What Happens When You Drink Alcohol Every Day?

Last Updated: February 26, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Drinking every day, especially when you use more than one drink daily, can increase your risk of diseases affecting your heart, brain, liver, kidneys and intestines. Your risk of cancer increases, and you have a high risk of becoming addicted to alcohol.

People who use alcohol every day may cite research showing that a glass of wine every day improves heart health. However, The American Heart Association explains that this research is far from conclusive, and many of the purported positive effects of a daily glass of wine are likely not due to the wine itself. These effects are also heavily outweighed by the harmful effects of alcohol if more than a drink a day is consumed.

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Short-Term Effects of Drinking Alcohol Every Day

While you can drink one to two drinks per day while still being considered a moderate drinker, it’s easy to become a heavy drinker when you drink daily.

The short-term effects of using alcohol every day may quickly become less noticeable and part of your normal routine. While these effects are short-term, consistent alcohol use will make these effects constantly present. Some short-term effects of daily alcohol use include:

  • Problems concentrating
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Sleepiness

If you drink large amounts of alcohol in a single day, you may be at risk for more severe side effects, such as temporary memory loss, slurred speech and delirium tremens. Short-term effects of alcohol use can be dangerous, potentially leading to injury caused by impaired coordination and judgment.

Long-Term Effects of Drinking Alcohol Every Day

While short-term alcohol effects can cause problems, the long-term effects of daily alcohol use can be more severe, especially if heavy alcohol use is present.

One of the earliest long-term effects of everyday alcohol use is that tolerance will develop. Tolerance occurs when the body adjusts to the constant presence of alcohol, making a larger amount of alcohol necessary to achieve the same effect. This can encourage those using alcohol to drink more and more. Tolerance is more likely to develop with consistent alcohol use and may lead to dependence, where withdrawal symptoms occur when alcohol use is stopped.

Diseases Caused by Heavy Alcohol Use

Some problems caused by heavy alcohol use include:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Immune system suppression, leading to increased infection risk

Alcohol affects almost every area of the body, and consistent, prolonged use can cause these effects to slowly build up to dangerous levels, especially when heavy drinking is involved.

Physical Health Effects

Drinking alcohol regularly and heavily increases many physical health risks. Alcohol is inflammatory, causing damage to your internal organs and several negative effects on your body.

Liver Damage

Alcohol is well known for causing liver damage. Alcohol is processed in the liver and creates strain and stress on it. Over time, this causes fatty deposits to accumulate in the liver. Eventually, these cause inflammation that can keep the liver from functioning correctly. Prolonged exposure to inflammation causes permanent scarring on the liver, called cirrhosis, that can eventually become fatal.

Pancreatitis

Frequent or heavy alcohol use can cause inflammation in the pancreas. This can cause the enzymes it produces to attack the pancreas, leading to further inflammation. Because the pancreas releases enzymes when you eat, pancreatitis can make eating almost impossible. This very painful condition can be fatal in severe cases.

Cardiovascular Complications

Using alcohol heavily and frequently can lead to elevated blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure damages the lining of your blood vessels and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Stopping alcohol can lead to reduced blood pressure levels within weeks.

Increased Cancer Risk

Alcohol causes damage to your cells, increasing your risk of developing cancer. Some of the types of cancer that are associated with alcohol include: 

  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer (Cancer of the voice box)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer

Immune System Impairment

Alcohol use suppresses your immune system. While alcohol use over a prolonged period can significantly increase your risk of developing minor or even more serious infections, just a single episode of drinking can suppress your immune system.

Weight Gain and Malnutrition

Alcoholic drinks are generally quite high in calories. If you drink heavily, these calories can lead to increased weight gain. Those who have severe alcoholism will often drink alcohol without adequate intake of food. This can lead to malnutrition because, while alcohol is high in calories, it lacks most of the necessary nutrients to keep someone healthy. 

Mental Health Effects

While alcohol has many physical effects, it can also create several mental health effects. Alcohol alone can cause mental health effects but can also worsen pre-existing mental health problems that may not have been obvious before.

Depression and Anxiety

Alcohol can create or worsen depression or anxiety. Many people use alcohol to escape from these problems. However, this temporary escape reduces resilience and inhibits the ability to cope with these problems over the long term.

Decreased Sleep Quality

Alcohol makes it easier to fall asleep initially but actually keeps your brain from reaching stages of sleep that are essential for sleep to be fully restorative. This can make you fall asleep more easily each night, sleep for eight to nine hours and still not feel rested when you wake up.

Substance Misuse and Dependence

Using alcohol every day can lead to dependence, a condition where your brain adjusts its function to accommodate the constant presence of alcohol. This makes you “depend” on alcohol to function normally and causes withdrawal symptoms whenever alcohol levels in your blood drop. Dependence can lead to misuse and increase your risk of addiction.

Cognitive and Neurological Effects

Most people use alcohol because of its effect on the brain. Unfortunately, the buzz that alcohol provides isn’t the only effect it can have on the brain. Alcohol has several negative cognitive and neurological effects.

Memory Impairment

Frequent and heavy alcohol use can cause memory impairment. This can be in the form of complete blanks in memory, called blackouts, that occur when you drink very heavily. It can also be having difficulty forming new memories that occur with frequent alcohol use, often manifesting as learning difficulties or forgetfulness. 

Alcohol-Related Dementia

Regular alcohol use can affect the brain in many ways, eventually leading to alcohol-related dementia. The lifelong results of this dementia can be devastating, keeping you from being able to take care of yourself and have a normal quality of life.

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How Much Alcohol Does the Average American Drink?

Recent research shows that the average American drinks about 2.3 gallons of alcohol yearly. Experts say this comes to about nine drinks per week and is heightened from previous years, partly due to the effect of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that most Americans drink alcohol. NIAAA statistics from a national survey show that:

  • 85.6% of adults have consumed alcohol at some point
  • 69.5% of adults consume alcohol at least once a year
  • 59.4% of adults report drinking within the month before the NIAAA survey
  • 25.8% of adults reported binge drinking within the month before the NIAAA survey
  • 6.3% of adults report heavy alcohol use

Heavy alcohol use is defined by the NIAAA as men consuming more than 14 drinks in a week or more than four on any given day and women drinking more than seven drinks in a week or more than three in any given day.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism

People learning about the effects of alcohol use often wonder about the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The medical community technically uses neither of these, but they generally align with two medically correct terms.

Alcohol abuse is often used synonymously with alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the NIAAA, AUD is “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences.” AUD may affect moderate or even light drinkers if their alcohol use is difficult to stop and causes negative effects.

Alcoholism may be used to describe many conditions related to alcohol use but is often used to reference alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence happens when the body has adjusted to the presence of alcohol to such an extent that alcohol is needed for the body to function normally. People dependent on alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it, as the body needs to readjust to the absence of the substance.

Getting Help

Many people who need help controlling their alcohol use do not look like stereotypical “alcoholics” and may be fully functioning society members who like having a few drinks every day. However, if you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking or find it difficult to quit when you know you should, it is time to consider getting help.

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper has a proven track record of helping people gain control over their alcohol use. If you or someone you know is struggling to cut back on alcohol use, our team can provide discreet, professional assistance. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn more.

Sources

Becker, Howard C. “Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse.” Alcohol Research and Health, 2008. Accessed July 22, 2023.

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