Alcohol consumption is extremely common. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 69.5 percent of American adults indicate that they consume alcohol within a given year. While consuming alcohol in moderation, defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, is generally not problematic, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and other long-term health problems.

Unfortunately, about a quarter of American adults state that they binge drink within a given month, and 6.3 percent of adults in the U.S. are heavy drinkers. Binge drinking is typically defined as more than four drinks in a sitting for men and more than three drinks in a sitting for women, and binge drinking five or more times each month is indicative of heavy alcohol use.

People may think that binge drinking is acceptable and even safe, especially since it is so common, but the reality is that this pattern of alcohol consumption is linked to the development of an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an addiction. Beyond this, people who use alcohol heavily are at risk of serious health problems, such as those discussed below.

Alcohol and the Liver

Since the liver does the majority of the work metabolizing alcohol, it is no surprise that heavy alcohol use can lead to liver damage. About half of all deaths from cirrhosis of the liver are due to alcohol use, and among younger people, alcohol is responsible for about three-fourths of deaths from cirrhosis. People who abuse alcohol are at increased risk of liver problems, and nearly one-third of liver transplants in the United States occur due to alcohol-related liver diseases.

Alcohol-Related Cancers

Beyond liver disease, which can be fatal, alcohol can contribute to the development of cancer. Research has found that the following cancers are linked to alcohol misuse:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Cancer of the oral cavity
  • Liver cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Cancer of the larynx and pharynx
  • Breast cancer in women

Other Alcohol-Related Health Problems

Alcohol addiction is probably most often associated with liver disease and cancer, but these aren’t the only health problems that can arise from alcohol misuse. Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to numerous other medical conditions, including stroke and stomach bleeding. Furthermore, while people often argue that alcohol is beneficial for the heart, the reality is that heavy alcohol use is rather damaging and increases the risk of heart disease.

Alcohol can also have a negative effect on mental health, as alcohol abuse is linked to depression and sleep problems. According to research in Addiction Biology, alcohol abuse negatively affects cognitive functioning and can lead to problems with memory, attention, and motor skills. Additionally, alcohol can worsen chronic health conditions like diabetes, pain, and high blood pressure, adding an additional layer of stress to the lives of those who live with alcohol addiction.

Chronic, heavy alcohol abuse can also lead to thiamine deficiency, which is linked to a number of severe health complications. For instance, thiamine deficiency can lead to heart failure, sudden death, and permanent brain damage. Some patients who are deficient in thiamine will develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes significant memory problems, and in some cases, psychosis.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol use, and even heavy drinking, are rather common in the United States, but this does not mean that alcohol is harmless. Moderate drinking may be appropriate for some individuals, but for those with a history of alcohol abuse or genetic risk factors for addiction, moderate drinking can pave the way for alcohol abuse and addiction. Heavy drinking can lead to a variety of health problems, including cancer, liver disease, heart disease, brain damage, stroke, and stomach bleeding, as well as mental health problems like depression and memory impairment.

If you or a loved one is living with alcohol addiction, it is important to receive treatment to reduce the risk of health-related complications that come from heavy alcohol consumption. The reality is that alcohol abuse damages every system in the body, but treatment can help you to overcome alcohol addiction and improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Reach out to today to begin confidential, convenient alcohol addiction treatment in a 100% online format.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this page should not take the place of advice from a qualified medical professional. If you have concerns about the way that alcohol has affected your health, it is critical that you reach out to your primary care doctor. Most of the information on this webpage has come from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, unless otherwise noted.