Which Muscles In Your Body Are Affected By Alcohol First

Understanding alcohol

Despite its health risks, alcohol plays an important role in society. It affects every single part of your body- from your brain to your liver, even your muscles. But are some muscles more susceptible to alcohol than others? Below, we will look at what alcohol does to your body, what muscles are affected, and the risks of consuming alcohol excessively. 

Benefits of drinking alcohol

In moderate amounts, alcohol can help reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce self-consciousness.¹ In people above 40 years of age, there is evidence of minor health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.¹ ² Going to the pub with friends boosts social engagement and builds community.³ However, drinking irresponsibly and to excess can cause health risks and have a negative effect on your quality of life. 

Side effects of alcohol in our body


Alcohol is measured in units or 10ml of pure spirit. In real-world terms, that equates to a single shot (25ml) as 1 unit, and a whole bottle of wine is 10 units.⁴The effects of alcohol increase the more you drink and vary according to your tolerance. Below is a list of how alcohol affects your body depending on how much you have drunk: 

  • 1-2 units- your heart rate will increase and your blood vessels will dilate
  • 4-6 units- this is when alcohol starts to affect your brain and other parts of your nervous system. You will feel lightheaded and have worse reaction times and coordination. Your decision-making and judgement skills are impaired and you may act recklessly 
  • 8-9 units- You will have slurred speech and blurred vision. Your liver, the organ which filters alcohol out of your body, will be unable to remove alcohol by the time you wake up in the morning, leading to a hangover
  • 10-12 units- You will be drowsy and your coordination will be so impaired you will be less in control of your actions. The level of alcohol in your blood is at risk of reaching toxic levels 
  • >12 units- You are at risk of developing alcohol poisoning, especially if your alcohol consumption has been over a short period of time⁵


Alcohol misuse for a long time can increase the risk of many problems, including: 

HeartHigh blood pressureIschaemic heart diseaseCardiomyopathyRhythm disorders
Mouth and oral cavityCancer of the mouth Oesophageal cancer
LiverFatty liverAlcoholic hepatitis Liver cirrhosis Liver cancerLiver failure
Gastrointestinal systemPeptic ulcers Bowel cancer
Brain StrokeMemory and thinking problems Dementia 
LungPneumoniaAcute respiratory distress syndrome 
PancreasPancreatitis Cancer
BoneReduced bone density 


Drinking too much alcohol can cause liver damage. Alcohol-related liver disease can range from having too much fat in your liver (steatosis, or fatty liver disease), to causing inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis) and permanent liver damage (liver cirrhosis). 


Heavy drinking causes your blood pressure and cholesterol to increase. These are both risk factors for heart disease, putting you at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and a stroke. 

Sexual dysfunction

Alcohol can have a negative effect on your sex life. It can cause impotence or premature ejaculation. It is also associated with infertility. 

Immune system 

Alcohol misuse is associated with weakening your immune system. This puts you at risk of developing infections, such as pneumonia and other chest infections.


There have been clear links established between heavy alcohol consumption and an increased risk of cancer. These include: 

  • Head and neck 
  • Oesophagus 
  • Breast 
  • Liver
  • Bowel⁵,

Which muscles in our body are affected by alcohol first?

Drinking alcohol excessively can affect our muscles. Alcohol disrupts how protein is made and utilised in the body, causing muscles to shrink and not work as efficiently. Those who drink heavily are at an increased risk of developing alcohol myopathy- a disorder of muscles due to excessive alcohol consumption.⁷

The first muscles affected by alcohol consumption are those controlling the eye. When you drink excessively, you may notice that your vision blurs, there are changes in the way you perceive colour, or your eyes may move in ways that are abnormal. This is mainly due to how alcohol acts on your brain; however, it can also weaken the muscles surrounding your eye.⁸

The muscles most often affected are what we refer to as the ‘proximal muscles’- muscles close to the midline. These include the muscles in your shoulder and pelvis. This affects how you stand and walk, making both activities more difficult. You may develop a myopathic gait, where your pelvis drops on either side during walking, producing a waddle.⁹ It can also affect the muscles in your arms and legs, but these symptoms are less noticeable. 

Acute alcohol intoxication can also affect our muscles indirectly. There can be muscle injury due to trauma, seizures, or derangement of normal metabolism due to alcohol poisoning. Lying for prolonged periods of time due to inebriation can lead to ischaemic myopathy, in which compression of the buttocks, leg, or shoulder muscle cuts off blood supply to that region.10

How long does alcohol affect our muscles?

There are 2 forms of alcoholic myopathy: acute and chronic. 

The acute form appears after a period of heavy or binge drinking. Often it is asymptomatic but can result in weakness, pain, and swelling of muscles. It resolves within a week or two after abstinence. In severe cases, rhabdomyolysis can occur - this is when the muscle breaks down and releases its content into the blood. This is a dangerous complication as it can lead to kidney failure.¹¹

Chronic alcoholic myopathy presents as weakness of muscles over several weeks to months and is much more common than the acute type. It presents with sore muscles, wasting, or twitching (myotonia).⁷ 


If you binge drink, the level of alcohol in your blood quickly becomes toxic. Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition and is the leading cause of poisoning among young adults. 

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slurred speech 
  • Changes in the level of consciousness- confusion, unresponsive, or even passing out 
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular, shallow breathing 
  • Pale or bluish skin 

Severe cases of alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, stopping breathing, or even a heart attack. Repeated vomiting can also cause you to become severely dehydrated, and form tears in your oesophagus that can cause bleeding, or you may even choke on your own vomit. 

Drinking too much alcohol puts you in a state of impaired judgement. This can lead you disregarding your health and personal safety. This can also lead to you being involved in accidents, participating in violent behaviour or having unprotected sex.¹² 

People who drink too much alcohol may become dependent on it. Alcohol abuse disorder is a medical condition used to describe people who cannot stop or control their alcohol consumption despite its negative effect on their lives. This includes the conditions described as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, all the way to alcohol addiction.¹³ 

For those living with alcohol dependence, simply stopping having alcoholic drinks can lead them to experience alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can include tremors, irritability, anxiety, and mild insomnia. The most severe withdrawal symptoms can lead to a condition called ‘Delirium Tremens’- disorientation, hallucination, raised heart rate and blood pressure.¹⁴

Tips to consider when drinking alcohol

Learning units about your drinks will help you keep a track of how much you are drinking. Here are a few tips:

  • Make a plan- set your alcohol limits before you go out. Try taking a fixed amount of money out with you to help cap your drinks 
  • Pace yourself- spread your drinks out across several hours. Try having soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink to help hydrate yourself
  • Order smaller drinks instead of large pints or glasses
  • Go for lower-strength beverages
  • Have something to eat before you start drinking. This will help line your stomach and cause alcohol to be absorbed slower into your bloodstream
  • If you often drink heavily, try having a few drink-free days per week¹⁵


Alcohol affects your whole body, including your muscles. Drinking to excess can lead to physical and mental health complications. If you notice changes in your muscles due to drinking, the best way to help yourself is to stop drinking. If you feel like you have trouble stopping, or feeling like you are experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, talk to your friends or get in touch with alcohol support groups. The NHS provides a directory of support groups nationwide and in your area.


  1. Baum-Baicker C. The psychological benefits of moderate alcohol consumption: a review of the literature. Drug Alcohol Depend. 1985 Aug;15(4):305–22.The Lancet: 
  2. Alcohol consumption carries significant health risks and no benefits for young people; some older adults may benefit from drinking a small amount of alcohol [Internet]. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: https://www.healthdata.org/news-release/lancet-alcohol-consumption-carries-significant-health-risks-and-no-benefits-young
  3. Dunbar RIM, Launay J, Wlodarski R, Robertson C, Pearce E, Carney J, et al. Functional Benefits of (Modest) Alcohol Consumption. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology. 2016 Dec 28;3(2):118–33.
  4. Website NHS. Alcohol units [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Oct 25]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/calculating-alcohol-units/
  5. Alcohol misuse - Risks [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Oct 25]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/
  6. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 25]. Available from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body
  7. Simon L, Jolley SE, Molina PE. Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Alcohol Res. 2017;38(2):207.
  8. Karimi S, Arabi A, Shahraki T. Alcohol and the Eye. J Ophthalmic Vis Res. 2021;16(2):260.
  9. Gait Abnormalities [Internet]. Stanford Medicine 25. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://stanfordmedicine25.stanford.edu/the25/gait.html#myopathic-gait
  10. [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 27]. Available from: https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/sites/default/files/12_0.pdf
  11. Singh S, Sharma A, Sharma S, Sud A, Wanchu A, Bambery P. Acute alcoholic myopathy, rhabdomyolysis and acute renal failure : a case report. Neurol India. 2000 Jan 1;48(1):84.
  12. Alcohol poisoning [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-poisoning/
  13. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 23]. Available from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
  14. Saitz R. Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):5.
  15. Website NHS. Tips on cutting down [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Oct 27]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/tips-on-cutting-down-alcohol/
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Lauren Young

Doctor of Medicine - MD, Medical University of Sofia, Bulgaria

Lauren is a newly qualified doctor, who recently returned to the UK to pursue a career as a GP. Her passions lie in public health, medical education and health advocacy. An avid reader, Lauren has found great joy in combining her love of medicine and the written word in writing health articles for Klarity.

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