Category Archives: Facts

Alcohol Causes 7 Types of Cancer

Bob and his work buddies head to Applebee’s on lunch. Everyone gets a beer. Bob drinks about half of it, finishes his food and heads back to the office. Later that evening, he has two Bud Lights while watching the big game. This is Bob’s average weekday, and over weekends, he might have a few glasses of wine.

Guess what? Bob is now at risk for at least seven types of cancer.

As if there weren’t enough health risks associated with alcohol use, a recent study has found ten more. In July, the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) found that alcohol consumption leads to seven different types of cancer, and possibly to three more. Every year in America alone there are 88,000 alcohol-caused deaths. The SSA study’s findings will sadly increase this already outrageous death toll from alcohol consumption.

Nearly 6% of worldwide cancer is attributable to alcohol, according to the study. Those at highest risk are those who abuse alcohol, and the risk increases with consumption. Regardless, this is big news, showing that drinkers like Bob are at much more health risk than previously thought.  Let’s discuss which cancers alcohol causes, how alcohol causes them, how to reduce your risk level, and why this is causing a stir among health experts.

The 7 (or Ten) Cancers Alcohol Causes

1. Liver Cancer

It’s well known that alcohol use causes liver damage. However, it may be lesser known that alcohol use can lead to liver cancer. The breakdown of alcohol inside of the liver causes damage to the liver cells. Essentially, inside the liver, broken-down alcohol is used as fuel for the body, as opposed to fat like usual. This leads to fatty liver disease. Continued alcohol use with fatty liver disease leads to alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. The last step is cirrhosis, when liver cells are replaced by scar tissue and blood flow slows down. This can lead to cancer and even death.

Drinking like Bob, (2.5 beers or 18 oz. of wine a day), results in a 1.5 times greater risk for liver cancer versus drinking less or not at all. As always, the more you drink, the more you put yourself at risk.

2. Colon Cancer

Alcohol consumption, whether excessive or long-term or both, causes what are known as adenomas in the colon. These are tiny and benign tumors, and are harmless at this stage. However, adenomas can develop into polyps, which are larger and can be pre-cancerous.

A 2001 study published by the British Medical Journal showed that “alcoholism was a risk factor for the development of high risk adenomas or colorectal cancer.” The authors of the study even went so far as to recommend that all alcoholics be screened for such health issues. Drinking like Bob results in a 1.5 times greater risk for colon cancer.

3. Rectal Cancer

This is basically the same as colon cancer. Instead of forming on the colonic walls, the cancer develops from benign growths in the rectum. An article published in 2011 in the Oxford Journals concluded that any more than one drink a day puts one at risk for rectal cancer. “Our results have shown that alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in risk for colorectal cancer, for intakes of >1 drink/day. Thus, public health recommendations for colorectal cancer prevention should consider limiting intake of alcoholic beverages,” wrote the authors.

Drinking like Bob results in a 1.21 times greater risk for rectal cancer, but having four or more drinks a day results in a 1.52 times greater risk. Only by consuming one or less alcoholic beverage daily can one be risk-free.

4. Breast Cancer

It’s not exactly common knowledge that alcohol use can lead to breast cancer. Yet the risks here are rather high. According to non-profit website Breastcancer.org, “Research consistently shows that drinking alcohol beverages… can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.” It only three drinks a week for a woman to have a 15% higher risk. If that woman is fifteen years old or younger, her risk is tripled.

Men who drink are also at risk. Cancer.org, a similar non-profit devoted to all types of cancer, states that men “have a higher rate of benign male breast growth (gynecomastia) and also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.” This happens by lowering the amount of androgens, or male hormones, in the body.

Drinking like Bob can result in a risk increase anywhere from 15-45% for women, and results in a 1.5 times greater risk for men.

5. Oropharyngeal Cancer

oropharyngeal cancer

As pictured above, the oropharynx is the middle of the throat. The back of the tongue, the tonsils, and the walls of the throat are part of it. Oropharyngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the oropharynx. Alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of this type of cancer, and the ratio of quantity to risk is frightening. Consider this…

A study published by the National Library of Medicine in 2011 showed that drinking like Bob results in a 1.75 times greater risk for oropharyngeal cancer. However, if you drink four or more a day, it results in a risk anywhere from 3.2 to 9.2 times greater. Plus, in order to become risk-free after having been at risk, one must go 10-15 years without any drinks, according to the study. On top of it all, the risk of oropharyngeal cancer from alcohol is the same for cigarette smokers as for non-smokers.

“The evidence for the human carcinogenic effects of alcohol drinking on the risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx has been considered sufficient,” wrote the authors.

6. Laryngeal Cancer

The two main risk factors for developing cancer of the larynx, otherwise known as the voice box? Tobacco and alcohol. Known as one of the more unpleasant cancers, as if any were pleasant, laryngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the larynx. This is located between your throat and esophagus. (See above picture for more detail.)

According to Oral Oncology, “Epidemiological studies consistently showed that alcohol drinking increases the risk of laryngeal cancer. This risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed…” Furthermore, concurrent tobacco use dramatically increases the risk. “Alcohol drinking may influence laryngeal cancer risk particularly through its direct contact or solvent action, perhaps by enhancing the effects of tobacco or other environmental carcinogens.”

Drinking like Bob increases the risk of laryngeal cancer by four to seven times.

7. Esophageal Cancer

Just as with laryngeal cancer, the two main risk factors here are tobacco and alcohol. It’s common sense, really. Any cancer associated with the mouth/throat probably derives from something carcinogenic being introduced regularly to that area of the body. If that something is alcohol, you increase your risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, the tube that leads to your stomach, (AKA the food pipe), by up to 7.65 times in heavy drinkers.

As stated in a 2008 National Library of Medicine study, “Alcohol was a potent risk factor with a clear dose-response relationship, particularly for esophageal squamous-cell cancer.”

Drinking like Bob results in a 4-7 times greater risk for esophageal cancer.

8. The Other Three Cancers

Remember the Society for the Study of Addiction study? According to Jennie Connor, one of its authors, alcohol may also lead to cancers of the skin, the prostate, and the pancreas. Not enough evidence was found to affirm this in writing, but Connor believes alcohol does indeed cause ten different forms of cancer. So how exactly does alcohol do this?

Acetaldehyde

A ‘carcinogen’ is anything capable of causing cancer in living things. Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning it causes cancer in human beings. When alcohol is broken down by the body, it is turned into acetaldehyde. “Most of the ethanol in the body is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which transforms ethanol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Regarding cancers of the liver, colon, rectum, breast, skin, prostate, and pancreas, it’s safe to say acetaldehyde is the main culprit. Regarding the mouth and/or throat cancers, the answer is fairly obvious. Alcoholic beverages pass through these regions with every sip, and the breakdown process begins in the mouth. Science does not have every single detail figured out, but on average, drinking ANY amount of alcohol increases risk of cancer anywhere from 10 to 15 percent.

How to Avoid Risk

Frankly, there is no other way to avoid being at risk for cancer than to simply not drink. According to Jennie Connor, the so-called ‘benefits’ of light to moderate drinking are “…irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers.” Connor goes on to say that there is literally no safe level of drinking when it comes to risk of cancer.

The SSA researchers note in their conclusion that many studies have proven alcohol to have cardiovascular benefits, especially red wine. However, according to the authors, “…a high level of skepticism regarding these findings is now warranted.” That being said, drinking lightly, which is one drink or less per day, places you at minimal risk for developing any of these ten cancers. Also, simply knowing these risks exist can help. The problem is we don’t know they exist.

As said by Jana Witt of Cancer Research UK, “We know that nine in 10 people aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, and this review [the SSA study] is a stark reminder that there’s strong evidence linking the two.” This means millions of people are at risk. Bob is at risk. Are you? Perhaps you are not, since last year, for the first time in fifteen years, the world drank less than usual.

Drinking Rates are Down?

According to a Newser article published this year, “…global alcohol consumption fell by 0.7% in 2015. It’s the first time people are drinking less alcohol since Euromonitor started tracking that stat in 2001—and likely even before that.” Although experts believe the decrease is due to a slumping economy, facts are facts. Still, the authors of the SSA study estimated that half a million Americans (and therefore many more worldwide) may have cancer as a result of alcohol consumption.

You Can Still Have a Beer

All of this doesn’t mean you can’t have a few drinks responsibly now and again. There is a thick line between alcohol abuse and enjoying alcohol maturely. What all of this does mean is to be more careful and aware of your drinking habits, especially if you drink like our friend Bob or more often. Let’s be honest. Chances are most people will not hear about the results of this study. Chances are nine out of ten people will remain in the dark about this eye-opening information.

Some are trying to raise awareness. According to Newser, “Health experts are calling for warning labels on booze, like those on tobacco products…” Currently there are warning labels on most alcoholic beverage containers, but they are in tiny print and off to the side. The push is for them to be clearer and perhaps now to include the fact that alcohol consumption can be carcinogenic.

If you are a drinker, consume alcohol safely. Don’t let alcohol consume you. If you or someone you love is caught in an alcohol addiction, please, seek help immediately.

Six Alcohol Poisoning Deaths Daily in US

Forget about the thousands of deaths caused by drunken driving accidents. Forget about the discomfort and pain of delirium tremens, Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis, hepatitis, or fatty liver disease. Forget about the children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which can be fatal in the worst cases. As terrible as these outcomes of alcohol abuse are, remember this: Alcohol is killing six Americans every day from alcohol poisoning, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year.

Also, somewhat strangely, the overwhelming majority of alcohol poisoning deaths are occurring in adults aged 35 to 64. Even stranger, 7 out of every 10 people who die this way are NON-ADDICTS. This goes to prove how dangerous the substance alcohol is, let alone the risky behavior it causes and its addictive nature.

We as a nation are combating an alcohol (and drug) epidemic. In this article, the CDC report is summarized, as well as what alcohol poisoning actually is and how it can happen to anyone. The recent Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, the first of its kind, is a major step along the way to reducing, eliminating, and eventually preventing unsafe alcohol (and drug) abuse.

The Facts

The CDC found there to be 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths every year in the US, which averages out to 6.02 people per day. An overwhelming 75% of these deaths involve 35 to 64 year old adults. Those between 45 and 54 showed the highest alcohol poisoning death rate. This came as a shock to the researchers.

Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the CDC, told US News in their article on the findings, “The majority of these deaths are not among college students, whom we typically associate with binge drinking. We were surprised.”  This goes to show that American adults are not only dealing with severe alcohol issues, they are not getting the help they need.

“Obviously we still have serious alcohol addictions around people in middle age that are unaddressed or untreated,” commented University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry Dr. Antoine Douaihy to US News. Obviously he’s right. Not only is that so, but due to recent changes in how alcohol poisoning deaths are calculated, government health officials believe the death rate to be higher than 6 a day.

In an effort to increase the overall health of Americans, the government issued Dietary Guidelines in 2010. According to the section regarding alcohol, “low risk” drinking is defined as “no more than 14 drinks a week for men and 7 drinks a week for women with no more than 4 drinks on any given day for men and 3 drinks a day for women.” Essentially, this is two drink daily for males and one drink daily for females.

Why Adults?

Apparently ignoring the guidelines, over 38 million American adults binge drink four times a month. During these binges, an average of eight drinks is consumed. In contrast, underage binge drinking (and drinking in general) is at its lowest since 1975, as found by the National Institutes of Health. Right now, fewer 15-24 year olds die from alcohol poisoning than those over 65. The consensus is that a combination of anti-alcohol efforts and programs, peer disapproval of alcohol, and difficulty to acquire all contribute to the decline in underage drinking. This graph from the CDC shows how alcohol use is lowest among schoolchildren and highest among the middle-aged:

alcohol-poisoning-deaths

David Jernigan directs the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to Jernigan, another reason adults are three times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning is actually pretty simple. Younger people can tolerate higher amounts of alcohol, as they haven’t lived long enough to develop long-term physical issues. Plus they stay awake longer. The fact that alcohol poisoning deaths are lowest among young adults and highest among middle-aged adults proves this.

Common sense tells us there is a wide age range regarding drunk driving. A sixteen year old is just as likely as a 60 year old to crash a vehicle if intoxicated. There is also a wide age range regarding alcoholism, research shows. Someone can become alcohol-dependent at virtually any age. So, the fact that alcohol poisoning occurs mainly in middle-aged adults is a concern.

“When people think about alcohol, they tend to think about two problems: addiction and drinking and driving. This [the CDC report] shows there is another big problem – you can die from alcohol itself,” said Jernigan. So what exactly is alcohol poisoning?

Poisoned by Booze

Alcohol poisoning is medically defined as “a condition in which a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time. The affected individual may become extremely disoriented, unresponsive, or unconscious, with shallow breathing.” However, there truly is no clear-cut definition of alcohol poisoning, because alcohol is a poison.

Online news source Gizmodo interviewed an emergency room doctor about alcohol poisoning. (Because the doctor wished to remain anonymous, she is referred to in the article as Doctor L.) She explained how alcohol poisoning actually occurs with every single drink. The doctor said, “‘Alcohol poisoning’ is a layman’s term. Alcohol intoxication is a spectrum and there isn’t a specific threshold that one crosses and suddenly becomes poisoned.”

Every case is individual. All people respond to alcohol uniquely, and therefore no terms exist to define levels of alcohol poisoning. Obviously though, some cases are worse than others. Doctor L explained what an emergency room staff would do for a mild case of alcohol poisoning, and then for a severe case.

In a Mild Case

The doctor explained how mild alcohol poisoning is accompanied by dehydration, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure in some cases. Therefore, other than hooking an IV up to the patient, mostly the medical staff simply observes. “Often it is just a matter of watching the patient until he/she recovers. Intravenous fluids are often administered to help hydrate the patient…” said Doctor L. Victims of alcohol poisoning suffer from severe dehydration because alcohol is a diuretic, a substance which increases urination. Also, vomiting rids the body of water, furthering this dehydration.

A mild case of alcohol poisoning is no laughing matter. The term ‘mild’ is only being used here in comparison to a severe case, which can be fatal. The difference between a mild case and a severe case can literally be a drink or two. This is because someone can continue to drink even once diagnosable alcohol poisoning has set in.

In a Severe Case

Again, there are no clear levels of alcohol poisoning. However, with more severe cases of alcohol poisoning, victims are usually unconscious, unresponsive, vomiting, or any combination of the three. In severe cases, Doctor L said to Gizmodo, “the goal is to maintain adequate breathing and circulation until the body (mainly the liver) metabolizes the alcohol. It (alcohol) depresses the respiratory drive and may result in inadequate oxygen levels and/or excess carbon dioxide levels.” Patients are usually oxygenated.

Worse yet, alcohol causes failure of the gag reflex, greatly increasing the likelihood of choking to death on vomit. Preventing this used to be done by stomach pumping, but it has since been realized that pumping a stomach is more harmful than helpful. Nowadays, “a different, smaller tube is inserted through the mouth or nose, then threaded through the esophagus and into the stomach. The tube is placed on suction, which decompresses the stomach and greatly reduces the risk of vomiting,” said the doctor.

In any case, alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening. It is altogether dangerous, and a medical emergency in every case. A study performed two years ago by the CDC and multiple state health departments revealed that between 2006 and 2010, “9.8% of all deaths in the United States… were attributable to excessive drinking, and 69% of all AAD [alcohol-attributable deaths] involved working-age adults.” Furthermore, the study showed that in just those five years, a total of 2,560,290 years of life were taken away by excessive alcohol use. This is measured in YPLL, or years of potential life lost.

Not only is alcohol killing us, it’s giving us shorter lives.

What We’re Doing About It

In the recent CDC report regarding alcohol poisoning, (linked again here), three suggestions are given to both individual states and communities. Summarized, they are:

  1. Support alcohol awareness and prevention programs. The stronger the alcohol policy, the less binge drinking per state.
  2. Partner with law enforcement, medical personnel, health care providers, the addiction recovery community, etc. to help reduce excessive drinking
  3. “Monitor the role of alcohol in injuries and deaths.”

While practicing safe drinking is a strong recommendation, it’s rather apparent that Americans do not drink safely. Therefore, in addition to alcohol awareness and education, there needs to be a focus on treating those who already have alcohol issues.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 was enacted in order to increase the number of Americans with health insurance, and to keep the insurance at a reasonable cost. The act included a list of ten “essential health benefits.” In a beautiful stroke of luck for addicts seeking help, substance abuse disorders are one of them. Since January 1, 2014, “all health insurance sold on Health Insurance Exchanges or provided by Medicaid to certain newly eligible adults… must include services for substance use disorders,” according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

While this was an essential step to be taken, the year 2014 had the most fatal drug and alcohol overdoses ever recorded in American history. In a well thought out response to this, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made history recently by releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health (linked again here). In it, Murthy explains how two major things need to happen. The public image of addicts needs to shift from one of negativity to one of care and concern. Also, the healthcare system needs to incorporate drug and alcohol screening into routine medical visits for all patients.

The Surgeon General’s Report (and why we should all be screened)

surgeon-general-murthyMurthy believes the first step is for addicts to be treated like people with a disease, as opposed to like a criminal or an outcast. After all, addiction is indeed a disease of the brain. Once the societal outlook on addiction is similar to the outlook on any other disease, Murthy believes the next step is to integrate screening for substance abuse disorders into all doctor visits. Consider this section taken from the report itself, as there is simply no better way to phrase the screening argument:

Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms, and these problems have been addressed primarily through the criminal justice system. Our health care system has not given the same level of attention to substance use disorders as it has to other health concerns that affect similar numbers of people.

It is known that most people with substance use disorders do not seek treatment on their own, many because they do not believe they need it or they are not ready for it, and others because they are not aware that treatment exists or how to access it. But individuals with substance use disorders often do access the health care system for other reasons, including acute health problems like illness, injury, or overdose, as well as chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease, or depression. Thus, screening for substance misuse and substance use disorders in diverse health care settings is the first step to identifying substance use problems and engaging patients in the appropriate level of care.”

In Conclusion

89% of drug/alcohol addicts receive zero treatment in their lives. The reasons for this are many, but seemingly screening for addiction routinely, in combination with addiction treatment being covered by insurance, would end the addiction crisis in America. One can only hope that these changes are made, and that they are effective.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol puts a toll on nearly every vital organ in your body. Regardless to if you have one single drink or have been heavily drinking for years, alcohol can take a serious toll on your health. See all the effects of alcohol on the body.

Common Effects of Alcohol on the Body

People under the influence of alcohol often experience a decrease in coordination, perception, and peripheral vision, which can make it difficult to walk in a straight line or drive a car, boat, or other vehicle. Impaired judgment is also a short-term effect of drinking that diminishes one’s ability to operate a vehicle or certain types of machinery. Impaired judgment may also cause people to make decisions that could prove dangerous to themselves or others. For example, a person with impaired judgment may engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, use drugs, commit a crime, or otherwise do reckless things that they wouldn’t normally attempt.

When it comes to the effects of alcohol on the body, some of the common short-term effects of alcohol include headaches, an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing. Additional short-term effects include dizziness, slurred speech, lapses in memory, anemia, and unconsciousness.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause some long-term health effects. These are often serious conditions that can threaten a person’s life. These negative health effects impact major organs in the body, including the heart, brain, liver, and pancreas.

Heart

For example, long-term effects of alcohol use impacts the cardiovascular system, as it causes high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (which is known as cardiac arrhythmia), heart failure, cardiomyopathy, and stroke.

Brain

The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain may include feelings of confusion and changes to one’s mood, including depression and anxiety. Memory loss may also be a side-effect of long-term or excessive alcohol use.

Liver

Excessive amounts of alcohol in the body can be more than the liver is able to handle, causing damage to its cells. This may result in alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver disease, or
alcoholic cirrhosis. The earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease is alcoholic fatty liver disease, and it may or may not be characterized by weakness, fatigue, or discomfort. With abstinence from alcohol, this condition may be reversible in some people. The most severe of the alcohol-related liver diseases is alcoholic cirrhosis. This disease is not reversible; however, further damage may be limited if the individual stops drinking.

Pancreas

Acute alcoholic pancreatitis is yet another long-term negative effect of alcohol on the body. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that is not reversible, and it can result in further problems such as malabsorption, jaundice, diabetes, and pseudocyst formation. Additionally, it is also a condition that can be life-threatening. It is important that people diagnosed with this condition cease drinking alcohol to prevent further damage. Frequent excessive drinking over a period of time can also make a person more susceptible to some forms of cancer, such as mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast cancers.

Immune System

Heavy alcohol abuse also weakens the immune system, making your body a prime target for disease and making it harder to fight it off. It is not uncommon for chronic drinkers to develop pneumonia and tuberculosis, more so than someone who does not drink alcohol. Alcohol effects the immune system so harshly that even drinking one time can make you more vulnerable to infections, taking up to 24 hours for the immune system to bounce back.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of alcohol on the body, don’t hesitate to make a change. Many long term effects of alcohol abuse can be curbed before they happen if you seek help now. If you’re experiencing the effects of alcohol, please call a doctor immediately to seek medical attention.