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Alcohol's Effects on Health

Research-based information on drinking and its impact.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Alcohol and the Human Body

Updated: 2024

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Image of a liver. Alcohol and the human body. In 2021, of the 100,530 liver disease deaths among people age 12 and older, 47.4% involved alcohol. Source: CDC WONDER, 2022

 

  • Of the 98,475 liver disease deaths among people ages 12 and older in 2022, 46.1% involved alcohol. Among males, 60,412 liver disease deaths occurred, with 48.7% involving alcohol. Among females, 38,063 liver disease deaths occurred, with 41.8% involving alcohol.1
  • Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2019, 50.3% were alcohol related. The percentage of alcohol-associated cirrhosis deaths was highest (at 80.9%) among adults ages 25 to 34, followed by adults ages 35 to 44 (at 75.4%).2
  • The number of patients with alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) who were listed for liver transplant increased by 63% from 2007 to 2017.3 In 2016, ALD replaced hepatitis C virus infection as the leading cause of liver transplantation due to chronic liver disease.4
  • In patients with severe alcohol-associated hepatitis, the prognosis is poor. Mortality is 20-40% within 3 months of diagnosis, and up to 70% for the subset of diagnosed patients who don’t respond to corticosteroids.5 
  • Recent estimates for the United States indicate that 5.6% of cancer cases and 4.0% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption.6
  • Research has shown that people who misuse alcohol have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke, and stomach bleeding, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum.7-10 These individuals may also have problems managing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders. Misusing alcohol may also increase the likelihood of unsafe sexual behavior.
  • Alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of drowning and injuries from violence, falls, and motor vehicle crashes.11-14 Alcohol consumption is also associated with an increased risk of female breast cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, esophageal cancer (especially in individuals who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism), and harmful medication interactions.10,15-20 Alcohol consumption has been linked to risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in the offspring of women who consume alcohol during pregnancy.21 
  • The NIAAA Healthcare Professional’s Core Resource provides additional information about the effects of alcohol on the human body.

References

  1. Estimated liver disease deaths include deaths with underlying causes coded as alcoholic liver disease (K70); liver cirrhosis, unspecified (K74.0–K74.2, K74.6, K76.0, K76.7, and K76.9); chronic hepatitis (K73); portal hypertension (K76.6); liver cancer (C22); or other liver diseases (K71, K72, K74.3–K74.5, K75, K76.1–K76.5, and K76.8). Number of deaths from Provisional Mortality on CDC WONDER Online Database (https://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-provisional.html). Alcohol-attributable fractions (AAFs) from CDC Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (http://nccd.cdc.gov/DPH_ARDI/Default/Default.aspx), accessed January 12, 2024. Prevalence of alcohol consumption from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2022, for estimating indirect AAFs for chronic hepatitis and liver cancer.
  2. Chen CM, Yoon YH. Surveillance report #118: liver cirrhosis mortality in the United States: national, state, and regional trends, 2000–2019. Rockville (MD): NIAAA, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research; 2022 Feb. Contract No.: HHSN275201800004C. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/surveillance118/surveillance-report118.pdf
  3. Dang K, Hirode G, Singal AK, Sundaram V, Wong RJ. Alcoholic Liver Disease Epidemiology in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of 3 US Databases. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020 Jan;115(1):96–104. PubMed PMID: 31517639
  4. Cholankeril G, Ahmed A. Alcoholic liver disease replaces hepatitis C virus infection as the leading indication for liver transplantation in the United States. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;16(8):1356-8. PubMed PMID: 29199144
  5. Louvet A, Naveau S, Abdelnour M, Ramond MJ, Diaz E, Fartoux L, Dharancy S, Texier F, Hollebecque A, Serfaty L, Boleslawski E, Deltenre P, Canva V, Pruvot FR, Mathurin P. The Lille model: a new tool for therapeutic strategy in patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis treated with steroids. Hepatology. 2007 Jun;45(6):1348–1354. PubMed PMID: 17518367
  6. Islami F, Goding Sauer A, Miller KD, Siegel RL, Fedewa SA, Jacobs EJ, McCullough ML, Patel AV, Ma J, Soerjomataram I, Flanders WD, Brawley OW, Gapstur SM, Jemal A. Proportion and number of cancer cases and deaths attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors in the United States. CA Cancer J Clin, 2018;68(1):31-54. PubMed PMID: 29160902
  7. Grewal P, Viswanathen VA. Liver cancer and alcohol. Clin Liver Dis. 2012;16(4):839-50. PubMed PMID: 23101985
  8. Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Altieri A, Cogliano V, WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages. Lancet Oncol. 2007;8(4):292-3, 2007. PubMed PMID: 17431955
  9. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Personal habits and indoor combustions. Volume 100 E. A review of human carcinogens. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum. 2012;100(Pt E):1-583. PubMed PMID: 23193840
  10. Bagnardi V, Rota M, Botteri E, Tramacere I, Islami F, Fedirko V, Scotti L, Jenab M, Turati F, Pasquali E, Pelucchi C, Galeone C, Bellocco R, Negri E, Corrao G, Boffetta P, La Vecchia C. Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose–response meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2015;112(3):580-93. PubMed PMID: 25422909
  11. Driscoll TR, Harrison JA, Steenkamp M. Review of the role of alcohol in drowning associated with recreational aquatic activity. Inj Prev. 2004;10(2):107-13. PubMed PMID: 15066977
  12. Cherpitel CJ. Alcohol and injuries: a review of international emergency room studies since 1995. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2007;26(2):201-14, 2007. PubMed PMID: 17364856
  13. Taylor B, Irving HM, Kanteres F, Room R, Borges G, Cherpitel C, Greenfield T, Rehm J. The more you drink, the harder you fall: a systematic review and meta-analysis of how acute alcohol consumption and injury or collision risk increase together. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2010;110(1-2):108-16. PubMed PMID: 20236774
  14. Taylor B, Rehm J. The relationship between alcohol consumption and fatal motor vehicle injury: high risk at low alcohol levels. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012;36(10):1827-34. PubMed PMID: 22563862
  15. Bagnardi V, Rota M, Botteri E, Tramacere I, Islami F, Fedirko V, Scotti L, Jenab M, Turati F, Pasquali E, Pelucchi C, Bellocco R, Negri E, Corrao G, Rehm J, Boffetta P, La Vecchia C. Light alcohol drinking and cancer: a meta-analysis. Ann Oncol. 2013;24(2):301-8. PubMed PMID: 22910838
  16. Brooks PJ, Enoch MA, Goldman D, Li TK, Yokoyama A. The alcohol flushing response: an unrecognized risk factor for esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption. PLoS Med. 2009;6(3):e50. PubMed PMID: 19320537
  17. Weathermon R, Crabb DW. Alcohol and medication interactions. Alcohol Res Health. 1999;23(1):40-54. PubMed PMID: 10890797
  18. van der Schrier R, Roozekrans M, Olofsen E, Aarts L, van Velzen M, de Jong M, Dahan A, Niesters M. Influence of ethanol on oxycodone-induced respiratory depression: a dose-escalating study in young and elderly individuals. Anesthesiology. 2017;126(3):534-42. PubMed PMID: 28170358
  19. Breslow RA, Dong C, White A. Prevalence of alcohol-interactive prescription medication use among current drinkers: United States, 1999 to 2010. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2015;39(2):371-79. PubMed PMID: 25597432
  20. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Harmful Interactions: mixing alcohol with medicines [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): NIAAA; 2003 [updated 2014; cited 2020 Dec 8]. Available from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines
  21. Kesmodel US, Nygaard SS, Mortensen EL, Bertrand J, Denny CH, Glidewell A, Hemingway SA. Are low-to-moderate average alcohol consumption and isolated episodes of binge drinking in early pregnancy associated with facial features related to fetal alcohol syndrome in 5-year-old children? Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019;43(6):1199-212. PubMed PMID: 30977899
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