Alcoholism or long-term and excessive use of alcoholic beverages is an extremely widespread problem. Alcohol unlike cigarette smoke not only damages health of its users but also ruins their social life and negatively affects their families and relatives.


This article is focused on typical complications of long-term alcoholism. Lets only add the fact that regular intake of small amount of alcohol has rather positive health effect than complete abstinence. However such “safe dose” is only about 2 deciliters of wine a day.

Diseases and complications related to alcoholism

Alcoholic liver disease

Alcohol is a toxic compound which is decomposed by the liver tissue. Liver cells are however damaged by alcohol and when they die they are replaced by new ones. Alcohol can cause fatty liver disease or inflammation of liver tissue. This condition includes both acute alcoholic hepatitis of varying severity and chronic alcoholic liver inflammation associated with well-known liver cirrhosis with all its complications. The liver is the chemical factory of the body and its dysfunction has far-reaching consequences. Disruption of blood flow through cirrhotic liver causes an abnormal high pressure in the portal bloodstream (portal hypertension) which can cause formation of ascites (fluid inside abdominal cavity) and esophageal varices. When liver functions are impaired, the concentration of nitrogenous waste products increases because are not broken down in the liver. These waste products damage the brain and increase the risk of developing hepatic encephalopathy. Deterioration of liver is usually linked to jaundice which is associated with disruption of processing yellowish pigment bilirubin in damaged liver tissue.

Pancreatic diseases

An alcohol excess (even by only irregularly drinking person) can cause acute pancreatitis which can be easily fatal. By a regular drinker there may occur a gradual deterioration of pancreatic cells that die and are replaced by fibrous tissue. This process is referred to as chronic pancreatitis which is associated with abdominal pain, malabsorption of nutrients in small intestine (due to decrease of pancreatic digestive enzymes production) and in advanced stages even with diabetes (pancreatic cells stop producing insulin).

Brain damage

Long-term effects of alcohol on human brain are clearly negative. Neurons are damaged and destroyed by alcohol. Gradually alcohol dementia develops with personality changes and memory impairment which may take form of so called Rimsky-Korsakoff's syndrome. The condition may worsen if there is in an advanced stage of liver disease and following hepatic encephalopathy. Damaged neurons in alcoholics may cause more frequent epileptic seizures.


Not only neurons in the brain are affected by alcohol. There is also direct damage of nerve fibers in the body, long nerves innervating the lower and upper limbs are most affected. There is a disease called alcoholic polyneuropathy and its typical symptoms are tingling sensations of extremities, feeling of cold legs and sexual dysfunctions.

Heart diseases

Regular and excessive alcohol drinkers have an increased risk of heart disease. Alcohol is one of typical factors which lead to heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy. The result is the impaired pumping ability of heart muscle and heart failure.

Peptic ulcers

Impaired blood flow to gastric wall by liver dysfunction joins the direct effect of alcohol on the stomach wall (alcohol causes inflammation of the stomach mucosa) and improper diet. The result is frequent formation of stomach ulcers which are really typical for alcohol abusers.


Alcohol undoubtedly increases the risk of cancer diseases. For abusers drinking hard liquors esophageal cancer, tongue cancer and throat cancer are typical. There is also increased incidence of liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. All these diseases belong to very serious forms of malignant diseases.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This syndrome affects newborn children of mother-alcoholics who drink alcohol during pregnancy. Besides the damage to fetal nervous system and resulting mental retardation the child exhibits growth disorders, facial distortions and is prone to epileptic seizures.

Delirium tremens

This disorder of consciousness is common in chronic alcohol abusers after sudden alcohol withdrawal. It is actually a nervous system response to acute decrease of ethanol in the body. You find more information in relevant article.

Pathic ebriety

Also it is known as pathic drunkenness. It is a rare psychiatric disorder of a trance which can occur after a small dose of alcohol and not only by alcoholics. In many countries the person is not responsible for his or her actions committed under the influence of pathic ebriety (by contrast with “common” drunkenness).


It is not only a complication of regular alcohol drinkers although regular excessive drinkers experience hangovers more often than occasional consumers. The article about hangover is written form the point of view of an internal medicine doctor and helps to understand metabolic principles of this condition.

Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources