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Will Drinking Alcohol Give You Cancer?

It’s common knowledge that drinking comes with a set of negatives, such as waking up in the morning with a nasty hangover, alcohol poisoning, or risk of dependency. Unfortunately, the negative side effects of alcohol consumption don’t stop there. Alcohol consumption also increases one’s cancer risk.

Oftentimes, people reach for a drink when they’re feeling stressed or sad, or even when they want to loosen up a bit. While it may feel like it helps in the moment, the negative effects can start immediately after consumption, damaging one’s body in the long run.

Increase In Alcohol Sales And Cancer Cases

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of many. With lockdowns and work from home orders in place, many found that their stress levels skyrocketed. For that reason (and more), the US saw a drastic increase in alcohol sales between March 1st and April 18th of 2020. More people turned to alcohol when they felt stressed, anxious, or unsure of what the next days or weeks would bring.

Not only did this put more pressure on people in recovery, but many people developed new drinking problems during this time. One study showed that two thirds of adults stated their alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic.

The increase in mental health issues like depression and anxiety throughout the pandemic is likely partly to blame for this. On top of that, because people couldn’t leave their homes, many restaurants began developing new programs to help increase their profits. Curbside alcohol pickup and alcohol delivery were among these programs. This increased accessibility to alcohol was a large contributing factor in the increased sales and consumption rates.

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How Does Alcohol Consumption Raise Cancer Risk?

One study found that 7 out of 10 Americans were unaware about the link between drinking alcohol and cancer. No matter how much alcohol a person consumes, it increases their risk of 7 different types of cancer by up to 500%.

Researchers have found that there are many ways that alcohol increases one’s cancer risk, including the following:

  • Alcohol contains toxic chemicals, including ethanol. Ethanol can be difficult for your body to break down, and in doing so creates a compound that’s believed to cause cancer.
  • Ethanol also contains a carcinogen called acetaldehyde that can cause unrepairable damage to your DNA.
  • As alcohol is an irritant, it will also cause damage to your organs and tissues. When your body tries to repair itself, it may cause errors in your DNA that allow cancerous cells to grow.
  • Alcohol also increases the production of estrogen in women, fueling the growth of breast cancer.
  • Because alcohol is calorie dense, often between 100 and 500 calories depending on the drink, drinking excessively can lead to obesity. Being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of many different types of cancers.
  • Drinking alcohol makes it harder for your body to absorb important nutrients and vitamins. When you don’t get these key nutrients, your cancer risk may increase.

Types Of Cancer

In 2020 there were 741,300 new cancer cases that were linked to alcohol consumption at various levels. In total, 4.1% of all new cancer cases in 2020 were said to be caused by the consumption of alcohol. Most of these cases (about 75%) occurred in men.

Alcohol consumption puts you at risk for 7 different types of cancer, including:

  • Liver
  • Mouth, Throat, and Esophagus
  • Colon and Rectum
  • Breast

How Much Is Too Much: Identifying Your Cancer Risk

It’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to be drinking heavily every single day to decide they want to cut back. When it comes to a cancer risk, any amount of alcohol consumption increases one’s risk. However, the more alcohol a person consumes on a regular basis, the higher their risk will be.

46.7% of new cancer cases occurred in heavy drinkers, while 39.4% occurred in binge drinkers and 13.9% occurred in moderate drinkers.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as:

  • Drinking more than 4 drinks on any given day or more than 14 drinks per week for men, or
  • Drinking more than 3 drinks on any given day or more than 7 drinks per week for women.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than 5 drinks (men) or 4 drinks (women) in 2 hours or less. Moderate drinking is defined as drinking 2 drinks (men) or 1 drink (women) in one day.

Get The Help You Need

By quitting drinking, you can decrease your cancer risk and live a healthier life. Drinking is often used as a coping mechanism for stressful situations and mental health disorders. With healthy coping mechanisms, you can learn to live a happy life without relying on alcohol or other substances.

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