How Alcohol Affects Your Body

You might be wondering about some of the more physiological and long-term effects of alcohol. 

Learn about how alcohol affects your:


Check out this fun and scientific video about many of the ways alcohol effects your brain. It's the neurochemistry behind why people act the way they do when they drink.

Athletic performance

If you're an athlete, here's what you need to know when you're deciding whether and how much to drink.

Alcohol impairs skills crucial to athletic performance for up to 72 hours (3 days). Effects include:

  • slowed reaction time
  • impaired precision, equilibrium, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, balance and judgment
  • diminished focus, stamina, strength, and power 

Alcohol will also slow recovery from injury and illness by:

  • delaying muscle repair
  • increasing risk for nutrient deficiencies-- vitamins and minerals used for normal function are now being used to break down alcohol 
  • suppressing immune function
  • impairing sleep


Think twice before drinking close to bedtime. Alcohol prevents a good night's rest by:

  • reducing the amount of REM sleep, causing drowsiness, poor concentration and memory problems the next day.
  • increasing the number of times you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • relaxing muscles in the body, meaning that you may be more likely to snore during sleep. This not only impacts your sleep, but anyone sleeping nearby. 

Long-term health 

Long-term, heavy use of alcohol can cause lasting health effects, in addition to the prolonged effects that last a few days after a single night of heavy drinking.

Alcohol use can:

  • weaken the immune system
  • cause organ damage, such as to the brain, pancreas, and liver.
  • increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain kinds of strokes
  • increase the risk for certain kinds of cancer, such as cancer of the mouth, throat, and liver

Research in cisgender women shows that heavy episodic drinking in college increases risk for osteoporosis and even moderate use of alcohol can increase the risk for breast cancer.

Learn more about the health impacts of alcohol.


Alcohol tolerance is when:

  • an individual drinker needs to consume more alcohol to achieve the same effects
  • positive effects associated with consumption are diminished
  • negative effects on the body remain the same

Tolerance does NOT mean that you can simply use more:

  • using more means introducing more alcohol for the body to break down
  • judgment and motor functioning can become more and more impaired even if you do not feel “buzzed” or “drunk"
  • you may be unaware of how much alcohol you are putting into your body and the subsequent toll it takes on your organs (e.g., liver and brain functioning).

Tolerance can happen with almost any drug:

  • painkillers
  • illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin
  • over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, i.e. ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol).  

Medications and other drugs

Alcohol is a drug. Mixing it with other drugs, medicines or supplements (even herbal remedies) may cause harmful interactions, for example:

  • Using alcohol and cannabis at the same time can lead to overuse of both and produce unpredictable effects including alcohol poisoning or inability to vomit, a problem if the body needs to rid itself of excess alcohol. 
  • Depressants have similar effects as alcohol. Combined, the effects are intensified, increasing risk of overdose.
  • Alcohol is metabolized by the liver. Adding even a small amount of another medicine or supplement that is metabolized by the liver, such as Tylenol®, can lead to liver damage.
  • Mixing alcohol and stimulants, such as caffeine, can make you underestimate how drunk you are and impair your ability to limit your drinking.

The NIH has a list of commonly used medicines that interact with alcohol.

Always determine if it’s safe for you to drink while taking any drugs, medicines or supplements.

You can read medication information or consult a pharmacist or other health professional if you have questions about whether any alcohol is safe while on specific medications

If you are taking illegal drugs or drugs that have not been prescribed to you, you are taking a big, unknown risk. Always avoid mixing alcohol and drugs in these situations.