9 Ways Alcohol is Killing You Slowly


Because it is widely available and socially acceptable, it’s easy to overlook the increased risk even moderate alcohol consumption can pose for disease, injury, and mortality. Yet, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States! A November 2022 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brief alarmingly reported that alcohol-induced deaths jumped a whopping 26% between 2019 and 2020.

The truth is alcohol kills, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly – in the following ways.

The truth is alcohol kills, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly. Click To Tweet


1. Degrades Your Heart Health

Most of us know that heavy drinking is not good for our hearts. Indeed, the CDC reports that heavy drinking can cause heart disease, but what if you enjoy a glass of wine several times a week?

It now appears that all types of drinking alcohol, even moderate drinking, may be associated with an increased risk for heart disease, according to a study from 2022 on habitual alcohol use and cardiovascular disease risk published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network. This finding counters the idea that moderate drinking provides heart health benefits, a conclusion that came from observational studies that many researchers now believe to be faulty.

The World Heart Federation also warns against any alcohol consumption in its 2022 Policy Brief due to its ill effects on health, especially heart health, referencing research that found moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk for stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertension, fatal aortic aneurysm, and coronary heart disease.

2. Increases Cancer Risk

Consuming alcohol is strongly associated with an increased risk of cancer and cancer mortality. In fact, the American Cancer Society recently updated its Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention stating it’s best “not to drink alcohol at all.”

The change in policy recommendation came from a study published in Cancer Epidemiology that found alcohol plays a role in a significant amount of cancer diagnoses and deaths among Americans. Specifically, alcohol consumption was most strongly linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, and breasts.

3. Compromises Your Brain

Although alcohol may increase brain chemicals that make you feel good, it is not good for the brain! A 2016 review indicates that those who abuse alcohol regularly show evidence of damage in certain areas of the brain—such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC), involved in decision-making and controlling impulses, and the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, learning, and mood.

Heavy drinking may also lower neurogenesis—the generation of new brain cells, according to animal research showing a dramatic decline (58%) in the formation and survival rate of new brain cells associated with alcohol consumption. Some of these ill effects may be due, in part, to decreased blood flow to the brain, which is a consequence of heavy drinking, brain scans have shown. Alcohol inhibits the healthy blood flow your brain needs to work optimally.

Research shows that alcohol, even in moderate amounts (1-7 drinks a week), is associated with lower total brain volume. The more you drink, the greater the brain volume shrinkage. This has been reflected in brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics as well. It’s not surprising that compared with non-drinkers and light drinkers, moderate (more than a drink a day) to heavy drinkers have a 57% higher risk of dementia, according to a population-based study.

4. Greater Risk of Mental Health Disorders

While a little alcohol can take the edge off temporarily, research shows it to be more of a detriment to mental health long-term. Regular, heavy drinking interferes with certain brain chemicals that are critical to good mental health. Indeed, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) reports that alcohol abuse and or dependence can lead to a host of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Alcohol abuse is also associated with higher suicide risk due to its disinhibition, impulsiveness, and impaired judgment effects. Research conducted on completed suicides shows that alcoholics account for roughly 20–40% of all suicides.

5. Increases in Infectious Diseases

Most people know that drinking too much alcohol can make you sick to your stomach, but fewer people are aware of how much more susceptible drinking makes you to communicable diseases, research shows.

Drinking excessively stokes inflammation and impairs the immune response, making you more vulnerable to both bacterial and viral infections, and decreases response to vaccination. For some heavy drinkers during the COVID pandemic, this alcohol-driven hit to the immune system was deadly. Additionally, losing your inhibitions while inebriated can put you at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including life-threatening ones like HIV, through condomless sex.

6. More Vulnerable to Injury

Moderate alcohol consumption has been observed to negatively impact balance, ability to focus visually, reaction time, good judgment, and behavior, which increases the risk of injury.

According to world statistics, 28.7% of all deaths attributed to alcohol consumption were due to injuries in 2016 (the most recent year of recorded stats). Alcohol consumption is linked to a greater risk of car accidents, drownings, injuries from violence, and falls, according to the NIAA. It also increases your risk of head injury in the form of concussions.

7. Higher Incidence of Digestive Disease

Heavy drinking can lead to stomach inflammation—and that causes acid reflux and heartburn, and in some cases, even long-term esophageal issues. In your gut, alcohol can damage the lining and disrupt your microbiome, causing an imbalance in favor of the bad bacteria. Moderate and heavy drinking both increase the risk of colon cancer, compared to no alcohol consumption.

A review study in Alcohol Research found that chronic alcohol consumption is associated with intestinal inflammation, altered intestinal microbiota composition and function, and increased intestinal lining permeability (leaky gut). What’s more, researchers believe that this alcohol-induced intestinal inflammation may drive a number of alcohol-related organ dysfunctions and chronic disorders, such as chronic liver disease, neurological health issues, GI cancers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

8. Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol dependence, addiction, or alcoholism) increases your risk of every health issue mentioned above. Imagine slowly poisoning a plant with small amounts of a toxic liquid substance. That’s akin to what chronic alcohol abuse does to your body. It slowly erodes multiple areas of health and takes years off your life.

The CDC reports that more than 140,000 people die from excessive alcohol use in the U.S. each year, and those people’s lives were shortened by an average of 26 years!

9. Kills Your Liver Function

Any time you drink more alcohol than your liver can process, it causes problems. If you consume a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, it can lead to a build-up of fats in the liver, which is called alcoholic fatty liver disease. While it is usually heavy drinking that harms the liver, moderate drinking can cause some degree of fatty liver.

Long-term alcohol abuse seen in alcoholics may cause swelling and inflammation (hepatitis) of the liver. Over time, this can lead to permanent damage and scarring, which is called cirrhosis of the liver—known as the final phase of alcoholic liver disease. Roughly 43% of liver disease deaths in the U.S. are related to alcohol consumption.

Alcohol problems and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. My mom began having a small glass of wine daily “for her heart” after years of abstinence. She died shortly thereafter of a stroke. I’m so sad and angry about it.

    Comment by Kerry — March 27, 2023 @ 10:45 PM

  2. Excellent article. You did not answer one key question, if you've been a moderate drinker and stop drinking or substantially reduce drinking, do all these compromises to your health improve?

    Comment by Len C — March 28, 2023 @ 6:25 AM

  3. I recently lost a fiancé due to alcoholism. This article along with a very informative book gave me great insight as to how I could have provided support early on. Rehab after rehab was not the answer. I believed it was a problem of self control and not a function of the brain being hijacked. In addition to being heartbroken I also feel guilty I didn’t learn this earlier. I spent all my time reaching out to get help from AA and other programs with little to no support. Society should understand this disease much better instead of looking at these people as worthless drunks. Chris was a successful trial attorney for 43 years and a functioning alcoholic.

    Comment by Cindy Calhoun — March 29, 2023 @ 7:11 AM

  4. Thank you for this need to know article full of factual negative health effects of alcohol consumption. I have been a drinker some 40 years or more and have wrestled with stopping. I have an app to keep track of my drinking and sobriety. This article should now motivate me more than ever towards staying sober. Thanks again for this invaluable article.

    Comment by Captain Charles Galan — March 29, 2023 @ 7:27 AM

  5. How long does it take, after stopping drinking, to repair damage of all organs?

    Comment by Angie — March 29, 2023 @ 9:02 AM

  6. I think all this makes sense but what affects to occasional drinks do? Say if you have a drink or two 3 times a week? I think now everyone says wine is good for you and drink up but all in moderation seems best. Are the benefits of no alcohol better than some?

    Comment by Cate — March 29, 2023 @ 9:56 AM

  7. There must be some good, if small, in alcohol consumption. This article just seems too one-sided.

    Comment by Jim Starkovich — March 29, 2023 @ 10:05 AM

  8. Does this include beer?

    Comment by Donna Randolph — March 29, 2023 @ 12:31 PM

  9. Excellent information and warnings. So easy to abuse it all right now…

    Comment by sally shinn — March 29, 2023 @ 12:35 PM

  10. I too would like to know if abstinence will repair any damage caused by moderate drinking.

    Comment by Brenda — March 29, 2023 @ 3:51 PM

  11. You forgot FASD. Mothers who drink alcohol at any rate risk causing irrevocable damage to the fetus in the womb that is the reaL a child suffers permanent brain damage, developmental delay, damaged internal organs, physical deformities and gender confusion. Throw drug use into the mix and you have the possibility of creating even more damage to the child in the womb.

    Comment by Donald Lee — March 29, 2023 @ 4:17 PM

  12. Most people just don’t want to know about the consequences of alcohol.

    Comment by Debbie — March 29, 2023 @ 8:24 PM

  13. For Kerry-
    I’m so sorry to hear about your mother…:(.
    I am not a Dr., but it is very highly unlikely that a small glass of wine would cause a stroke, so pls don’t be angry about that! She most likely had vascular issues already. If she was worried about her heart, that would make sense. There just isn’t a mechanism for wine to cause stroke in small amounts like that.
    Again, so sorry for you. Be well.

    Comment by Rebecca — April 4, 2023 @ 8:54 AM


    Comment by MARY M. — April 5, 2023 @ 1:43 PM

  15. Excellent article and in response to the last comment made, most people do not know about Mindfulness Breathing, either!

    Comment by Martha McKenzie, LCSW — April 13, 2023 @ 9:40 AM

  16. To the commenters suggesting that the article is one-sided or that small amounts are "ok", all studies showing any sort of health benefit have been more or less disproven. Any health benefit from wine can be obtained through a pill or grape juice, without all of the negative implications above. If you choose to drink socially, that's your prerogative, just like speeding, but you do so at your own risk.

    Comment by Dave — July 17, 2023 @ 6:43 AM

  17. Thank you for the information regarding supplements and dopamine. It is also important to mention the 12 support programs. AA
    etc to also be included. AA has worked four more than 80 years. It is known to be very successful in helping those with addictions. I am in support of supplements, however, very important to include the 12 step program. AA provides and not discount it's success. Val
    35 years in AA

    Comment by Val — September 16, 2023 @ 11:00 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us