It is well known that long-term alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on the human body; however, recent studies also prove that alcohol abuse can damage the body on a more short-term basis. Does a career of alcohol abuse actually raise the risk of cancer?
First, we are going to distinguish the classifications of alcohol consumption from abuse.
According to the federal government’s Dietary Survey for Americans 2010, (and us alcoholics as well) there is a difference in styles of drinkers. For example, a moderate drinking career averages one drink a day for women, and two for men. This is considered the norm for the country, and everything over that is constituted as heavy drinking and alcoholism. According to the census, over 14 drinks per week is heavy drinking for both men and women.
How Prevalent Are Alcohol-Related Cancers?
According to the National Toxicology Department of the U.S. government, an estimated 3.5% of all cancer deaths are alcohol-related cancers. Alcohol has been designated as a human carcinogen, in other words, a cancer-causing agent in humans. According to the study, the more a person drinks over an extended period of time, the higher their risk of cancer increases.
What Types of Cancer Are We Talking Here?
Primarily, the cancers usually occur in the areas of the body where alcohol is either broken down or fats are stored. For example:
- Liver cancer: obviously as alcohol is broken down and processed in the liver, this organ would be one of the most affected by a heavy drinking career. When this particular organ isn’t working properly, it is no longer able to break down and metabolize the substances that are ingested. A damaged liver inhibits energy production, cleansing of the blood, and reduced secretion of bile.
- Breast cancer: According to a recent study performed in the UK, out of 28,000 women with breast cancer, it was concluded that those who drank 10 grams (.35 ounces) of alcohol per day were 12% more likely to develop breast cancer. Hundreds of studies have been performed on the relation between alcohol consumption and breast cancer, and all studies have yielded similar results. The danger of breast cancer lies, not only in its high numbers statistically in the world but in its ability to re-metastasize even after being successfully removed.
- Esophageal: Especially when associated with cigarette and cigar smoking, the risk of esophageal cancer increases by over 9% in heavy alcohol drinkers, according to a study performed in 2008. Although alcohol abuse correlates more specifically to the squamous cell esophageal cancers, which are specific cells located in the esophagus, the occurrence of this type of cancer when compared to drinkers vs. non is alarming.
- Head and neck: Most commonly in the mouth, throat, and larynx, and again, increased by tobacco smoking, people who consume at least three drinks a day are two to three times more likely to develop these types of cancers than those who do not drink heavily. This area is specifically harmful due to its close proximity to the brain and the potential surgeries that the infected must go through for removal, commonly resulting in the loss of vocal chords and the larynx.
- Colon: in over 57 studies on alcohol consumption and colorectal cancers, data showed that people who drink three or more drinks per day are almost 2% more likely to develop colorectal cancers. Whereas people who drink even 10 grams of alcohol (one drink) per day have a 70% increase over those who are non-drinkers or light drinkers. Colon cancers are considered extremely dangerous due to their high mortality rates and the pain that is associated with the disease.
All numbers and data aside, it is plain to see that heavy drinking damages the body, as any of us who have had any sort of drinking career can attest. Besides the long-term damage, think about what happens short-term to the body.
Have you ever woken up with a hangover from hell? Dehydration, headache, nausea, indigestion, and most likely diarrhea are only a few of the most common side effects. Not to mention, whatever embarrassing things that our lowered inhibitions got us into the night before.
Alcohol is a blood thinner and can damage blood cells, hence, red noses and cheeks, inflamed skin, and dry, brittle scalp. Being a woman, I have a very specific beauty routine to try to prevent acne and keep my hair nice, and I don’t need anything else causing breakouts! Also, and very obviously, alcohol causes weight gain. The sugars in alcohol trick the body into thinking that it is getting nutrients, when in reality; they end up being digested into ethanol and can sit around in the body and stick to fat cells.
Regardless of the short- and long-term effects, can we all agree that alcohol may not be the healthiest thing for the body? Obviously, for normal people out there who can have a glass of wine on the weekends, it won’t be the end of the world, but for an alcoholic like me, it’s an entirely different story. I can never have just one. I won’t ever be one of those normal people; I won’t ever be satisfied with having a glass of wine or two, but more like a bottle or two. In a world where pretty much everything can give us cancer, I take comfort in knowing that at least I can be proactive and protect myself from alcohol-induced cancers.
Getting Help At Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer a 90-day inpatient rehab with relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.