Alcohol consumption, especially in frequent and/or large amounts, has long been known to negatively affect drinkers in a variety of ways. Alcohol significantly contributes to social and economic concerns – it causes the weakening of relationships, lack of productivity at work, and costs that are detrimental to the community. Alcohol is also the third leading cause of preventable death. An average of six people die every day due to alcohol poisoning in the United States. Other fatal effects of alcohol use include traffic accidents, injuries, interpersonal violence and even suicide. In addition, there are commonly known health risks from long-term alcohol abuse, such as cirrhosis, liver damage, heart disease and stomach bleeding. However, alcohol consumption also poses a lesser-known threat: cancer.
More and more research is proving that alcohol consumption increases the risk of at least seven different cancers. A new publication by a scientific journal, Addiction, covers years of research data from around the world and reports that drinking alcohol can cause the following types of cancer: throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and female breast. There is even strong evidence that other cancers could be caused by alcohol as well. The publication states that, according to current estimates, “alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide.” This actually makes alcohol use one of the main risk factors for cancer, along with tobacco use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.
How Does Alcohol Increase the Risk of Cancer?
There are different ways in which alcohol affects the human body that increase the risk of cancer, and they may vary. Here are some ways in which alcohol can cause cancer:
- Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients whose low levels are associated with cancer risk, such as folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and more.
- The human body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that not only damages DNA, but also prevents our cells from repairing the damage inflicted.
- Some carcinogenic contaminants added during fermentation may be found in alcoholic drinks.
- Drinking raises the levels of estrogen in blood, which is linked to the risk of developing female breast cancer because of estrogen’s importance in the growth of breast tissue. In fact, the increased risk of female breast cancer seems to be one of the cancers most affected by alcohol consumption. A study conducted in the UK concluded that in women, for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day, there was a 12 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Should Only Heavy Drinkers Be Worried?
You might think the risk of cancer from alcohol is only a concern for heavy drinkers, but that’s not the case. Although the risks are higher for those who consume alcohol regularly or drink large amounts, all drinkers are advised to cut down on their intake.
Studies show that even light to moderate drinking increases the risk for cancer, so there is no entirely “safe” alcohol limit when it comes to cancer risk. It is also important to note that all types of alcoholic drinks are linked to the increased risk of cancer, regardless of whether they are in the form of beer, wine or spirits. The amount of alcohol consumed over time is the main factor in the increase of cancer risk, not the type of beverage.
Those who smoke should especially consider reducing their alcohol intake, because alcohol and tobacco have been proven to work together to harm the cells in our bodies. Alcohol, for example, makes it easier for the carcinogenic chemicals in cigarettes to be absorbed into the mouth and throat. The use of both of these drugs combined presents a much greater risk for cancer than the use of either one by itself–a study conducted in 2012 found that drinkers who also smoked cigarettes were 3 times as likely to develop cancer as drinkers who did not smoke.
What Can We Do?
The answer is simple: reduce your alcohol intake. Scientists have found that over time, the alcohol-related risk of cancer decreases in people who quit drinking. As a factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, alcohol consumption is a dangerous habit that is very much worth kicking. Quitting or limiting your alcohol consumption will not only reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases, but also benefit you in numerous other ways.
Here are just some of the other benefits of being alcohol-free:
- Better sleep
- Increased concentration, productivity and work performance
- Lower levels of cholesterol and glucose
- Improved complexion
- Less empty calories consumed
- More money saved
The negative effects of alcohol are undeniable. Whether it is by dividing families, posing a financial burden, causing traffic accidents or bringing about disease, alcohol consumption has the potential to destroy and end lives. Quitting alcohol isn’t always easy, but it is possible, even for those who suffer from alcoholism.
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