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What Happens to Your Body When You're an Alcoholic

Updated September 24, 2019 439.0k views14 items

Full disclosure before we start: I am an alcoholic.

We don't need to do the weird backhanded bragging so many ex-drinkers like to engage in where I try to tell you nonchalantly just how much I used to consume - suffice it to say I drank enough that I felt like I should stop drinking, which I did four years ago and haven't really looked back.

While my body feels better now than it did when I was drinking, it certainly still bears some of the outward physical effects of alcohol abuse. I have a weird bloated stomach even though I'm skinny everywhere else. My eyes still have those dark circles under them. I still have that scar on my arm from the time I tried to start an impromptu rodeo while in the middle of a cow tipping excursion (I deserved it).

I have only sympathy and solidarity for my still-boozing brethren and this article is not an attempt at conversion. I have no patience for moralizing or proselytizing, and what you do with your body is up to you. That said, it's hard for me to read article after article about what alcoholism does to your body and not feel relieved that I got out when I did.

Obligatory last note before we dive in: If you know someone that's struggling, help them. If you think alcohol is hurting your quality of life, stop drinking it. The internet is full of resources and there are meetings near you no matter where you are. I didn't use a program so it would be disingenuous for me to recommend one, but hey - if you want to talk to someone about it you can email me at and I'll at least listen to your story.


  • Alcohol Makes You Stink

    One of the less-serious but still-awful aspects of living like a booze hound is that at a certain point you start to smell like one too. Excessive drinking will leads inevitably to bad breath and body odor as your body struggles to expel all the filth you poured in to it."If you're drinkin', you're stinkin'" is a fact that's verified by both medical science and the law of rhyming maxims.

    Obviously if you have a drink of whiskey, your breath will smell like whiskey for a bit. That's not what we're talking about here. The kind of stink I'm talking about is the one that seeps out of your pores the next day; the kind of bad breath that doesn't come out of your mouth but from your insides. Ever notice that after you get past that initial mouth smell of whatever someone just drank, all alcohol breath smells the same? That's because what you're smelling is the alcohol in their blood; that same blood that circulates constantly through their lungs. After drinking you literally have alcoholic breath - something that no breath mint can cure.

    Your poor liver, as we've mentioned, can only handle so much at one time. As you overload it with drink after drink your body has to find alternate ways of expelling it, so about 10% of that metabolic waste starts getting excreted through your skin. This process takes time, and when you keep drinking night after night you may never totally finish excreting it. You'll just smell a little bit like decaying biological waste all the time. You can smell it on your clothes, on your sheets, in your furniture - the internet is rife with forums full of women complaining about their drunk husband's stench.

    Factor in other considerations such as dehydration, loss of olfactory sensitivity, and general drunken carelessness with hygiene and it's easy to see why "stinking drunk" caught on as a descriptor.

  • Chronic Boozing Breaks Your Brain

    After a few drinks you can get crazy, amirite?
    I am. I am right about that. Because chronic alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol-related psychosis. Even moderate chronic alcohol consumption can lead to thiamine/B-1 deficiencies, issues with memory, speech, and motor control. More aggressive consumption can result in more severe mental issues such as Wernickie-Korsakoff syndrome and Alzheimer's disease.

    Because alcohol kills brain cells, amirite?
    No. No I am not right this time. Alcohol doesn't actually kill brain cells, that's just a dirty rumor that was started by your head as an act of revenge for how awful alcohol makes it feel the next morning. What alcohol actually does do to your brain is damage and ultimately destroy your dendrites - the little guys at the end of your neural fibers that are responsible for sending and receiving the messages with other neurons. As the dendrites loose sensitivity at the ends of their tendrils the messages they send get confused or lost entirely.

    Alcohol-related psychosis in its most extreme form can result in audio and visual hallucinations, paranoia, aggression, and "marked mental deterioration and decay of intelligence and morality". Is it just my family, or does this totally explain some of your relatives' more... confusing behavior?

  • Drinking Makes Your Skin Look Like Garbage

    Alcoholism can cause a wide array of cutaneous abnormalities that are anything but cute. The clichéd image of a drunk may bring up an image of someone like W.C. Fields - huge red nose, flushed, veiny cheeks, probably holding a drink. There's a reason this is the picture we have: science. 

    Fields' flushed cheeks and spidery veins are the end result of years of irritating your circulatory system with alcohol and its nasty byproducts. Veins end up enlarging and pushing up toward the surface of the skin, making themselves visible. The flush is just a histamine reaction to irritants, a reaction that, if it occurs over and over, year after year, can start having permanent consequences like psoriasis, hyperpigmentation and generalized pruritus (chronic itching). That nose didn't just come out like that (but it is pretty funny to picture that bulbous thing on a baby), it's a condition called rhynophemia, an advanced form of rosacea that's aggravated (though not caused) by alcohol consumption.

    Additionally, all those toxins seeping out of your skin (See #4) are, unsurprisingly, bad for it. Enlarged pores, acne, pale skin, blotchy skin, and dry skin are all potential consequences of prolonged indulgence, as is a condition called caput medusae that causes the veins of the stomach to dialate and become visible until your tummy looks like, well, medusa. Your belly button becomes her face and the bluish, snakey veins popping out all over your abdomen are her "hair." Sexy!

  • Alcoholism Destroys Your Stomach

    I kept a roll of Tums on me at all times when I was drinking.
    I'd say I ate them like candy, but if anyone ate that much of any one candy you'd think they were a psychopath. Or Marshawn Lynch. After drinking nightly for five or six years I just got used to having acid reflux every day; you pop a couple more Tums and move on.

    The thing is that "just moving on" means getting used to the constant, harmful state that your stomach is in after drinking. Gastroesopghageal Reflux Disease - also known by the gross, yet strangely appropriate, acronym GERD - occurs when stomach acid gets past the too-relaxed esophageal sphincter (lazy ass) and starts to abrade the lining of your throat. Alcohol also irritates and inflames your stomach lining, plus it's highly acidic nature contributes to not just to acid reflux and heartburn but also peptic ulcers. digestive and nutritional disorders, and can kick preexisting conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome into hyperdrive.

    It's also been linked to "leaky gut syndrome" which Wikipedia describes as "a hypothetical, medically unrecognized condition," so perhaps the less said about it the better.

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