Physical and mental effects of Alcohol     





Alcohol, the Facts Physical and mental effects of Alcohol General patient / friend or family information

What effects does alcohol have on the body?

How does alcohol affect depression and anxiety?

What are the signs of a withdrawal?

What is the nature of addiction?





What effects does alcohol have on the body?

Excess alcohol intake can lead to conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, strokes, stomach ulcers, pancreatitis, gastritis, high blood pressure, impotence, nerve problems, dementia and mental health problems. For more information:

How does alcohol affect depression and anxiety?

Depression and anxiety may lead to heavy drinking or can result from it. Alcohol can affect the brain causing depression and repeated alcohol withdrawal can trigger panic attacks and phobias. Patients with an alcohol problem and anxiety or depression will not respond fully to antidepressants whilst they are still drinking heavily. Often a couple of weeks after abstaining or significantly reducing the alcohol intake, symptoms of anxiety and depression may diminish without any medication.


During withdrawal from alcohol depression may initially worsen but will normally start to improve after a few weeks of abstinence. If symptoms persist the use of antidepressants such as SSRIís are helpful. A course would usually be started 2-3 weeks after stopping alcohol consumption.


This may clear within a month or two of sobriety. If symptoms continue relaxation techniques may be of benefit. Antidepressants such as SSRIís have also been shown to have good effect (Nutt DJ. The psychopharmacology of anxiety. Hosp Med 1996;55:187-191).

What are the signs of withdrawal?

Some of the signs in a patient withdrawing from alcohol include:

tremor of the hands, vomiting, weakness, anxiety and depression, headache and difficulty sleeping, hallucinations and illusions.

Delirium Tremens is a severe withdrawal reaction which can happen in patients who have drunk heavily for several years and may be serious needing hospital admission. The signs include confusion, hallucination of frightening content, severe shaking of the hands, sweating, dehydration, sometimes fitting. The patient usually is much improved after 36 hr.

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What is the nature of addiction?

Addiction may begin with a discovery that you can change how you feel by using a drug that is mood altering and magically moves an experience away from undesirable states towards desirable ones.

Because the drug works so well, there seems to be less need to develop or continue other coping skills.

The more the person relies on the habit, the less they develop other ways of coping. The less they develop other ways of coping the more they need their habit.

Dr Chris Johnston, RSU


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Compiled by Dr Louise Younie, GP / Clinical lecturer in Primary Care.
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