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What happens if you drink alcohol often?

If you drink alcohol often, especially in large amounts, it can have many impacts on your body and your brain. The effects of alcohol can range from mild to severe depending on how much you drink and how long you have been regularly using alcohol.

Alcohol can have effects on most parts of the body. It can affect your immune system, meaning that you are more likely to develop viral or bacterial infections. Alcohol has many effects on your heart – regular drinking can contribute to developing high blood pressure and a variety of heart diseases. Long-term use of alcohol has also been linked to developing oral, lung, pancreas, colon, breast and many other cancers. The liver is one of the most significantly affected parts of the body. Long-term alcohol use can cause alcoholic liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis as well as liver cancer.

Alcohol can affect your brain and your mental health just as much as it can your physical health. Long-term use of alcohol can cause problems sleeping, it can affect your ability to remember and to learn new things (in severe cases, this is called Korsakoff's syndrome) and can damage the parts of the brain that are responsible for balance and coordination. Long-term use of alcohol can cause mood disorders like depression, anxiety and, in severe cases, psychosis. Some of the effects of alcohol on the brain may get better when someone stops drinking, but others can cause permanent damage.

There is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol use while pregnant. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have impacts on the baby such as a low birthweight, they are more likely to be premature and they may have physical and mental developmental problems (called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder). Alcohol may also affect the baby when being breastfed as it can reduce milk supply, and some of the alcohol can be passed on through the milk. If you choose to drink, wait at least 2 hours for each standard drink before breastfeeding your baby.

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