Alcohol-related health conditions

The relationship between alcohol use and some health conditions is complex.

For example, drinking a small amount of alcohol may be beneficial in preventing heart disease in older adults but drinking a lot of alcohol can also damage the heart. For other health conditions, alcohol is the single cause of the condition, such as alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, FASD and alcohol-induced pancreatitis. For many other health conditions, alcohol is one cause, amongst others, of the condition eg, cancers and pneumonia.9 Overall, alcohol is a cause of more 60 different health conditions and, for almost all conditions, heavier alcohol use means higher risk of disease or injury.9,27

Chronic alcohol use - Potential complications

For some people, alcohol is a regular or occasional drink enjoyed at social occasions that causes no apparent harm. However, even moderate alcohol use carries some risks, as alcohol causes breast cancer even at low doses, can damage the developing fetus before a woman even knows she is pregnant and can lead to addiction and dependence in any individual.

When drunk regularly over time and/or drunk in a pattern of heavy single drinking sessions, alcohol can cause a variety of health conditions. These include cancers and other conditions such as alcoholic liver disease, which can range from reversible to permanent liver damage due to alcohol. The risks of alcohol-related cancers and other health conditions caused by alcohol are greatest in those who are dependent on alcohol or drink heavily, and the risks increase with the average amount of alcohol drunk. The table below lists some of the conditions and complications of chronic and/or heavy episodic alcohol use.9

Potential conditions and complications of chronic and/or heavy episodic alcohol use by body part affected

Body part affected

Complication/condition

Mouth

Cancer of mouth, voicebox and throat

Stomach and food pipe

Cancer of food pipe (oesophagus)

Chronic gastritis

Intestines

Cancer of bowel

Liver

Cancer of liver

Alcoholic liver disease (fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis)

Pancreas and sugar digestion

Acute and chronic pancreatitis

Heart and blood pressure

Coronary heart disease

Hypertension

Heart failure due to cardiomyopathy

Irregular heartbeat

Blood and immune system

Anaemia

HIV/AIDS

Hepatitis C

Tuberculosis

Infections

Lungs

Pneumonia

Brain and nervous system

Brain damage (Wernicke’s encephalopathy, Korsakoff’s dementia, etc)

Nerve damage

Epilepsy

Sleep disturbances

Stroke

Mental health

Addiction/dependence

Mood disorders

Withdrawal symptoms

Sexual health

Impotence

Infertility

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (in children born to women who drink while pregnant)

Premature birth/low birth weight (of babies born to women who drink while pregnant)

Breasts (women)

Cancer of breast

Bones and muscles

Muscle weakness

Gout

Eyes

Decreased vision

Skin and fat

Malnutrition

Whole body

Death