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Alcohol and the Body

Alcohol affects the way you feel and it affects all parts of your body. Your brain, lungs, eyes, ears, heart, liver, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, reproductive system, bones and muscles are all victims of alcohol abuse. (See Harmful Effects of Alcohol diagram).

  • Brain - Alcohol directly affects brain cells. The results: unclear thinking, slurred speech, and staggering. Large consumption of alcohol may cause unconsciousness or death.
  • Eyes - Alcohol can cause blurred vision.
  • Heart - Alcohol can increase the workload of the heart. The result: irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure.
  • Liver - Alcohol can poison the liver. Continued use causes extensive damage and failure.
  • Stomach/Pancreas - Alcohol aggravates the digestive system. Consequences may include vomiting and ulcers.
  • Kidneys - Alcohol can prohibit the kidneys from preserving a good balance of minerals and body fluids.
  • Veins/Arteries - Alcohol widens blood vessels, resulting in headaches and loss of body heat.
  • Blood - Alcohol reduces your body's ability to produce blood cells, which in turn triggers anemia and/or infections.

Alcohol and Athletes

Drinking the night before a competition is unwise. Even if the alcohol is completely metabolized by the start of the competition, drinking can disturb your sleep, leaving you too tired to put in a peak performance the next day. Here are some other ways that excessive drinking can affect your game.

  • Alcohol use cancels out gains from your workout.
  • The incidence of injury among athletes who are drinkers is 2 times that of non-drinkers. 
  • The hangover effect of alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce athletic performance by 11%. 
  • Alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to eliminate the metabolic byproducts of exercise (such as lactic acid) as well as its ability to use fat and protein, which are necessary for energy during endurance sports.
  • Alcohol disrupts normal sleep, reducing your brain's ability to learn and retain information. The effect of alcohol on sleep also results in decreases in production of hormones critical for muscle development and recovery.

Alcohol and Gender

Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. Upon drinking equal amounts, women have higher blood alcohol levels than men, and the immediate effects occur more quickly and last longer.

  • Women tend to have more body fat and less body fluid (average total body water: 52%) than men (average total body water: 61%). 
  • Women have a smaller quantity of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol, so alcohol is metabolized more slowly in women than men.
  • Premenstrual hormonal changes cause intoxication to set in faster during the days right before a woman gets her period.
  • Birth control pills or other medicine with estrogen increase intoxication.
  • Alcohol also increases estrogen levels in women and men. Chronic alcoholism has been associated with loss of body hair and muscle mass, development of swollen breasts and shrunken testicles, and impotence.