7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health

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Not to be a buzzkill, but alcohol can be bad for your health. You don't need to drink outrageous amounts of booze every single day for your body to be affected by it. As little as one night of binge drinking can wreck your body in all sorts of ways — which is bad news, considering drinking in excess is incredibly common all around the world.

Recent data from the Monitoring the Future National Survey says alcohol is still, by far, the substance most abused by college students everywhere. Illicit drug use has actually gone down since the previous year, but the use of booze lives on. When the survey was taken, 35 percent of the young adults admitted to having binge drank at least once within the past two weeks.

However, it would be misleading to think that millennials are the only ones with the serious alcohol problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 76 percent of deaths by alcohol poisoning between 2010 and 2012 were middle-aged adults. It's thought that these individuals, between the ages of 35 and 64, have had more time to develop an alcohol dependency than college kids, so the results of their substance abuse can be all the more severe.

Hopefully reading those last statistics will encourage all of us to take it easy on the booze, because even if we don't abuse it now, there's a chance that it could have negative effects in the future. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to how much you drink and how often — and what your genetic makeup is, as you'll see below.

Here are seven ways alcohol affects your health.

1. It Takes A Toll On Your Liver

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Large amounts of alcohol prevent your liver from doing its job properly, which is to break down harmful substances in the body. The acidic qualities of alcohol cause inflammation, which can eventually lead to extreme scarring of the liver, a condition called cirrhosis. If this happens, all those toxins that your liver is supposed to take care of are left to roam freely throughout your body, causing many imbalances, including messing with your blood sugar levels.

Women are at a higher risk of liver complications than men. Because our bodies absorb alcohol faster, it takes longer for us to break it down, making us more susceptible to complications in the long run.

2. It Makes Your Digestive System Malfunction

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Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that just one night of binge drinking increases your gut permeability, which means a lot of the toxins and bad bacteria escape from your digestive system and get into your bloodstream. Your immune system can't work at its full potential in response, leaving the rest of your body more vulnerable to all kinds of sickness, from liver disease to a common cold.

Dr. David Sack, CEO of an addiction-treatment company Elements Behavioral Health, told Men's Health that your digestion could be negatively affected from smaller doses of alcohol as well. You may have trouble going to the bathroom regularly, and you could also experience stomachaches from the acid buildup. Additionally, all that acidity could result in something more long-term, such as gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining.

3. It Makes Your Bones Weaker Over Time

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Alcohol interferes with the replacement of bone tissue. There's a delicate, ongoing balance in adult's bodies between the erosion and remodeling of bone tissue, and long-term, regular drinking can severely disrupt that. Even worse, it could result in alcoholic bone disease. Drinking in excess means you're also more likely to face osteoporosis later on in life, a condition that causes your bones to weaken and brittle over time, so much so that it's possible to fracture something just from a sudden cough.

4. It Disrupts Your Sleep Patterns

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Nearly every last one of us can attest to how easy it is to pass out after a couple glasses of wine. Don't be fooled, though — that Cabernet is seriously messing with your sleep cycle. After the alcohol wears off in the middle of the night, your REM pattern is disrupted. This might leave you sweating, anxious, and you might even have nightmares.

Additionally, that part of your REM cycle is the kind of sleep that contributes to strong memory and concentration. So when you wake up, even if you don't have a hangover, you're not able to perform at your best throughout the day.

Studies show that women are more sensitive to the effects that alcohol has on their sleep than men. Compared to male participants who drank the same amount, the females tossed and turned more often, lay awake for longer, and got much less sleep. Not getting enough shut-eye has immense effects on your overall life in the long run, from increasing your risk for diseases to worsening stress and anxiety.

5. It Interferes With Any Prescription Medication You May Be Taking

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We nod in agreement but secretly chuckle when our doctors tell us not to drink alcohol with antibiotics, but the combination really can take a toll on your health. Ana Blohm, a doctor from nationwide online physician practice Sherpaa, told Thrillist that, although no two people will experience the same effects, mixing cocktails with antibiotics could prevent the meds from doing their job. It could also result in "unwanted complications," such as racing heart, dizziness, injury, and even internal bleeding.

When paired with psychiatric medications, alcohol could alter your blood levels and prevent you from reaching recovery with your mental illness. An even more menacing combination is prescription painkillers and booze, which has resulted in many deaths. Any time a person is taking a central nervous system depressant, such as Oxycodone, drinking alcohol along with it could cause the breathing to slow down so much that it eventually stops.

6. It Increases Your Risk Of Cancer

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Nobody can deny the strong scientific evidence showing how much more likely we are to contract cancer from excessive alcohol consumption. In fact, in 2009, 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States were linked to alcohol.

One particular study proved that women who drink more than three drinks a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer. The chances for mouth and throat cancers rise significantly as well for individuals who drink more than 3.5 drinks daily — they are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx.

Of course, liver cancer poses the highest risk. Alcohol is the leading cause of this type of cancer, and it can be particularly deadly. Even three drinks a day ups the likelihood of this happening, as does poor diet and obesity.

7. In Moderation, It Prevents Heart Disease — But Only If You Have Certain Genes

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Finally, one piece of potentially good news: We hear a lot about how moderate drinking can lower your risk for heart disease. It turns that that's true — but only for some of us. The University of Gothenburg in Sweden released a study in 2014 showing that people with a specific genotype definitively benefit from moderate alcohol consumption, but only 15 percent of us fall into that category.

While research still needs to be done on the topic, they know for sure that a certain CETP gene variation can transfer cholesterol from the peripheral arteries to the liver. It's this process that is linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Professor Lauren Lissner, an author of the study, hopes that they are able to come up with a genetic test to administer to people so that doctors could find out who belongs in the lucky 15 percent, and give sound advice on alcohol consumption.

Before you run for the hills, remember this doesn't necessarily mean the other 85 percent of us are slowly killing ourselves by drinking a modest amount of wine with our dinner. The bottom line is, there isn't enough evidence to say for sure what the connection is between the health of our heart and the drink(s) in our hand. But clearly, moderation is key.

Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.

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