It’s often easy to forget that alcohol is toxic whether or not consumed regularly. Although alcohol is one of the most addictive substances available, it’s hardly considered as dangerous as drugs like heroin or fentanyl. But it is. Every year in the U.S., around 480,000 people die from tobacco-related causes, and 88,000 die from alcohol-related causes. Heroin and fentanyl? In 2018, a little more than 67,000 deaths occurred from an opioid overdose. The fact is alcohol is very much linked with higher mortality rates than other substances that make headlines. Below we’re reviewing a list of diseases caused by this all-too-common killer.
Debunking Alcohol Myths
The myth of a safe level of drinking is a powerful claim. It’s caused mixed consensus within the medical community and allowed the alcohol industry to use the strategy for heavily marketing a lethal product. Supporting evidence for the safety of moderate drinking remains by and large flawed. The idea that alcohol may not only be safe but even beneficial has resulted in many of us not thinking twice about knocking a few back. It’s good for the heart, we’ll say.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), binge drinking is more than four servings for females and five for males on one occasion, and it’s become the norm for many American families. In fact, the excessive drinking rate is around 18% nationwide. According to the CDC, excessive drinking among adults falls into one of two primary categories. The first is binge drinking and heavy drinking, defined as eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men.
Some of the scary features of drinking in excess include possible loss of memory, injuries, possible coma, stroke, alcohol poisoning, and an increased risk of alcohol addiction. Researchers who examine alcohol’s effects on the body and brain have continued to define the critical connections between drinking and disease. The list of diseases caused by alcohol continues to grow as new information is obtained.
The Process of Alcohol in the Body
Heavy drinking puts people at risk for many adverse health consequences, including alcoholism, liver damage, and various cancers.
How it’s broken down in the body may help explain how alcohol is linked to this long list of diseases. Two enzymes – alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) – break apart the alcohol molecule. ADH metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance, and a known carcinogen. Although acetaldehyde is short-lived, usually existing in the body for a short time before it’s further broken down, it has the potential of causing significant damage. It can be linked to:
- Disruption and injury to tissues in the pancreas and liver
- Damage cells and tissues in the brain
- Interruption of physiological functions like coordination, memory, and sleepiness
Regardless of how much a person consumes, the body can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol every hour. The amount varies widely among individuals and depends on various factors, including liver size and body mass.
Some people, NIH research shows, are at a greater risk than others for developing these problems. This may be due to genetic factors, such as variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol, plus environmental factors.
Researchers continue to investigate why some people drink more than others and why some develop serious health problems, including disease, because of their drinking.
Complete List of Diseases Caused by Alcohol
Alcohol is complex in that its effects are not only harmful to the body’s organs and disruptive to brain functions, but it is also a leading cause of accidental deaths across the country. Additionally, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), excessive alcohol consumption via binge drinking or heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of violent death and interpersonal violence like homicide, assault, domestic violence, rape, etc. Moreover, if you’re drinking to cure anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems, it may increase the chances of those mental disorders becoming worse.
The toxicity of alcohol is worsened because it has to be metabolized to acetaldehyde, an even more toxic substance in order for it to be cleared from the body. Acetaldehyde is known to cause damage at the cellular and genomic levels, according to Science Direct.
Here’s a complete list of diseases caused by alcohol use:
Likely the best-known impact of alcohol abuse on the body is long-term liver damage. Abstaining from alcohol can help the liver to repair itself if problematic drinking is addressed early on. For others, liver damage can be irreversible.
Alcohol is metabolized in the liver. As a primary pathway for the substance, the liver takes a massive hit from excessive drinking. Liver damage from alcohol use can vary in severity and includes:
- Fatty Liver Disease – Fat deposits increase the liver’s size causing symptoms of pain or discomfort.
- Alcoholic Hepatitis – Inflammation and cell death within the liver occur, causing fever, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, and jaundice.
- Alcoholic Cirrhosis – Severe scarring of the liver that can cause the same symptoms, plus:
- Large amounts of fluid buildup
- High blood pressure
- Bleeding in the body
- Confusion and changes in behavior
- Large spleen
- Liver failure
One of the most concerning points on the list of diseases caused by alcohol is the devastating ‘c’ word. Alcohol use accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% (about 20,000) of all cancer deaths in the US, according to the American Cancer Society.
In 2018, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services listed consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. According to the study on carcinogens, even light drinkers and binge drinkers are at an increased risk of developing cancer.
Recently, patterns in research have emerged between alcohol consumption and developing these types of cancers:
Head and Neck Cancers
Moderate drinkers are almost twice as likely to develop oral cavity (tongue, gums, cheek, mouth, etc.) and pharynx (throat) cancers. Additionally, moderate drinkers are at a 1.4-fold higher risk of larynx (voice box) cancers.
Any level of alcohol consumption can be associated with higher risks of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Even moderate drinking increases risk by1.3 times and is nearly five-fold for heavy drinkers. Additionally, individuals who may have inherited a deficiency in a specific enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
Unlike liver disease, as mentioned previously, liver cancer includes two types:
The first occurs most often in people with a diagnosed chronic liver disease like cirrhosis. Treatment can include surgery, liver transplant, chemotherapy, and more. The second type of cancer occurs more often in males and usually affects those between the ages of 50 and 70. Signs of this deadly type of cancer include jaundice, abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, weakness, and itching.
Overall, women who drink three alcoholic beverages per week have a 15% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Epidemiologic studies have consistently shown an increased risk of breast cancer among those consuming alcohol regularly. Light drinkers have an increased (1.04-fold higher) risk compared to nondrinkers. Heavy drinkings carry more risk (1.6-fold higher). Science shows that alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Alcohol also damages DNA cells.
Colorectal can involve the colon or the rectum. They are often grouped together as they have many features in common. The colon absorbs water and salt from food after it goes through the small intestine. The waste matter that’s left after going through the colon goes into the rectum, and the digestive system. Alcohol disrupts these natural processes.
Overall, alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
Some evidence shows that red wine is good for heart health. This small assertion is widely misleading because even moderate drinking can damage the heart. Not only does alcohol damage certain cardiovascular functions, but it can also contribute to obesity. Thus, the long list of diseases caused by alcohol can expand along with the list of conditions from obesity.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting, for example, raises blood pressure. Furthermore, repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.
Long-term alcohol abuse weakens and thins the heart muscle, affecting its ability to pub blood. Lack of blood flow disrupts all of the body’s major functions. It can contribute to:
- Enlarged heart
- Heart murmur from valve damage
- Congestion in the heart and lungs
- Swelling of the veins in the neck
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet
The list of diseases caused by alcohol in terms of cardiovascular conditions include:
- Coronary heart disease
- Peripheral Arterial Disease
Chronic alcohol ingestion impairs multiple critical cellular functions in the lung. These cellular impairments lead to increased susceptibility to serious complications from pre-existing lung diseases. Those suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at a higher risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and experience higher mortality rates from ARDS than non-alcoholics.
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, compared with moderate alcohol consumption, heavy consumption – or more than three drinks per day – is associated with up to a 43% chance of developing diabetes.
Alcohol impacts the liver in doing its job of regulating blood sugar. Research claims that drinking alcohol causes the liver to remove it from your blood instead of regulating blood sugar. For those with diabetes, alcohol can severely complicate the disease. The causal relationship between alcohol and diabetes is complex. A more appropriate statement is drinking alcohol can contribute to the condition that causes diabetes.
- Heavy drinking can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can trigger Type 2 diabetes.
- Diabetes is also a common side effect of chronic pancreatitis.
- Alcohol drinks also contain a lot of empty calories.
Alcohol is associated with poor eating habits, too, and a decrease in physical activity.
The pancreas’ function is to produce digestive enzymes that break down food and secrete insulin to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The toxic byproducts of alcohol damage pancreatic ducts and enzymes normally released into the digestive tract build up and begin to digest the pancreas itself. There are two types of pancreatitis:
- Acute Pancreatitis
- Chronic Pancreatitis
About one in three cases of acute pancreatitis in the US is caused by alcohol.
Among the list of diseases caused by alcohol, neurological disorders are not excluded. Drinking certainly has an impact on the body’s function, but what about the brain? The immediate effects on the brain – poor balance, slurred speech, and memory loss – are not just acute symptoms of being intoxicated. Chronic drinking can cause severe, lasting brain damage for some. These problems include:
- Epilepsy – some studies show that chronic abuse of alcohol is linked to the development of epilepsy. Alcohol use can change the way neurons and chemicals in the brain function. Additionally, extreme alcohol use can prompt a drop in a person’s blood sugar, which can trigger seizures.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy – this condition is linked to the liver. The decline in brain function is caused by the liver’s inability to remove toxins from the blood. The buildup of toxins can lead to brain damage. It affects everything from behavior, mood, speech, sleep, and physical functioning.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) – Lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine) is common in people who have AUD. Alcohol causes inflammation of the stomach lining, which reduces the body’s ability to absorb proper nutrients like thiamine. WKS is a brain condition that can cause amnesia, difficulty with cognitive functions, hallucinations, and confabulation.
Preventing Diseases Caused by Alcohol
Reviewing a list of diseases caused by alcohol can be alarming. With so many health risks at stake, it can make a person wonder why alcohol is still widely accepted and even viewed as casual or fun. As new research is uncovered, safety limits for alcohol consumption are adopted. The CDC has developed a comprehensive list that outlines differences between relatively safe and risky drinking habits. Still, the key to disease prevention lies in abstaining from alcohol altogether.
As a largely acceptable social activity and a way to cope with stress or potentially decrease acute symptoms of insomnia or anxiety, it can be difficult to avoid alcohol. Even drinking moderately can leave a person feeling unwell. Increased drinking is attributed to health effects like:
- Disrupt in sleep
- Digestive issues
- Memory problems
- Increase anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Fatal accidents
There are two recommendations provided that help certain individuals stop drinking or reduce alcohol consumption. Those two points include:
- Determine the actual rate of drinking – many people will overlook how much alcohol they consume in a day or a week. Tracking this may help to indicate if alcohol is, indeed, becoming problematic.
- Think about reasons for drinking – Plenty of people use alcohol to numb emotional pain or reduce stressful situations caused by poor mental health or trauma. Healthier alternatives to managing the reasons for consuming alcohol, the easier it is to cut back on drinking.
AspenRidge Can Help
Managing everyday stresses and anxieties can feel taxing. In addition, alcohol is a widely acceptable pastime. Despite its adverse effects, it continues to be one of the most heavily consumed substances in the US. Understanding the problems associated with drinking is one thing. Developing the tools needed to avoid alcohol or reduce consumption of beer, wine, or spirits it’s a different battle altogether.
Certified clinicians at AspenRidge can aid at any stage of recovery. Since alcohol abuse and dependency varies in severity, our treatment specialists are well versed in identifying spectrum use and providing guidance for overcoming alcohol use disorder (AUD) and other problematic drinking habits. Our different levels of care provide a comprehensive approach to addressing dangerous alcohol consumption and underlying mental health effects that may exacerbate the issue. Our programs include:
- Partial Hospitalization Day Program (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- Evening IOP
- Outpatient Program
- Online Treatment
Don’t wait. Early intervention can prevent many of the diseases found in this list. Contact us today directly at (719) 259-1107.