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Effects of alcohol on the body

For better or worse, alcohol is a big part of our culture in the UK. It plays a part in many social gatherings, special occasions, and big events like sports matches or music festivals. As such, alcohol has a well-recognised societal role in helping people to get to know each other or helping people to celebrate and commiserate with one another.

However, the negative health impacts of alcohol are increasingly recognised. It is estimated that alcohol consumption costs the NHS about £3.5 billion each year. 

This fact is reflected in the steady reduction in the recommended safe alcohol limits as advised by Public Health England. 

It is now recommended that:

  • Adults of either sex drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week 
  • Have at least two alcohol free days each week

In contrast, in 1979 it was recommended that men not drink more than 56 units per week. 

What is a alcohol unit?

1 unit of alcohol is equivalent to:

  • A single 25ml shot of a spirit
  • Half a pint of lower strength beer (ABV 4%).

A small glass of wine (125ml) is about 1.5 units. 

What does alcohol actually do to the body?

The heart
The Kidneys
The Brain
The digestive system
Liver in body

Alcohol is quite a potent chemical and it has effects on many of the body’s system. Some of these effects will be familiar to all of us who have drunk in the past, others are more surprising.

Cardiovascular System

The short term effect of alcohol on the cardiovascular system is to cause blood vessels to relax (which is why you may become flushed when you drink), blood pressure to drop, and the heart to beat faster.

In the longer term, blood pressure actually tends to be increased by alcohol and this, in turn, increases the risks of heart attacks and strokes. The persistently raised heart rate that occurs in those who drink heavily can end up weakening the heart muscle which is a condition known as cardiomyopathy and cardiomyopathy is a cause of heart failure that can be life threatening.

Alcohol can also affect the heart rhythm and there is actually a condition known as the ‘holiday heart’ where people spend their time on holiday drinking more heavily than usual and end up with an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. This causes unpleasant palpitations and possibly collapse and needs to be corrected, sometimes by shocking the heart with electricity.


Most of us will recognise the immediate effect that alcohol has on the kidneys – once we start drinking, we start peeing more. 

It is this ‘diuretic’ effect that causes the dehydration that contributes so much to the hangover the next day. In the longer term, this can result in important electrolytes being washed out of the body and so people who drink too much can have low electrolyte levels. 

Overall, excess consumption doubles the risk of chronic kidney disease. 


The short term effect of alcohol on the brain is, in part, what people are seeking when they drink alcohol. 

Alcohol causes the messenger systems in the brain to be less effective. This can cause the feelings of relaxation and loss of inhibition that we associate with alcohol, but also the loss of co-ordination and balance that you might experience. 

At higher levels of consumption, alcohol actually stops the memory pathways laying down new memories which results in the alcoholic ‘blackout’ that people might suffer on a night out. In the longer term, alcohol contributes to increased levels of depression and anxiety, and can result in alcohol related dementia. 

Gastrointestinal system

This is the digestive System consisting of a network of organs that help digest and absorb nutrition from food eaten.

Alcohol has wide ranging effects on the gastrointestinal system. It can interfere with acid production in the stomach resulting in inflammation called gastritis or even stomach ulcers. It can cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) which can be acute, causing severe pain and vomiting usually requiring hospitalisation, or chronic causing pain and interference with the production of key hormones like insulin over many years. 


Perhaps the issue that most people are aware of is damage to the liver. 

The liver is responsible for processing alcohol and, in doing so, can be damaged by alcohol. Alcohol can cause a range of different liver issues. 

Most common is a ‘fatty liver’ caused by excess alcohol consumption. As the name suggests, this is where the liver becomes full of fat. This may cause no symptoms but in a minority of people it can progress to severe liver disease and liver failure, particularly if they continue to drink. 

There is also a condition called alcoholic hepatitis when the liver becomes inflamed due to alcohol. This usually occurs in those drinking too much over long period, but can occasionally result from a single binge. At its worst, it is a life threatening condition. 


The final consequence of excess alcohol consumption is cirrhosis, which is irreversible scarring of the liver.

Whilst the liver has an impressive capacity to repair itself, once cirrhosis has set in then it has lost this ability. It is cirrhosis that can eventually cause the liver to fail and lies behind many alcohol related deaths.

The above can make for quite bleak reading, and that is without mentioning the effects that alcohol can have on hormonal systems, obesity, the production of blood, fertility, and the respiratory system or, indeed, the social consequences that can result from our altered behaviour when we drink too much. However, if used responsibly, alcohol is safe and can continue to play a role in our social lives. 

How can you test the impact of alcohol on the body?

If you are worried that you are drinking too much, or have drunk too much in the past, then some simple checks might serve to reassure you. 

Blood tests such as the full blood count, liver function tests, and kidney function tests are useful, as are those that will check for other cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol and diabetes checks. 

Making sure you are a healthy weight and monitoring and treating blood pressure will also help restore you to health. 

If you would like to test for multiple body functions in one go then a we have a wide selection of full body MOT tests that will give a more comprehensive overview of your bodies performance. Scroll through our range below.

About One Day Tests

One Day Tests offer you the power to manage your health like never before by monitoring and understanding your current and future health status. 

Our range of blood tests provide the ease, speed and accuracy in your results as well as providing the peace of mind you deserve.

Whether you choose to visit a clinic for your blood test or opt for the convenience and comfort of using our at-home blood test kits , we ensure a service that is not only dependable but also tailored to suit your preferences.

For additional assistance, guidance or queries regarding our custom panels, do not hesitate to get in touch. Our team is here to help you with any questions and provide you with the information you need. You can contact us at 0845 527 07 67 , send an email to

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