Alcohol is one of the most used substances in the country, and one of the deadliest. It is important to learn more about the dangers and health risks associated with overindulging in alcohol. Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the United States and, according to the National Institutes of Health, leads to the death of 88,000 Americans annually. One of the most common problems associated with over drinking is cancer.
Excessive alcohol use leads to the development of a number of different types of cancers. Based on data from 2009, it is estimated that 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the United States were alcohol related.
Types of Alcohol-Related Cancers
There is clear evidence that the use of alcohol leads to the development of multiple types of cancer. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists alcohol as one of the known human carcinogens in a report.
Head and Neck Cancer
Oral and throat cancers are more prevalent in drinkers than non-drinkers. Specifically, moderate drinkers have a 1.8-fold higher risk of developing these types of cancers than those who don’t drink. For heavy drinkers, it is even higher, as they are five times as likely as developing these types of cancer. Similarly, the risk is even higher if the person uses tobacco as well.
Alcohol abuse is also associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Similar to oral and throat cancers, those who use alcohol moderately have a slightly higher risk of developing this type of cancer, but heavy drinkers are five times as likely to develop it.
Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among alcohol users. In fact, those who drink are two times as likely to develop this type of cancer as nondrinkers.
Studies have shown clear evidence that there is an increased risk of breast cancer in those who drink alcohol compared with non-drinkers. Heavy drinkers specifically are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption leads to a 20 to 50 percent increase in the risks of cancers of colon and rectum compared with no alcohol use at all.
There is mounting evidence that alcohol consumption is linked to a number of other cancers and that it is associated with increased risks of melanoma and prostate and pancreatic cancers.
Why Alcohol Increases Cancer Risk
There are a number of hypothesized reasons that alcohol use leads to an increase in the risk of different types of cancers, however, the exact risk isn’t completely understood. One hypothesis is that when the body breaks down ethanol, it turns it into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical, and probable carcinogen, the substance can damage both the DNA and proteins in the body. Similarly, cells that are damaged by alcohol may try and repair themselves, but this can lead to DNA changes and can be a step toward cancer.
While there is no proven way to avoid cancer completely, there are steps that you can take to help lower your risk of alcohol-related cancer.
For one, you can work to limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages. For men, this means limiting yourself to no more than one or two drinks per day, and for women drinking no more than one drink per day.
Moreover, avoiding binge drinking or drinking heavily can help to reduce your risk of alcohol-related cancer as the risk of cancer increases with the more alcohol that you drink. However, even light drinking can lead to an increased risk of developing some type of cancer. Reducing binge drinking will also help with a number of other physical health problems.
There is much evidence that shows the combination of alcohol and tobacco leads to a much greater risk of developing oral and throat cancers than just using one or the other. The problem becomes much worse if tobacco and alcohol are used together.
Getting Alcohol Treatment
Recognizing that you or your loved one has a drinking problem is just the first step. For most, getting sober is not an easy process and it is a lifelong struggle. Luckily, there are many treatment options across the country that can help those with alcohol use disorder. Going through an alcohol treatment program can be frightening, especially if you don’t know exactly what to expect. But the more you learn about what treatment can offer the more comfortable you will likely feel about the situation.
Drug and alcohol treatment centers are there to help patients safely detox and to educate patients on the details of addiction and how to prevent relapse following discharge from a facility.
When it comes to getting treatment, detoxification is one of the most important steps in achieving sobriety, especially for those dealing with alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use can lead to dangerous, even life-threatening withdrawals if not handled properly. There are a number of worrisome symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, including:
- Auditory and visual disturbances
- Vomiting and more
A treatment center will likely provide medically supervised detoxification for new patients. Detoxification can last somewhere between a couple of days to a week. During detoxification, patients will overcome the symptoms and problems associated with withdrawals and newfound sobriety. This will allow the patients to deal with hard physical problems before they begin behavioral treatment.
After detoxification, patients will be exposed to group and one-on-one therapy sessions to help them learn more about the details and processes of addiction. Some styles of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, will be used to help patients identify triggers that could lead to a relapse. Following inpatient treatment, patients will likely be given a discharge plan and pointed toward an outpatient facility to help them continue their treatment while getting adjusted back to normal life.
Treatment centers are there to help. They’re there to be a part of the solution and save as many people as possible.
About The Author
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, drug and alcohol rehab centers in Indiana. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for the Boston Consulting Group before he realized his true passion lies within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.