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How Alcohol Affects our Body

When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and intestines.

All blood from the stomach and intestines first go through your liver before circulating around the whole body. The highest concentration of alcohol is in the blood flowing through the liver. Therefore, if you drink alcohol faster than your liver can process it, the level of alcohol in your bloodstream rises and you become intoxicated.

The diagram below shows how alcohol affects different parts of the body:

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Thiamine is an important vitamin needed to help make new brain cells. 

People who are long term excess alcohol users and/or have a poor diet are at high risk of having low levels of Thiamine. Good sources of Thiamine are found in plant and animal foods such as yeast/beef extract e.g. Bovril or Marmite, cereals, potatoes with the skin on, bread, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, peas, kidney/baked beans, pork and fish. 

Symptoms of Thiamine deficiency are fatigue, irritability, drowsiness, poor concentration and memory problems. This can lead to a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. If untreated this can lead to permanent brain damage.

Coping with Cravings and Reducing Alcohol Intake

Alcohol Related Problems

It is known that the risks of mortality from liver disease, cancers, long term illnesses, accidents and injuries start from any level of drinking and there is no level of drinking that can be considered as completely safe.

Other problems related to alcohol:


Alcohol is estimated to be a factor in 20-30% of all accidents.

Driving and drinking

Any amount of alcohol will impair your ability to drive. If you have had a heavy night drinking, you may still be over the limit or unfit to drive the next day. Drink drive accidents account for 16% of all road deaths in Britain.


Around one in three fires are caused by people who are under the influence of alcohol. Two thirds of people who are admitted to hospital or die from burns have been drinking alcohol.


In 2013/14 53% of violent incidents involving adults were alcohol related.

Alcohol and Depression

There is evidence that alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain and this increases the risk of depression. 

Alcohol withdrawals

If you are physically dependent you are likely to experience a range of symptoms including: shaking, retching, sweating, seizures and Delirium Tremens (DTs). Unless you have completed treatment (alcohol detoxification) and have been advised that you are safe to abstain from alcohol, you SHOULD NOT suddenly stop drinking or drastically reduce your alcohol intake.

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are a medical emergency and you should seek urgent medical attention if you experience any of these.

Alcohol and medication

Many drugs and medications do not mix well with alcohol and some combinations could even be fatal. You should read the label carefully and if you are unsure, ask your doctor or a pharmacist.

Alcohol and Units

Units are a way of measuring how much alcohol you are drinking. Healthy liver cells can process and breakdown about one unit of alcohol per hour.

Unit guidelines are now the same for men and women. Both are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. but don't 'save up' your units, it is advised to spread units evenly across the week.

It is now known that the risks of mortality from liver disease, cancers, long term illnesses, accidents and injuries start from any level of drinking and there is no level of drinking that can be considered as completely safe. The risks increase with the amount being drunk, and the new guidelines are aimed at keeping the risks low.

Alcohol Booklets

For more information take a look at our booklets

Alcohol & Your liver: What you need to know


Alcohol: What you need to know

Examples of Unit Content of Typical Drinks

Type of drink




Number of units

Standard spirits


25ml, single pub measurement

1 unit




13 units

Cream Liqueurs



0.75 units




1.5 units




1.5 units

Beer, Lager, Cider


1 pint

2.5 units

Alcohol Care Team

Patients admitted/attending the BRI are asked about their alcohol use as part of their health checks. Every year more than 30,000 patients have their alcohol use screened in A&E.

The Alcohol Clinical Nurse Specialists and Specialist Alcohol Worker offer health education, advice and clinical support for adult patients. Patients who have attended hospital can be referred for follow up support in the Alcohol Review Clinic. 

The team has established pathways to community alcohol support services, including Lifeline Piccadilly Project, Horton Housing & Bradford Community Drug and Alcohol Team (BCDAT) and refer to these and other agencies to ensure patients and carers access the most appropriate support.

The team regularly supports local and national awareness campaigns and develops and distributes resources for health promotion.

Alcohol and Calories

Calories from alcohol are 'empty calories', they have no nutritional value. Here are a few examples of typical drinks and their calorie content:

Pint Bitter/Ale = 180-230

Pint 5% lager = 240-250 calories

Gin or Vodka and Tonic = 126 calories

Medium glass white wine (175ml) = 130 calories

Bottle of Red Wine = 510 calories

Pint Cider = 180-250 calories

Alcohol and The Liver

Your liver is the body's 'factory', carrying out hundreds of jobs that are vital for your body's functioning. 

Two thirds of the liver is made up of liver cells. When liver cells are damaged they can sometimes repair themselves. Each time alcohol passes through the liver some of the liver cells die. The liver is very good at recovery and can develop new cells. However, prolonged alcohol misuse can seriously damage your liver. With repeated damage your liver will become scarred and will not be able to repair itself.

Liver disease is caused by damage to the liver. This can develop over a short period of time, called acute liver disease, or over several years called chronic liver disease. Alcohol can cause significant liver damage without producing any signs or symptoms of liver disease. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to three types of liver conditions - fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis. Any or all of these conditions can occur at the same time in the same person.

Symptoms of Alcohol Related Liver Disease include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet due to a build-up of fluid (oedema)
  • Abdominal swelling due to a build-up of fluid (ascites)
  • A high temperature (fever) and shivering attacks
  • Itchy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Unusually curved fingertips and nails (clubbed fingers)
  • Blotchy red palms
  • Significant weight loss
  • Weakness and muscle wasting
  • Confusion and memory problems, problems sleeping (insomnia) and changes in your personality due to a build-up of toxins in the brain
  • Vomiting blood (haematemesis) and/or black, tarry stools due to internal bleeding
  • Blood clotting problems - symptoms include a tendency to bleed and bruise more easily, such as frequent nose bleeds and bleeding gums
  • Increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs because the liver cannot process them

Further Support and Advice

If you feel that you, a relative or friend needs help or support with any alcohol related problem you can get free confidential advice from any of the agencies listed below or see your GP.

Piccadilly Project, Lifeline Bradford

Tel: 01274 735775

Concerned Others

Tel: 01274 323888

Drinkline - National Alcohol Helpline

Tel: 0300 1231110

Project 6 (Airedale)

Tel: 01535 610180

NHS Choices




British Liver Trust