Effects of alcohol on liver and brain function

Alcohol and liver function

Drinking excess alcohol can damage the liver, the organ responsible for processing and breaking down alcohol.

The liver can regenerate its cells, but long-term alcohol abuse causes serious damage. This occurs in the following sequence.

  1. The patient begins by feeling sick, experiences weight loss and loss of appetite. There is a yellowing of the eyes, confusion, drowsiness and vomiting blood.
  2. Alcohol causes lipids to build up in the liver which is called fatty liver disease.
  3. Alcohol damage leads to alcoholic hepatitis, which can lead to death.
  4. Cirrhosis of the liver can develop - the liver becomes scarred and loses its ability to function.
  5. The changes are now irreversible and the reduced ability to process alcohol can also lead to brain damage.

Alcohol and brain function

Alcohol affects the brain in several ways, it:

  • slows reaction time
  • causes difficulty walking
  • can impair memory
  • causes slurred speech
  • causes changes in sleep patterns and mood, including increased anxiety and depression.

Longer term drinking of excess alcohol:

  • causes brain shrinkage
  • leads to memory problems
  • leads to psychiatric problems
  • may result in the patient requiring long-term care.

Human and financial costs of alcoholism

Alcoholism has impacts on social and economic aspects:

  • there is increased violence, antisocial behaviour and other crime associated with alcoholism
  • there is an increased risk of accidents
  • there is increased absence from work
  • alcoholism increases the likelihood of relationship break-up
  • alcoholism causes mental decline
  • alcoholism increases treatment costs to NHS