Short-Term, Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Trusted info on the positive and negative effects of alcohol. Get detailed facts on long-term effects of alcohol, including physical effects of alcohol.

While being the most popular legal drug in North America, there are many short-term and long-term effects of alcohol. Some effects of alcohol can be seen as desirable, such as euphoria and increased self-confidence at lower amounts, or unpleasant - dizziness, vomiting and blurred vision at larger amounts.

The effects of alcohol are felt more or less depending on circumstance and physiology. Women become intoxicated after drinking less alcohol than men, and consuming alcohol after a heavy meal will lessen the physical effects of alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol - Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Consumed in moderation, the short-term effects of alcohol are typically safe and pleasant, in fact, one 12 ounce beer is known to increase sleep time and reduce awakening during the night. This beneficial physical effect of alcohol is not seen when more than one beer is consumed. The effects of alcohol when consumed in excess of one drink disrupts sleep cycles and causes daytime fatigue.

The short-term effects of alcohol are dependent on how much alcohol is consumed, and thus how much alcohol is in the blood (the blood alcohol level). (read:  how much alcohol is too much?) The effects of alcohol also vary depending on the alcohol tolerance of the drinker.xi

The effects of mild drinking (1 - 4 drinks depending on gender and size):

  • Increased mood and possible euphoria
  • Increased self-confidence, sociability
  • Shortened attention span
  • Flushed appearance
  • Inhibited judgment
  • Impaired fine muscle coordination

More negative effects of alcohol are seen in moderate to heavy drinking (5 - 12 drinks depending on gender and size):

  • Sedation
  • Impaired memory and comprehension, profound confusion
  • Delayed reactions
  • Balance difficulty; unbalanced walk; staggering
  • Blurred vision; other senses impaired
  • Emotional changes
  • Inability to feel pain
  • Impaired speech
  • Dizziness often associated with nausea ("the spins")
  • Vomiting

Once more than 12 drinks are consumed, only the negative effects of alcohol are present:

  • Stumbling walk
  • Lapses in and out of consciousness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Amnesia
  • Vomiting (possibly life-threatening if done while unconscious)
  • Respiratory depression (potentially life-threatening)
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Unconsciousness (coma)
  • Depressed reflexes (i.e., pupils do not respond appropriately to changes in light)
  • Death

Effects of Alcohol - Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends women limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day and men limit themselves to two drinks per day. Consuming alcohol in larger than these quantities show the negative effects of alcohol. Long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption can lead to brain shrinkage, dementia, alcoholism and even death.xii

There are a few long-term effects of alcohol that are beneficial, however. When alcohol is consumed in the recommended amounts, the following physical effects of alcohol are seen:

  • Reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease
  • Reduced risk of blood clot
  • Reduced risk of gallstones
  • Lower risk of kidney stones
  • Reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Increase in women's bone density

Negative Effects of Alcohol

There are far more negative effects of alcohol when it is consumed long-term in greater than recommended amounts. The long-term negative effects of alcohol include cancer; 3.6% of all cancer cases worldwide are related to alcohol drinking, resulting in 3.5% of all cancer deaths. The more alcohol is consumed, the more negative effects of alcohol are seen. Negative effects of alcohol include:

  • Increased risk of heart failure
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Brain shrinkage
  • Addiction to alcohol (alcoholism)
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Brain lesions (effects of alcohol on the brain)
  • Liver damage and multiple liver diseases
  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle weakness
  • Electrolyte deficiencies
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Depression (alcohol and depression)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Lung disease
  • Loss of sexual desire, impotence
  • Bone loss
  • Skin disorders
  • Multiple types of cancer
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome in babies born to women who drank during pregnancy

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 15). Short-Term, Long-Term Effects of Alcohol, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: December 29, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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