to [an] enlarged heart which can lead to arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation," explains Ghosh.

Want to keep your heart healthier? Try these 20 Foods That Can Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.

5

You may experience cognitive decline.

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One of the major alcohol side effects you could be dealing with for years is reduced cognitive capability.

"Long-term effects of alcohol on the brain include increased risk of thiamine deficiency and related Korsakoff Syndrome, which can cause significant cognitive decline," says Ghosh. Over time, he explains that this can cause issues including confabulation, in which a person fills gaps in their recollection of events with false memories.

6

You may increase your risk of bleeding ulcers.

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If you want to protect the health of your stomach, you might want to consider limiting your alcohol use.

"Nausea and vomiting are exacerbated from alcohol irritating the lining of the stomach," says Trista Best, a registered dietician with Balance One Supplements.

In fact, according to a 2000 study published in Epidemiology, individuals who drank 42 alcoholic beverages a week quadrupled their risk of developing a bleeding ulcer compared to those who had less than one drink a week. And if you want to minimize your GI issues, check out the 28 Best and Worst Foods for Acid Reflux.