By Dr. Cory Couillard
Alcohol has been named the third greatest risk factor in the development of disease. It contributes to the development of many chronic-health conditions as well as short-term health conditions such as injuries, traffic accidents and suicide.
Alcohol’s intoxicating and dependence-producing properties play a role in violence, child neglect and abuse, shattered relationships and poor job performance. There is no other consumer product as widely available as alcohol that accounts for as much premature death and disability.
A number of studies have shown that alcohol increases the risk of depression. Nearly one-third of all people with major depression have an alcohol problem, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Depression may be a particularly significant trigger for alcohol use in women, who are more than twice as likely to start drinking heavily if they have a history of depression.
Alcohol is a leading cause of risky sexual behaviours such as unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners and produces an increased risk of sexual assault.
These behaviours often result in unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections such as human papilloma virus (HPV) and HIV in both men and women.
Alcohol and cancer
HPV is a significant threat and is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the third most common malignancy in women and it remains a leading cause of cancer-related death. Alcohol is also known to increase cancer of the liver, breast, colon, oesophagus, throat and mouth.
Studies have linked the risk of breast cancer to increase proportionally in relation to the amount of alcohol use in women. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the cancer risk. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.
Women more affected
Recent studies have shown that women who drink excessively are at an increased risk of damaging their heart muscles in comparison to men. The findings highlight that women are at greatest risk even if they had lower levels of consumption.
Excessive drinking also disrupts a female’s reproductive health. It can increase the risk of infertility and even more seriously, higher rates of miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deliveries.
Men are more likely to drink in larger quantities, but women commonly have smaller structures and breakdown alcohol slightly different than men. This will result in higher alcohol levels in the blood that ultimately will impact a female longer despite drinking an equal amount.
Heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure can develop from the harmful use of alcohol. Approximately 805 of all cardiovascular diseases are preventable through lifestyle-related factors. Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for poor dietary choices, inadequate physical activity levels and tobacco use.
Alcohol can cause irreversible scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. One of the main causes of cirrhosis is sustained excessive alcohol consumption. Cirrhosis is a progressive disease, developing slowly over many years, until eventually the liver fails.
Heavy female drinkers are more likely to develop symptoms versus men who consume the same amount. Individuals with cirrhosis have a much higher risk of developing liver cancer.
Men are equally at risk and often drink more, more regular, and experience higher rates of accidents and injuries. Traffic accidents are still the leading cause of alcohol-related death among young men.
The writer is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous publications worldwide. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. For comments, write to firstname.lastname@example.org