Whenever we drink alcohol, effects both expected and unintended occur within our bodies. And while some effects are strictly felt in the short term—slurred speech and drowsiness for example—when significant amounts of alcohol are consumed a host of unwanted effects may happen as well, many of which cause lasting damage to the body and brain.
Among the short-term effects that occur when too much alcohol is consumed at one time are vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty breathing, distorted vision and hearing, impaired judgment, a decrease in perception and coordination, a loss of red blood cells (known as anemia) and, in the more serious realm of dangerous side effects, unconsciousness and coma.
While the short-term alcohol side effects are perhaps more well-known, what may not be as well understood is the long-term lasting damage that can be done to the body’s systems when large amounts of alcohol are consumed on a regular basis, whether during occasional “binge-drinking” or through intermediate or advanced alcoholism. Incidents of high blood pressure, stroke and other heart-related diseases are well-documented results of alcohol addiction, as is nerve damage, sexual problems, vitamin B1 deficiency—which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and persistent disorientation—alcoholic liver disease (cirrhosis), ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach walls), malnutrition and cancers of the mouth of throat.
One of the more serious alcohol side effects—and unfortunately one that many people are unaware of until a serious and potentially deadly situation arises—is alcohol’s interference with many common and often vitally important medications. Whether they’re prescription or over-the-counter drugs or even herbal supplements, alcohol often has harmful interactions that may include nausea and vomiting, headaches, dizziness, fainting, changes in blood pressure and generalized abnormal behavior. More serious consequences of mixing alcohol and medications include internal bleeding, heart and liver damage and impaired breathing, serious implications that can quickly turn lethal.
The dangers of mixing alcohol and antibiotics—especially alcohol and amoxicillin—may be less apparent to many people. While not a particularly dangerous pairing with certain antibiotics, alcohol does impair the drug’s efficiency, simply meaning that the body may not recover as quickly from an infection when such a drug is taken with alcohol. However, certain classes of antibiotics should never be taken with alcohol— tinidazole and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for instance—as doing so may lead to flushing, headache, nausea and vomiting, and a rapid heart rate. Likewise, the mixing of prednisone and alcohol—the former an immunosuppressant used to treat a wide variety of conditions including allergies, asthma, colitis and migraine headaches—can potentially worsen symptoms of these various diseases and conditions and cause gastrointestinal bleeding, as can mixing the widely-popular pain medication ibuprofen and alcohol.
Alcohol and depression is for many people another unintentional alcohol side effect. Here is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: we drink alcohol to proverbially “drown our sorrows” after a having a bad day at the office, a fight with a friend or a break up with a significant other. And while in the short-term alcohol as a depressant can relieve anxiety, using it constantly every time one encounters a stress in life could be a sign of alcohol abuse.
Addiction research has shown a strong link between serious alcohol abuse and depression, with issues being studied that seek to answer whether regular drinking leads to depression or depression leads to regular drinking. Indeed, statistics show that nearly one-third of people with major, chronic depression also have an alcohol problem, with the depression most often occurring first and followed by alcohol abuse at some later point in time. Regardless, keeping in mind that alcohol by its nature is a depressant, it’s likely that alcohol will only worsen the symptoms of depression, and one may increase their drinking to combat said symptoms.