Factsheets Alcohol and your health

When people regularly have more than about 2 standard drinks per day, they run a greater risk of serious health problems. The more people drink, the greater the risk. Risks for women increase much faster than men, as they drink more. 

Things you might notice:

Gaining weight

The liver turns the alcohol into sugar and water. So every time you have a drink, it is like eating sugar. 
  • 100ml (a standard drink—about a half glass) of medium-dry wine is about 75 calories, or 315 kilojoules. 
  • A 10 oz (285ml) ‘pot’, ‘middie’ or half pint of full strength beer (a standard drink) is about 115 calories (480 kilojoules). 
  • So, if you have 6 standard drinks a day, you are adding 450-690 calories to your diet. This increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases. 

Sexual Problems

People who drink a lot often have sexual problems. For example, heavy alcohol use can trigger impotence. When the alcohol use is causing arguments or relationship problems, this can also lead to problems in bed. And if you are drunk and smelly when you go to bed, it is not very attractive!

Loss of Memory

Perhaps you have noticed that you are having trouble remembering things lately. You may even have had a “blackout”, where you couldn’t remember whole chunks of time. Regular use of high amounts of alcohol causes damage to the brain. And it doesn’t stop with memory problems. People who have been drinking a lot are also not as good at planning ahead, solving difficult problems, or learning new things.

Organ damage

Alcohol causes damage to many organs in the body, but people are often not aware of this until it is too late.

Liver

Your liver is the organ that processes alcohol. If you drink a lot, it forces your liver to work much harder than usual. This can make the liver larger – your doctor may have poked your tummy to look for that. When the liver breaks down the alcohol, it produces chemicals that can poison its own cells. Some of the cells may die, and the liver may become tan-coloured from the scar tissue (cirrhosis). You may also get liver cancer.

Brain

Damage to the brain may happen during alcohol withdrawal, when nerves can become overactive and die. Or, it can happen because of a lack of Vitamin B1 - this can cause very serious and irreversible memory problems. Finally, damage can occur because of injuries, when people are drunk.

Pancreas

The pancreas helps you digest food. If you drink a lot of alcohol very quickly, the pancreas can be seriously damaged. This is very painful, and can kill you. Drinking competitions are very dangerous.

Mouth and throat

Heavy use of alcohol is associated with a risk of developing cancers of the mouth and throat, especially in smokers.

Reproductive systems

In men, alcohol use is associated with lower testosterone levels. In women, alcohol use can disrupt menstrual cycles and can alter hormonal levels in postmenopausal women.

Bones

Heavy drinking can reduce bone density, making people who drink regularly at greater risk of developing osteoporosis and other bone problems. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk of fractures – partly because their bones are more brittle, and partly because they are more likely to fall over or be assaulted.