Most people know that abusing alcohol can sometimes lead to liver disease and/or liver failure. Even more are aware that alcoholism is often viewed as a disease, rather than just a bad habit. Many, however, are unaware that alcohol can have various negative effects on the body—and a person doesn’t always need to drink excessively to suffer these side effects.

For instance, alcohol is a well-known dehydrating substance, which is why hangovers make you so thirsty (and why your body is in the mood to binge after a hard night out). Dehydration can lead to headaches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. In some cases, particularly when the person is still under the influence and not making sound decisions, it can even lead to excessive re-hydrating that can be deadly. Sometimes it doesn’t take much chugging of water to cause accidental drowning.

Here are five little-known facts about how alcohol affects the body:

1. Get ready for more nightmares

Everyone has “sleep homeostasis,” which is basically the process involved in taking charge of your body while you sleep. A lot of people drink to help them sleep or report blackout nights where they don’t even remember crashing into bed (or a couch, floor, or just about any other surface). Although alcohol is a somongen (sleep helper), it can actually slow down your REM cycle during sleep. This is a critical portion of restful sleep because an inhibited REM cycle will not provide all the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

2. You get “swole” (and not in the good way)

Have you ever noticed that you feel puffy and bloated after drinking? Maybe your rings are too tight or you have serious bags under your eyes. It’s not all in your head because alcohol makes your sodium levels skyrocket. It’s even worse if you indulge in cocktails with high sodium levels (think margaritas with salted rims). Alcohol also retards that hormone that keeps your urine in check. You go to the bathroom more when you drink, get dehydrated, and blood vessels enlarge—especially in the face. Swollen ankles and a bigger belly are all temporary side effects of drinking.

3. Panic attacks are likelier

Just like nightmares, another potential stressor after a night of drinking is panic attacks. The risk is even higher if you already have an anxiety disorder. As alcohol leaves the body, that sugar rush (whether you have drinks mixed or not) plummet, causing your blood sugar to quickly lower. Your body is working overtime to ditch the booze, which inflames pretty much your entire system. Inflammation can cause mood shifts and chemical spikes that wreak havoc on the nervous system.

4. Wet brain becomes a serious concern

Wet brain is a colloquial term for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a minor type of brain damage—but it’s still brain damage. It happens when your body lacks vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. If you drink in excess, your body can’t absorb thiamine. In turn, the brain’s white matter is killed and blood glucose spikes. All of this leads to feeling like you’re mentally not “all there.” Hallucinations, memory loss, and coordination issues ensue. If you’ve heard that alcohol kills brain cells, well, it’s true.

5. You get paranoid

You might think there are all different types of drunks, from happy to violent, but everyone suffers one similar trait: We start to think what other people are doing is more intentional than normal. Your inhibitions might be lowered, but you also can’t consider all possible motivations behind someone’s actions. It’s more likely that you’ll assume someone did something rude to you on purpose because you can’t fathom other possibilities. As you can imagine, this can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and even serious relationship problems. Researchers have published findings in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and found that (no surprise here) alcohol can play a big role in social issues.

Alcohol is a complex substance that may cause different reactions in different people. Bear in mind that it’s a highly addictive substance that’s also readily available, which can make it especially dangerous. Knowing all the potential side effects, including the strange ones, can help you make a more informed decision about your drinking habits.

Article provided by Trevor McDonald