Alcohol & Illness


It has been made clear from a large number of studies that there is a link between the consumption of alcohol and cancer. One in five of all alcohol-related deaths are linked to cancer. This makes it the second largest cause of deaths due to the use of alcohol, after intentional and unintentional injuries. Liver and bowel cancer are heavily associated with the use of alcohol but it has also been found that there is an increased risk of breast and mouth cancers.

Breast Cancer

According to a large British survey even moderate drinking of alcohol can increase the chance of developing breast cancer. It was found that overall women have a 9.5% chance of developing breast cancer the age of 75, and that this increased to 10.6% for those who drank alcohol every day, even if it was only a small amount.

Liver Cancer

Alcohol is a major risk factor when it comes to liver cancer as heavy drinking can cause cirrhosis of the liver – this is where damage to the liver causes scar tissue to build up.

Mouth and Oesophageal (Gullet) Cancer

Followed by tobacco, alcohol is one of the leading causes of mouth cancer. Smoking and drinking at the same time will increase the risk even more. Moderate smokers and drinkers could also increase their risk of oesophageal cancer by 12 to 19 times.

Heart Disease

There have been many findings to suggest that red wine can protect against heart disease. This is because red wine contains plant chemicals called procyanidins which help protect the heart. However this is only if you are consuming low levels of alcohol. If you’re drinking large amounts you will find the effects of alcohol may not be so beneficial. Drinking heavily over an extended period of time has been linked with a growing weakness of the heart muscle. This is known as cardiomyopathy, and means that the heart cannot pump
as efficiently.

Binge drinking increases the chance of developing coronary heart disease which is the most common form of heart disease. According to the Department of Health, men almost double their chances of developing coronary heart disease by drinking more than 8 units of alcohol a day. Women have been found to increase their risk 1.3 times when they drink more than 6 units a day.

Excessive drinking can also cause heart problems including:

  • Holiday Heart Syndrome – This is caused by binge drinking or a period of heavy alcohol usage. It causes an irregular rhythm of the heart, shortness of breath and changes in blood pressure. It also increases the risk of a heart attack and in some cases can mean sudden death. This condition can even affect those considered as healthy.
  • Thrombosis (Blood clotting) – alcohol increases a substance in the blood called homocysteine which can lead to blood vessel blockage.
  • Enlargement of the heart – The heart is unable to pump effectively. This condition requires treatment, a pacemaker or even a heart transplant. Enlargement of the heart is also known as heart failure and it is not curable.

Liver Disease

The liver is a very tough and resilient organ. It is capable of enduring high levels of damage that would destroy other organs. The liver is also able to regenerate itself: however, despite this resilience, extended alcohol misuse can damage the liver.

Every time you drink alcohol, your liver filters it from your blood. However, during process some of the liver cells are killed. Even though the liver can regenerate new cells, if you drink heavily for many years it will lose its ability to regenerate, causing serious damage.

There are THREE main stages of liver disease:

  • Fatty Liver – Fatty liver disease is the first stage of liver disease. Heavy consumption of alcohol, even if only for a few days can lead to a build-up of fatty acids in the liver. Fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms but it is an important warning sign that you are drinking at a level that are harmful to your health. Fatty Liver disease is reversible. If you stop drinking alcohol for two weeks, your liver should return to normal.
  • Hepatitis – Extended misuse of alcohol over many years can cause the tissues of the liver to become inflamed. This is known as hepatitis. Hepatitis is usually reversible, but may very well require you to stop drinking for several months or years.
  • Cirrhosis – Cirrhosis is a condition where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). The damage caused by cirrhosis is not reversible. In mild to moderate cases, if you stop drinking alcohol
    immediately any further damage could be prevented and hopefully lead to the gradual recovery of liver function. In more severe cases, a liver transplant may be required


The pancreas is a gland that produces digestive enzymes such as insulin and glucagon which control blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and the cells become
damaged. Pancreatitis comes in two types known as acute and chronic. These conditions are mainly brought about by excessive drinking.

One in five cases of acute pancreatitis can prove to be severe, as other organs can be damaged by pancreatic enzymes if they get into the bloodstream during an attack. This can lead to kidney or respiratory
failure which can be fatal. Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas is constantly inflamed. Eight out of ten cases of chronic pancreatitis are due to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a period of ten years. If your condition is due to heavy drinking and you continue to drink you may reduce your life span by 10-20 years.

If you stop drinking as soon as you find out about your condition you greatly improve your chances of controlling it. However, there are still many issues that can occur:

  • Diabetes – Around one in three people with chronic pancreatitis develop diabetes, because the damaged pancreas cannot make insulin.
  • Pseudocysts – These cysts develop because pancreatic fluid starts to collect when a pancreatic duct is blocked. Around a quarter of people with chronic pancreatitis get a pseudocyst at some time. If they do not go away with time they can be drained or removed.
  • Pancreatic Cancer – People with chronic pancreatitis have a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer.