drinking problem can lead to conflicts within a marriage

Alcoholism is a serious and complex condition that affects millions of people around the world. It is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower, but a chronic disease that changes the brain and body in profound ways. In this article, we will explore how alcoholism affects the brain and body, and why it is considered a chronic disease that requires ongoing treatment and support.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a condition that involves compulsive and problematic drinking that interferes with one’s health, social, and occupational functioning. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), AUD is diagnosed when a person meets any two of the following criteria in a 12-month period:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Having trouble cutting down or stopping drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong urge to drink
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences on relationships, health, or work
  • Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of drinking
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as driving or operating machinery
  • Developing tolerance, meaning needing more alcohol to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, or anxiety when not drinking


AUD can range from mild to severe depending on the number and severity of symptoms. AUD can also co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Alcohol affects the brain by altering the levels and activity of various neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that regulate mood, cognition, memory, reward, and other functions. Some of the main neurotransmitters affected by alcohol are:

  • GABA: Alcohol enhances the effects of GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and stress. This can create a sense of relaxation and euphoria when drinking. However, chronic alcohol use can also impair GABA function and lead to increased anxiety and irritability when not drinking.
  • Glutamate: Alcohol inhibits the effects of glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter that stimulates brain activity and learning. This can impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and judgment when drinking. Chronic alcohol use can also disrupt glutamate function and cause brain damage and cognitive impairment over time.
  • Dopamine: Alcohol increases the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that mediates reward and pleasure. This can create a sense of enjoyment and motivation when drinking. However, chronic alcohol use can also deplete dopamine levels and reduce the sensitivity of dopamine receptors in the brain. This can lead to reduced pleasure from natural rewards and increased craving for alcohol.
  • Serotonin: Alcohol affects serotonin levels in different ways depending on the dose and frequency of drinking. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and social behavior. Low doses of alcohol can increase serotonin levels and enhance mood and sociability. However, high doses of alcohol can decrease serotonin levels and cause depression and aggression. Chronic alcohol use can also impair serotonin function and contribute to mood disorders.

These changes in brain chemistry can create a cycle of addiction that is hard to break. As a person drinks more frequently and heavily, they develop tolerance and dependence on alcohol. Tolerance means needing more alcohol to achieve the same effect. Dependence means experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. Withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, or delirium tremens (DTs), which is a life-threatening condition that involves confusion, fever, and seizures.

To avoid these unpleasant effects, a person may continue to drink despite the negative consequences on their health, social life, and work performance. This can lead to addiction, which is characterized by loss of control over drinking, obsession with alcohol,and inability to stop despite wanting to.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

Alcohol affects not only the brain but also various organs and systems in the body. Some of the main effects of alcohol on the body are:

  • Liver: The liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol and removing toxins from the body. However, excessive alcohol consumption can overload the liver and cause inflammation, fatty deposits, fibrosis, or cirrhosis, which is scarring and hardening of the liver tissue that impairs its function. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, which is a life-threatening condition that requires a liver transplant.
  • Heart: Alcohol can affect the heart in different ways depending on the amount and frequency of drinking. Moderate drinking can have some protective effects on the heart by raising HDL (good) cholesterol and preventing blood clots. However, heavy drinking can damage the heart muscle and cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), cardiomyopathy (enlarged and weakened heart), or heart failure (inability of the heart to pump enough blood).
  • Pancreas: The pancreas produces enzymes that help digest food and hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. Alcohol can interfere with the function of the pancreas and cause inflammation, pancreatitis (swelling and pain in the pancreas), or diabetes (high blood sugar levels that can damage various organs and tissues).
  • Digestive system: Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines and cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), ulcers (sores in the stomach or duodenum), or bleeding. Alcohol can also impair the absorption of nutrients and vitamins and cause malnutrition, anemia (low red blood cell count), or beriberi (thiamine deficiency that can affect the nervous system and heart).
  • Immune system: Alcohol can weaken the immune system and make a person more susceptible to infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or hepatitis. Alcohol can also increase the risk of certain cancers, such as mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, or breast cancer.
  • Reproductive system: Alcohol can affect the reproductive system in both men and women. In men, alcohol can lower testosterone levels and cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, or gynecomastia (enlarged breasts). In women, alcohol can disrupt menstrual cycles and cause irregular periods, infertility, or early menopause. Alcohol can also harm a developing fetus and cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is a condition that involves physical and mental defects in the baby.

Why is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease?

Alcoholism is classified as a chronic disease because it causes long-term abnormalities in the brain and body that are difficult to correct. These changes can have a negative impact on various elements of a person’s life, including relationships. For example, a drinking problem can lead to conflicts within a marriage and cause the deterioration of trust and communication between partners. Over time, if the individual does not seek help for their alcoholism, it can greatly contribute to the destruction of the marriage

However, alcoholism is also a treatable disease that can be managed with proper care and support. There are various treatment options available for alcoholism, such as:

  • Detoxification: This is the process of safely removing alcohol from the body under medical supervision. Detoxification can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and prepare a person for further treatment.
  • Medication: There are medications that can help reduce cravings, prevent relapse, or treat co-occurring conditions. Some examples are naltrexone, acamprosate, disulfiram, or antidepressants.
  • Therapy: There are various types of therapy that can help address the underlying causes and consequences of alcoholism, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), or family therapy.
  • Support groups: There are peer support groups that can provide emotional and practical support for people recovering from alcoholism, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, or Women for Sobriety.
  • Rehabilitation: There are outpatient or inpatient rehab programs that offer intensive and comprehensive treatment for alcoholism, such as 12-step programs, holistic programs, or dual diagnosis programs.

Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong process that requires ongoing commitment and support. It is possible to overcome alcoholism and live a healthy and fulfilling life.


1. What is alcoholism, and how does it affect the body?

A: Alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by a strong desire to drink alcohol despite negative consequences. Over time, alcoholism can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs, leading to a range of health problems.

2. What are some of the negative effects of alcoholism on mental health?

A: Alcoholism can have a range of negative effects on mental health, including increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

3. Can alcoholism lead to physical health problems?

A: Yes, alcoholism can lead to a range of physical health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and increased risk of cancer.

4. Is it possible to recover from alcoholism?

A: Yes, it’s possible to recover from alcoholism with the help of professional treatment and support. However, recovery is a lifelong process that requires ongoing effort and commitment.

5. How can I help a loved one who is struggling with alcoholism?

A: If you have a loved one who is struggling with alcoholism, it’s important to encourage them to seek professional help and to offer your support and understanding as they work towards recovery.



Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects the brain and body in profound ways. It can cause serious physical and mental health problems that can be fatal if left untreated. However, alcoholism is also a treatable disease that can be managed with proper care and support. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, do not hesitate to seek help. There is hope for recovery and a better future.

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