Alcohol may not cause cancer, but it probably does increase the carcinogenic effects of other substances, such as cigarette smoke. Daily drinking increases the risk for lung, gastric, pancreatic, colorectal, urinary tract, liver, brain cancers, and leukemia. About 75% of cancers of the esophagus and 50% of cancers of the mouth, and throat are attributed to alcoholism. Smoking combined with drinking enhances risks for most of these cancers dramatically. When women consume as little as one drink a day, they may increase their chances of breast cancer by as much as 30%.
Inside the body
In the liver, alcohol converts to an even more toxic substance, which can cause substantial damage. Not eating when drinking and consuming a variety of alcoholic beverages are also factors that increase the risk for liver damage. People with alcoholism are also at higher risk for hepatitis B and C, potentially chronic liver diseases than can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with alcoholism should be immunized against hepatitis B; they may need a higher-than-normal dose of the vaccine for it to be effective.
Alcohol has widespread effects on the brain. The use of alcohol, however, eventually produces depression and confusion. In chronic cases, alcoholism can lead to mental disturbances. Alcohol can also cause milder problems, including headaches. Except in severe cases, the damage is not permanent and abstinence nearly always leads to recovery of normal mental function. Alcohol may increase the risk for hemorrhage stroke, although it may protect against stroke caused by narrowed arteries. Alcohol plays a major role in more than half of all automobile accidents.
Alcohol also increases the risk of accidental injuries from many other causes. Drinking and driving is dangerous to yourself and others around you. Alcohol can also create hormonal effects. Domestic violence is a common consequence of alcohol abuse. For women, the most serious risk factor for injury from domestic violence may be a history of alcohol abuse in her male partner. Alcoholism in parents also increases the risk for violent behavior and abuse toward their children.