PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Alcohol: Your Brain and Body

So now we know that alcohol is a drug. But what exactly does it do to your body?

Short term effects

Right after someone has had a few drinks, alcohol can:

  • Make you feel sleepy, less coordinated, and slower to react to things
  • Cause your brain to feel foggy, and make you think and see differently

That's because alcohol is a type of drug known as a depressant that slows down your central nervous system.

You might see in movies or hear stories about people throwing up after drinking a lot of alcohol. That happens when a person drinks more alcohol at one time than his or her body can process, and because alcohol has toxins in it that make us feel sick (and usually, that sickness lasts until the next day, otherwise known as a "hangover"). Sometimes, if a person drinks alcohol while he's taking certain kinds of medication, he can have a bad reaction and get physically ill.

Over the long haul

Years of drinking too much alcohol can really hurt your body. For instance:

  • Stomach and intestine problems
  • Liver damage
  • Weight gain
  • Nerve and muscle damage
  • Heart problems
  • Brain damage. Alcohol is very bad for your brain, and can cause everything from blackouts to permanent loss of brain functions and memory.
  • Cancer. Long term drinking has been linked to cancer of the throat, mouth, liver, esophagus and larynx.

Drinking alcohol can also lead to emotional and psychological problems like sadness, depression, and even hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not real).

More negative effects of drinking

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. If a pregnant woman drinks too much alcohol, it can seriously hurt her unborn baby and lead to birth defects.

  • Alcohol poisoning. Drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time can cause coma and death.

  • Alcohol and driving. Drinking alcohol makes it unsafe to drive a car. Drinking and driving killed over 16,000 Americans in 2004, and almost half of all car crashes involve drunk drivers.

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