Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases
and other serious problems including:

• High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive
• Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, and colon and
possibly stomach, prostate, and pancreas
• Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor academic
• Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
• Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and
• Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism

Some people mistakenly think that certain types of alcoholic drinks are safer than
others. Although there may be other carcinogens in alcoholic beverages, evidence
suggests that alcohol (ethanol) is the most important carcinogen and that the risk of
cancer is related to the total amount of alcohol that is consumed over time, not the
type of drink.

How alcohol increases the risk of cancer is not fully understood. Since alcohol is a
poison that damages cells, it is theorized that the increased need to repair or replace
cells exposed to alcohol increases the replication of cells, and that could lead to cancer-
causing DNA mutations. Alcohol is especially toxic to those cells in the mouth
and throat that are exposed to the highest concentrations of alcohol. Drinking and
smoking together raises the risk of these cancers far more than the effects of either
drinking or smoking alone. Alcohol seems to help the carcinogens in tobacco invade
and damage the cells of the mouth, throat, and elsewhere in the digestive tract
and may also impair the ability of these cells to repair damage to their DNA.

Depending on the site of the cancer and the level of alcohol consumption, risk may
be slightly elevated, or an eight times greater risk for a cancer of the mouth and
oropharynx in heavy drinkers. About 20%-30% of deaths from cancers of the oral
cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus can be attributed to alcohol consumption.68
In the colon and rectum, bacteria can convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical
that has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Long-term, regular, and heavy
alcohol use has been linked to liver inflammation and scarring and an increased risk
of liver cancer—the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Even a
few drinks a week is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Drinking
less, or better yet, not drinking alcohol at all is probably an important way for
women to lower their risk of breast cancer. Alcohol can add extra calories to the
diet and contribute to becoming overweight or obese—a known risk for many types
of cancer.

To minimize the risk of developing cancer, it is best not to drink. For those who
do drink, the American Cancer Society’s recommendation is to limit intake to no
more than two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women. The 2020
Dietary Guideline’s Advisory Committee recommends that both men and women
limit drinks to one on days alcohol is consumed. A drink of alcohol is defined as 12
ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard

These daily limits do not mean it’s safe to drink larger amounts on fewer days of
the week since this can lead to accidents, and health, social, and other problems.
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by
pregnant women or people younger than age 21.

Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as

• For women, four or more drinks during a single occasion
• For men, five or more drinks during a single occasion
Heavy drinking is defined as consuming:
• For women, eight or more drinks per week
• For men, 15 or more drinks per week

Although alcohol use is associated with many types of cancer and other health risks,
its consumption is sometimes justified by the fact that low-to-moderate alcohol intake
has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but these benefits are not
unequivocally established. Lowering the risk of heart disease is not a compelling
reason to drink alcohol. There are much better ways to reduce heart disease risk, including avoiding
smoking, eating a whole-food plant-based diet low in saturated and trans-fats,
staying at a healthy weight, staying physically active, and controlling blood pressure
and LDL-Cholesterol. It is likely that an individual who adheres to this healthy
lifestyle will gain no cardiovascular benefit from alcohol consumption. And clearly,
heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel