The relationship between humans and alcohol stretches back thousands of years and it’s an integral part of many societies’ social lives. However, we are aware that this relationship has never been a healthy one. The WHO European Region has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, in part driven by high consumption in the central and eastern parts of the region. Consequently, the alcohol-attributable disease burden is also high in this region. Liver disease is something that is commonly related to excessive amounts of drinking, leading to damage. There is no cure for liver disease, and if the damage is too severe, the liver may need to be replaced. However, if not too severe, liver disease can be treated by stopping damage and avoiding further complications. Often, too much alcohol can cause liver problems. Eventually, the liver will not be able to break the alcohol down anymore. Whilst this can seem serious, it can normally be fixed by just detoxing your liver to try and rejuvenate the organ. To know when your liver might need a detox, it could be worth reading some symptoms of detoxing liver to make sure that your liver will continue to perform correctly. However, it’s still important to consume alcohol safely, otherwise, you may be at risk of developing liver disease. Fortunately, with more and more medical research, treatments are being found to stop the advancement of liver disease; for example, CBD has been shown to prevent the progression of fibrosis, a major process in the progression of liver disease, as stated on The CBD Insider. Despite this, liver disease is just one problem associated with alcohol. Alcoholic drinks can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases and at least 7 different types of cancer.

Types of cancer caused by alcohol

There are seven types of cancer linked to alcohol – bowel, esophageal, larynx, mouth, pharynx, breast and liver. There’s also evidence that heavy drinking might be linked to pancreatic cancer.

There are many theories on how alcohol causes some types of cancer and not other types. The best evidence we have is for mouth and throat cancers where alcohol directly damages cells in these tissues. And, because alcohol also increases a person’s chances of developing scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis, it’s thought that this increases their chances of developing liver cancer. There’s also some evidence that certain bacteria in your mouth, throat, and bowel could be involved in alcohol causing cancer. If you feel like you could be at risk of any of these types of cancers then please book an appointment at an appropriate doctor like The Hills Gastroenterology for bowel cancer.

Alcohol increases a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer, but how and why this happens still isn’t fully understood. One theory is that drinking alcohol affects women’s hormone levels, increasing the amount of estrogen in the body, which is then used by breast cancer cells as fuel for growth.

The alcohol breakdown

Like most things you eat or drink, alcohol, be it in a beer, shot or cocktail, gets broken down by your cells.In the case of ethanol, it ultimately gets broken down to create energy.

First an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) converts ethanol to another molecule – acetaldehyde. This then gets broken down by a second enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase(ALDH), into acetate, which our cells can use as a source of energy.

Ethanol itself is relatively non-toxic other than the consequences of drunkenness. It doesn’t directly damage DNA. But as the body breaks it down, it goes through a step where it is converted to a highly reactive, toxic chemical called acetaldehyde. And it’s a build-up of this which likely causes changes that lead to cancer. DNA being affected in this way may lead to future consequences for any offspring that the person may have. This can be tested by a St Augustine DNA testing facility like health-street, or one closer to their area to see these results.

To prevent acetaldehyde building up and damaging DNA, human cells contain three ALDH enzymes – ALDH1A1, ALDH2, and ALDH1B1, which rapidly break down acetaldehyde into acetate. This means that acetaldehyde doesn’t usually have time to build up or hang around for long enough to cause significant DNA damage. But this protection mechanism can be overwhelmed once alcohol is in the bloodstream, meaning it doesn’t work properly.

What’s more, it isn’t available to everyone. Some people have mistakes or changes in the genetic code of their ALDH enzymes which cause them to malfunction, so acetaldehyde can build up. In turn, this leads to DNA damage.

Thankfully, our cells contain a further layer of protection, in the form of a variety of ‘toolkits’ that can repair damaged DNA. But both of these systems have their limits and if you overwhelm them, acetaldehyde can cause the damage and lead to cancer.


Behind all the mechanisms that cause cancer , one thing is clear.

The best way to reduce the risk of cancer from alcohol is to drink less, whether by having more alcohol-free days every week, by switching from alcohol to soft drinks during a night out, or by picking smaller servings.

We know that adults have the right to decide how much they want to drink, but the impact of alcohol on our health is undeniable. By working with our governments, policy-makers and healthcare professionals, we should raise awareness of the risks of alcohol and help people make informed choices that can reduce their cancer risk.


World Health Organization

Cancer Research UK