How does alcohol affect the human body?

How does alcohol affect the human body?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ethyl alcohol ranks third among threats to the health of society as a whole, causing both health and social harm. Ethanol is also considered the greatest risk factor for injuries and the most commonly used psychoactive substance. Both alcohol and its main metabolite, acetaldehyde, are directly toxic to tissues and lead to a range of systemic pathologies. Alcohol abuse can also lead to mental health disorders.

Research shows that every eighth adult Pole abstains from drinking alcohol, but 10-20% drink alcohol regularly. It is estimated that in this group there are about 900,000 addicted individuals and over 2,000,000 people who drink alcohol in a risky or harmful way, which affects their incidence and consequences. Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the most commonly raised issues, although alcohol is a documented risk factor in pedestrian accidents. It is also a significant risk factor for suicidal behavior in individuals under the influence of alcohol, who may choose more radical and effective suicide methods such as hanging or jumping in front of a moving vehicle.

Studies have been conducted to determine the impact of ethanol on the human body and its significance in the development of diseases such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Alcohol is the leading risk factor for global disease burden, causing liver damage and increasing the risk of obesity. Its consumption is associated with an increased risk of upper gastrointestinal tract and colorectal cancers, as well as liver and breast cancers.

In an article published in The Lancet, a study was conducted on alcohol consumption in the context of cancer incidence. The results of the study showed that worldwide, approximately 741,000 of all new cancer cases in 2020 were related to alcohol consumption, with nearly three-quarters of this number involving men. Alcohol contributed most to the development of esophageal, liver, and breast cancers.

Ethanol also has a degrading effect on the respiratory system of addicted individuals. Increased susceptibility to colds and upper respiratory infections is observed in both women and men who abuse alcohol. The negative effects of ethanol on leukocytes (responsible for immune function), malnutrition, and inappropriate clothing due to feeling hot under the influence of alcohol are factors contributing to this susceptibility.

The liver is another organ damaged by alcohol. The liver is largely responsible for alcohol metabolism. Approximately 90% of individuals addicted to alcohol have fatty liver disease due to impaired transport of fat and its accumulation in liver cells. This condition usually develops insidiously and without symptoms, but if symptoms do appear, they may include morning nausea, a feeling of fullness in the abdomen, decreased appetite, or fatigue.

The toxic effects of ethanol also affect brain cells and contribute to their atrophy. In approximately 50-90% of individuals addicted to alcohol, cortical atrophy occurs mainly in the temporal and frontal regions, as well as expansion of the ventricular system.

Scientific analysis shows that it is not the type but the amount of alcohol consumed that increases the risk of cancer. Age, health status, diet, and gender will also affect carcinogenesis. Alcohol is less well-tolerated by the female body compared to the male body, as women have less body water. After consuming a similar amount of alcohol, a woman will have a higher concentration of alcohol in her blood than a man of similar weight. It is also worth considering that women generally have a smaller body size and that their bodies break down ethanol more slowly.


In summary, the negative impact of alcohol on the human body has been proven by numerous studies and described in a large number of scientific works. It is important to remember that a healthy, non-addicted person who drinks too much is also at risk of death. It is estimated that a blood alcohol concentration of 3 to 4 per mille indicates deep coma and the risk of death.

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