What does being drunk actually do to your body?

Many of us know what it feels like to wake up with a sore head after one too many drinks, but have you ever wondered what being intoxicated actually does to your body?

Experts talk through some of the physical and mental effects of overindulging in alcohol.

Health risks

“Even though some types of alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, contain antioxidants, the negative impact of alcohol outweighs its positive effects,” says nutritionist Signe Svanfeldt.

To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.

Speak to your GP if you have any concerns about your drinking, or seek advice from one of the services listed here.

“Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol increases the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” says Steph Keenan, operations manager at alcohol and mental health charity With You ( “Alcohol can also raise your blood pressure, and be harmful to all organs in your body, including the stomach and liver.”

Read: Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant?

Excessive drinking is damaging to the liver in two big ways, the first being a type of scarring called cirrhosis.

“Scar tissue builds up because alcohol changes the chemicals that break down and remove scar tissue,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan ( “Over time, this means scar tissue replaces healthy cells and the liver struggles to work properly.”

Alcohol can cause a build-up of fat in the organ: “Fatty liver disease can stop it from working properly. This is reversible in the first instance, by stopping alcohol consumption for [at least] two weeks.”

The calorific nature of alcohol means that “the body also uses this as an energy source while fat is stored”, Mr Hobson continues. “Drinking excessively can lead to weight gain – and for men especially this gathers around the belly, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

As well as the direct impact, drinking to the point of intoxication can contribute to other health issues, with Ms Keenan saying: “It also increases the risk of injuries and contagious diseases, especially respiratory diseases.”

Read: Being overweight can worsen the liver damage caused by alcohol

Brain activity

While knocking back drinks might bring feelings of euphoria and an initial burst of energy, it’s a different story in your grey matter.

“Drinking alcohol affects our central nervous system and slows down brain activity,” says Ms Svanfeldt. “It can also affect our memory and self-control.”

That’s why some people engage in more risky behaviour while drunk – or perhaps they fall over, and can’t remember how they got those bruises the next morning.

Sleep problems

“If you have trouble sleeping, alcohol might seem to help in the short term, as it can make you feel more relaxed,” says Ms Keenan. “But regularly drinking alcohol can make sleep problems worse.”

And even if you’re conked out after a few drinks, the sleep you’re getting isn’t as good. “Alcohol can impair the restorative part of the sleep cycle, REM, as well as interfering with the flow of calcium into nerve cells, affecting the region of the brain that controls sleep function,” says Mr Hobson.

You may find yourself waking up more frequently, too: “Alcohol causes dehydration – it inhibits the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) causing you to use the bathroom more regularly,” Mr Hobson adds.

Read: What happens when alcohol and anxiety mix

Emotional effects

Alcohol can alter our moods. (Alamy/PA)

While having a couple of drinks can cause a spike of dopamine, which induces the ‘happy drunk’ feeling, in the long-run alcohol can act as a depressant.

“Regularly drinking alcohol affects your brain chemistry in a way that can lead to feelings of depression,” Ms Keenan explains, which can create a damaging cycle. “People may drink alcohol because they feel depressed, but heavy use depresses their mood further, which leads to more drinking, and so on.”

How often do you drink alcohol? Do you enjoy the feeling of being drunk? Share your thoughts in the comments section below

– With PA

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