Adverse Effects of Alcohol

I’ve discussed frequently in these pages the potential benefits of judicious alcohol consumption on longevity, coronary artery disease, and dementia.

I have no intention of overselling the benefits of alcohol. If you are considering habitual alcohol as a food, be aware that the health benefits are still somewhat debatable. Consumption of three or more alcoholic drinks per day is clearly associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women. Even one or two drinks daily may slightly increase the risk. Folic acid supplementation might mitigate the risk. If you are a woman and breast cancer runs in your family, strongly consider abstinence. Be cautious if there are alcoholics in your family; you may have inherited the predisposition. If you take any medications or have chronic medical conditions, check with your personal physician first.

For those drinking above light to moderate levels, alcohol is clearly perilous. Higher dosages can cause hypertension, liver disease, heart failure, certain cancers, and other medical problems. And psychosocial problems. And legal problems. And death. Heavy drinkers have higher rates of violent and accidental death. Alcoholism is often fatal. You should not drink alcohol if you:

  • have a history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism
  • have liver or pancreas disease
  • are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • may have the need to operate dangerous equipment or machinery, such as an automobile, while under the influence of alcohol
  • have a demonstrated inability to limit yourself to acceptable intake levels
  • have personal prohibitions due to religious, ethical, or other reasons

Steve Parker, M.D.

References: Lieber, Charles S.  Alcohol and health: A drink a day won’t keep the doctor away.  Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 70 (2003): 945-953.