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You drank a few too many beers, finished off the bottle of wine, or knocked back one last shot at the end of the night – and today you’re battling an epic hangover. But while you sip coffee, pop a Tylenol, and attempt to go about your day, did you ever wonder what was happening inside your body? What contributes to the horrible feeling some experience after an evening of overindulgence or – even worse – feel even more frequently than the occasional night out? Take the tour below to see firsthand the toll alcohol takes on many aspects of your health – from proper sleep to your heart function. Warning: This may be a sobering experience.

Hangover Infographic

You finish your last drink and now you’re sleepy – and it’s not hard to drift off quickly thanks to alcohol’s sedative effect. But when you wake up the next morning, you don’t feel rested. The alcohol you consumed made you sleep lightly and suppressed your REM cycle—drastically cutting down the amount of restorative sleep that your body requires. You probably slept fitfully, waking up often. Your head is going to feel heavy tomorrow, and you’ll likely have difficulty keeping your eyes open throughout the day.

And now you’re racing to the bathroom because you’re going to throw up. Your throat burns and your stomach hurts. That’s because the excess alcohol has inflamed both your esophageal and stomach lining. You may even have diarrhea thanks to the fact that your bowels are having trouble re-absorbing water after first being exposed to all that alcohol. You reach for antacids to counteract the excess stomach acid.

Your mouth feels dry, and you’re dizzy. You’re thirsty – so thirsty – because despite all the drinks you enjoyed, you are dehydrated. In addition, the alcohol-induced drop in blood sugar makes you feel weak and fatigued, but food doesn’t sound appetizing. Your head is aching thanks to dilated blood vessels in your brain, and it’s throbbing from dehydration. You ask yourself, “Was it really worth it?” 

No one likes dealing with a hangover. Unfortunately though, alcohol’s long-term effects on your body are even more dramatic.

Heart

Your heart. It’s one of the most important of your vital organs, with the demanding role of pumping blood throughout your entire body. So what can happen to your heart when you drink habitually?

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy causes the heart muscle to stretch, thicken and stop contracting effectively—preventing your other organs from getting the blood they need. If you develop this condition, you probably feel short of breath and fatigued; your heartbeat is irregular; and your legs and feet are swollen. The toxic effects on your heart are progressive—if you don’t do something, it can lead to heart failure.

If your heart is beating rapidly and irregularly, diminishing efficient cardiac functioning and forward blood flow, you may be experiencing atrial fibrillation. You may notice weakness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. Tempted to ignore the signs? Don’t. Though it can come and go, atrial fibrillation is serious: It can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.

Ventricular tachycardia has several potential causes – but heavy drinking is a major one. If you have this disease, your heart’s ventricle malfunctions and causes an extremely fast heartbeat – so fast that your heart can’t fill up with enough blood between beats. This condition can result in dizziness, lightheadedness, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Next, let’s take a look at how alcohol affects your liver.

Liver

Your liver is your largest glandular organ, and it affects just about every other part of your body. Among other roles, it detoxifies blood, stores nutrients, and metabolizes drugs – and you can’t live without it.

But you’ve had a stressful week. You don’t always drink this much, but you want to unwind. Unfortunately, even just a few days of heavy drinking can cause a buildup of fat in your liver, referred to as steatosis (or fatty liver). As this condition progresses, you may notice that you’re tired, weak, nauseated, possibly confused, and you may lose your appetite. While other conditions can lead to steatosis, consuming too much alcohol is a major cause. What can you do? The liver is somewhat unique in that it can regenerate some functioning after being damaged—but only to a certain extent. In other words, stop drinking immediately.

If you drink enough, your liver actually becomes injured – and its response is to produce scar tissue, just as other body parts do. This condition is called fibrosis. If left unchecked, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure, among other issues. You may even need a liver transplant, though an active alcohol abuse problem may make it difficult to be placed on a transplant waiting list.

If you still don’t stop drinking despite the accumulation of scar tissue, you may get cirrhosis. This slow deterioration of the liver prevents it from doing its job. You may end up with conditions including jaundice, type 2 diabetes, and even your risk for liver cancer rises markedly.
Now let’s see what excess alcohol does to your pancreas.

Pancreas

From its spot behind your stomach, your pancreas produces hormones and secretes digestive enzymes to help your body break down food and absorb nutrients. It’s kind of a big deal.

Generally caused by heavy drinking over several years, acute pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas becomes inflamed. You may notice exquisitely sharp abdominal pain or tenderness, nausea, fever, and rapid heart rate. Chronic pancreatitis causes these same symptoms, along with weight loss. Cutting out alcohol is a priority if you have pancreatitis; as an endocrine organ – and one that manufactures enzymes vital to the digestive process – when left untreated, a process known as pancreatic autodigestion can result. This  can destroy the pancreas and surrounding tissues, leading to profound endocrine dysfunction (including malabsorption problems and diabetes) and even death.

Conclusion

We hope the roller-coaster ride through your body’s reaction to alcohol was an eye-opening one. While the temporary effects of a hangover fade over time, damage to key organs such as the heart, liver, and pancreas can linger for years. These issues can impact everything that matters most – your family, your career, and even your life itself.
If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you don’t have to overcome it alone. Don’t wait until your health deteriorates – reach out now. Go to Alcoholic.org, or call 1-888-893-7018 to get more information on alcohol treatment options. You have nothing to lose – and everything to gain.

Methodology

We used the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s WONDER Compressed Mortality File to locate alcohol-related deaths from 1999 to 2013. Using ICD-10 codes, we selected deaths for which the underlying cause was physical illnesses related to alcohol (E24.4, G31.2, G62.1, G72.1, I42.6, K29.2, K70.0, K70.1, K70.2, K70.3, K70.4, K70.9, K85.2, K86.0, R78.0); mental or behavioral disorders linked to alcohol (F10.0, F10.1, F10.2, F10.3, F10.4, F10.5, F10.6, F10.7, F10.8, F10.9); or alcohol poisoning (X45, X65, Y15). For bar graphs of age group and gender, each sub-group’s percentage was calculated as their fraction of the total deaths from alcohol-related physical illnesses, mental/behavioral disorders, or alcohol poisoning from 1999 to 2013.

Sources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12006456

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atrial-fibrillation/basics/definition/con-20027014

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000187.htm

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175472-overview

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC546435/

http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/cirrhosis/Pages/facts.aspx

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/706319

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pancreatitis/basics/symptoms/con-20028421

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