Effects of alcohol on the mind and body

Alcohol produces certain physical and psychological effects. These may be acute effects or long term effects.

Acute Effects of Alcohol Use

Acute effects are produced after consuming large amounts of alcohol on an occasion. These are determined by certain factors:

  • Levels of use – whether alcohol is used socially (on social occasions, experimentation) or pathologically (dependence marked by craving, compulsion, withdrawal)
  • Pattern of use – quantity and frequency of alcohol use
  • Individual factors – genetic vulnerability, mental set, expectations
  • Social factors – peer pressure, social setting or ambience, shared values with groups


The acute psychological effects are

  • Drowsiness or feeling sleepy
  • Impaired attention
  • Impaired memory or inability to remember
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impulsive behavior – behaving without considering the consequences
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Aggressive behavior – hitting, becoming verbally abusive
  • Inappropriate social conduct
  • Impaired occupational performance – having difficulty performing work related tasks
  • Mood lability – frequent changes in mood
  • Stupor/coma or blackouts


Acute physical effects are

  • Flushed face
  • Rapid pulse
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Slurred speech
  • Motor in-coordination
  • Unsteady gait – inability to stand straight
  • Nystagmus – uncontrollable eye movements
  • Respiratory depression – inability to breathe


The level of alcohol in the blood determines the acute effects produced

Blood Alcohol Concentration (mg/dl)



Euphoria, feelings of relaxation and talking freely, clumsy movements of hands and legs, reduced alertness


Noisy, moody, impaired judgement, impaired driving ability


Blurred vision, unsteady gait, gross motor in-coordination, slurred speech, aggressive, quarrelsome, talking loudly


Inability to remember the experience, blackout




May lead to death


Long-term Effects of Alcohol

The long term effects of alcohol use follow frequent excessive drinking over a period of time. Alcohol may affect different organs of the body and lead to certain diseases. Some of the common long term effects include

  • Liver damage
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammation of pancreas
  • Sexual problems – impaired performance in men, risk of giving birth to deformed babies in women
  • Numb, tingling toes and fingers, trembling hands, painful nerves
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Stomach bleeding and inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting, malnutrition
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Cancer of throat, mouth, breast
  • Increased risk of pneumonia
  • Weakness of heart muscles, heart failure, anemia 
  • Premature ageing



Babor, T.F., and Higgins-Biddle. Brief Intervention for Hazardous  and Harmful Drinking: Manual for use in primary care. World Health Organization.

Lal R. Substance Use Disorders: A Manual for physicians. New Delhi: National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, 2005.