When people drink alcohol, it travels through the body in their bloodstream. Alcohol reaches every organ and distributes throughout the water in our bodies. Organs such as the brain, which contain a lot of water and need an ample blood supply to work, are particularly affected by alcohol. Other organs, including the liver, the heart, the pancreas, and the kidneys, are also affected by alcohol within minutes after it enters the bloodstream.
Now let’s look at how alcohol affects four body systems: Digestive, Central Nervous, Circulatory, and Endocrine.
Click the system names to view each one on the image and to get a description of each system.
- Digestive System
- The digestive system consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Alcohol avoids the normal digestive process and goes right into the bloodstream. About 20 percent of the alcohol consumed is absorbed in the stomach, and about 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine.
- Central Nervous System
- The CNS includes the brain and the spinal cord, and when the nervous system is working smoothly, it is amazingly efficient. But alcohol is a depressant of the CNS, meaning it slows activity down. The degree to which brain activity slows down depends on how much, and how fast, a person drinks.
- Circulatory System
- The circulatory system includes the heart; a system of vessels called arteries, veins, and capillaries; and blood. Studies in adults have shown that a glass of alcohol each day can help heart function. But large amounts of alcohol can affect how the heart works; if the heart isn’t pumping blood throughout the body effectively, other organs may suffer from lack of oxygen or nutrients.
- Endocrine System
- The endocrine system helps regulate growth, signals the beginning of puberty, and is involved with metabolism, tissue function, and moods by sending chemical signals called hormones from glands in the brain. Alcohol can impair both the functions of the glands that release hormones and the tissues to which they are being sent.
- All Systems
- All the body systems are now displayed in the image on the left.