Alcohol Use and Older Adults

Frequently Asked Questions

6. What parts of the body does drinking affect most?

Alcohol has a wide impact on the body. Alcohol can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk for some cancers. Alcohol can be especially harmful to the liver, the organ that is primarily responsible for metabolizing (breaking down) alcohol and other harmful substances. People who drink heavily for a long time can develop diseases such as liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis) or severe liver scarring (cirrhosis). Alcohol-related liver disease can cause death.

Alcohol not broken down or cleared from the bloodstream by the liver goes to the rest of the body, including the brain. Alcohol can affect parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment, and memory. These effects lead to the familiar signs of drunkenness: difficulty walking, slurred speech, memory lapses, and impulsive behavior. Long-term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, which impairs thinking skills.