Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility How alcohol affects your health – Help With Drinking

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How alcohol affects your health

As health research advances, we’re learning more about how alcohol affects the human body—regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or lifestyle.

Studies show that there really is no amount of alcohol that’s good for your health. And it doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol you drink either. Whether it’s beer, wine, cider or spirits, consuming alcohol can be damaging to your health.

Alcohol affects every body system

Many people drink alcohol because it’s seen as normal in our society, and it’s regularly used as part of celebrations and social events. According to Statistics Canada, about three-quarters of people living in Canada drink alcohol. However, it can cause harm—not only to the person drinking, but also to the people around them.

Let’s look at how alcohol affects different parts of the body.


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  • Alcohol affects how you feel, behave, think, and move.
  • It slows down brain activity and can make it hard for your brain to send signals to your body.
  • Too much alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, brain damage, and memory problems.


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  • Your liver helps get rid of toxins in your body.
  • It can only process the alcohol in one drink in an hour.
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol over time can harm your liver.
  • Over a long period of time, you may end up with permanent liver damage (also known as cirrhosis) and liver failure.


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  • Drinking too much can make it harder for your heart to pump blood, which can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk of heart problems.
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time can greatly increase your risk of having a stroke.


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  • Your pancreas helps control your blood sugar levels.
  • Drinking a little bit of alcohol doesn’t usually harm your pancreas.
  • If you drink a lot of alcohol over time, it can cause problems like swelling of the pancreas (known as pancreatitis).
  • If not treated, pancreatitis can turn into pancreatic cancer, an aggressive and deadly kind of cancer.

Research shows that if you have 3 standard alcoholic drinks every week, you are a little more likely to get cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. Drinking 7 or more standard drinks a week increases your chances of getting these illnesses. The more you drink, the higher the risk.

For more information

If you want to learn more about the latest Canadian guidelines for what is considered “low-risk” drinking and the research behind those guidelines, visit Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health or read Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report. The report is written for health care professionals, scientists and policymakers, but you might also find it interesting.

download report

Social and economic influences on health

There are many factors that can affect our health in positive and negative ways, including some that are out of our control. These social, economic and environmental factors are known as “social determinants of health”.


Some examples of social determinants of health include:

  • Race 

  • Gender

  • Where you grew up

  • Where you live now

  • Whether you have stable housing or not

  • Access to education 

  • Access to health care

  • Access to nutritious food


Your childhood experiences, your access to community, and whether you have a support network of family or friends can also make a big difference in your health. The same goes for any mental health conditions you might have, like depression or anxiety, and any other substance use problems you are facing.


All of these factors can make it harder for you to be healthy and stay in good health. They can also increase your risk of developing a problem with alcohol or drugs.


The reasons behind our choices and actions are complicated, often going beyond the simple idea of “good” or “bad” decisions. For example, research shows that Canadians with higher incomes are often healthier than those with lower incomes, not because they always make “good” choices, but because they have advantages like easier access to health care and education, access to nutritious food within walking distance, safer living conditions, and so on.


Learn more about the social determinants of health from this Government of Canada website.

What to expect when you stop drinking

Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink has many benefits. Once you stop drinking, your body immediately begins to get rid of the alcohol. It takes about 6 to 72 hours for all the alcohol to completely leave your system. 


This timeline highlights the positive changes that happen in your body when you stop drinking alcohol, as well as when you can expect some of the challenges from quitting or cutting down to pass.  


The more that you drink per day and the more days that you drink, the more likely you are to go through alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking suddenly. If you think this applies to you, it’s important that you talk to a health care provider before you quit drinking.

You can find more information about how to get help to stop or reduce your drinking safely here:

reduce drinking safely

Day 1

The first 12–24 hours after you stop drinking


  • You may feel good and in control of your life.
  • The carbs in alcohol affect your blood sugar levels—now they go back to normal.

If you were consuming more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • Alcohol withdrawal could start now.

Day 2

24–48 hours after you stop drinking


  • Hangover starts to wear off.

If you were consuming more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • The most severe withdrawal symptoms start now, between 24 to 48 hours after your last drink.

Day 3

48–72 hours after you stop drinking


  • Hangover side-effects are completely gone.
  • You have more time and a sharper mind.

If you were consuming more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • Withdrawal symptoms stop or start to improve (usually stop within 3–5 days).
  • In rare cases, a severe withdrawal symptom called “delirium tremens (DTs)” may start. DTs can be deadly, so it’s important to contact a health care provider if your withdrawal symptoms get worse.

Day 4

72–96 hours after you stop drinking


If you were consuming more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • You feel more hydrated and less tired.

Day 7

1 week after you stop drinking


  • Your quality of sleep improves.
  • You may find that you stay hydrated longer than when you were drinking. Being more hydrated is good for your mouth and skin.
  • Skin conditions that were triggered by alcohol and dehydration—like rosacea, dandruff or eczema—start to improve.
  • You may notice that you’re saving money.

If you used to drink more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • Short-term withdrawal symptoms are completely gone.

1–2 weeks after you stop drinking

  • Your sleep patterns, hydration and skin health keep improving.
  • Your skin looks dewier and more youthful.
  • You should no longer have heartburn.
  • By the end of week 2, you may start to lose weight. You also have more energy for exercise.

If you used to drink more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • You may experience long-term withdrawal symptoms, so it’s important to contact a medical professional if you’re still experiencing symptoms like anxiety.

3–4 weeks after you stop drinking

  • You have lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • Your kidney health may improve.
  • Your vision may improve.


If you used to drink more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • Your blood pressure may come down to normal levels.

1 month after you stop drinking

  • Your liver is better able to help your body detox.

  • Your liver fat may decrease by up to 20%, reducing your risk of fatty liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

  • Skin conditions that were triggered by alcohol—like eczema, hives, psoriasis or itchy skin—should completely clear up.

  • Once you’re able to stop drinking alcohol for 1 month, you’re more likely to be able to stay alcohol free for 6 months.

3 months after you stop drinking

Your risk of cancer is reduced. Alcohol is a known carcinogen that contributes to these types of cancer:

  • Mouth
  • Throat (pharynx and larynx)
  • Esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach)
  • Breast
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Rectum

If you used to drink more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • You will usually feel more energy and a sense of well-being at the 3-month mark.

1 year after you stop drinking

  • The dopamine levels in your brain are rebalanced, meaning you have less feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and more feelings of joy.
  • Your relationships have likely improved.
  • The people around you may have noticed your healthier skin, improved energy and better mood.
  • Your immune function has improved.
  • Your risk of cancer, heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease has dropped dramatically.
  • Your productivity at work has improved.
  • You’re saving a significant amount of money because you’re no longer buying alcohol.

If you used to drink more than 1 drink every day or were binge drinking:

  • You’ll no longer experience long-term withdrawal symptoms.

I keep people in my life that are positive influences and [I] removed those that were toxic. My relationships are vastly superior to before. I am someone that can be counted on and trusted, able to help and able to listen.

Heather, person in recovery from alcohol use disorder