Alcohol Abuse: Links to Common Diseases

Alcohol abuse: links to common diseases
By Miriam Hamideh, Ph.D., LACPA 2023 President

Image of Dr. Miriam Hamideh
Excessive drinking can have a variety of negative effects on the body. In fact, alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths worldwide. In this blog, we will explore the link between alcohol abuse and common diseases. We will also provide you with some important facts that you should know about the dangers of excessive drinking.

Liver Diseases: The liver is a vital organ that plays an important role in breaking down and filtering out toxins from the body. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of liver diseases, including:

  • Fatty liver disease: This is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver, causing inflammation and scarring. Fatty liver disease is a common result of heavy drinking and is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease. It can often be reversed by reducing alcohol consumption or quitting drinking altogether.

  • Alcoholic hepatitis: This is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. In severe cases, it can lead to liver failure and even death.

  • Cirrhosis: This is the most severe form of liver damage caused by alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis occurs when healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which can lead to liver failure and death. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cirrhosis, and the only way to prevent further damage is to stop drinking alcohol completely.

Cardiovascular Diseases: Excessive alcohol consumption can also have negative effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, including:

  • High blood pressure: Long-term heavy drinking can cause an increase in blood pressure, which can lead to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and can have serious long-term health consequences.

  • Arrhythmias: Alcohol can cause the heart to beat irregularly, which can lead to arrhythmias. Arrhythmias can be life-threatening and can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • Cardiomyopathy: This is a condition where the heart muscle becomes weak and stretched, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Alcohol abuse can cause cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure.

Cancer: Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to several types of cancer, including:

  • Breast cancer: Women who consume more than one alcoholic drink per day have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This may be because alcohol can increase levels of estrogen in the body, which can lead to the development of breast cancer.

  • Mouth and throat cancer: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing mouth and throat cancer. This is because alcohol can damage the cells in the mouth and throat, making them more susceptible to cancer.

  • Liver cancer: Heavy alcohol consumption is a leading cause of liver cancer. Alcohol abuse can cause liver damage and inflammation, which can lead to the development of cancerous cells in the liver.

Mental Health Disorders: Excessive alcohol consumption can also have negative effects on mental health, including:

  • Depression: Heavy drinking can lead to depression, which can worsen over time. This is because alcohol can disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain, leading to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

  • Anxiety: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to anxiety, which can make it difficult to function in daily life.

  • Alcohol use disorder: A chronic condition that is characterized by the inability to control alcohol consumption.

  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior: Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for suicide. It can lower inhibitions and increase impulsiveness, making someone more likely to act on suicidal thoughts. 

  • Psychosis: Heavy drinking can also lead to psychosis, which is a severe mental disorder characterized by a loss of touch with reality. This can include hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking.

  • Bipolar disorder: Drinking alcohol can trigger episodes of mania or depression in individuals with bipolar disorder, making it difficult to manage their symptoms. 

  •  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares, flashbacks, and hyperarousal. 

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Alcohol can interfere with the medications used to treat ADHD and exacerbate symptoms such as impulsivity and inattention.

  • Eating disorders: Drinking heavily can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia. It can also make it more difficult for individuals with anorexia to maintain a healthy weight. 

  • Schizophrenia: Individuals with schizophrenia may be more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol on the brain. Heavy drinking can worsen symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and disordered thinking. 

  • Dementia: Chronic heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing dementia later in life. This is because alcohol can damage the brain and lead to cognitive decline. 

  • Opioid and other substance use disorders: Alcohol use disorder often co-occurs with other substance use disorders, such as opioid addiction. This can make treatment more complicated and increase the risk of overdose.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to several serious health problems. The diseases linked to alcohol abuse are numerous and can be life-threatening. It’s important to be aware of the dangers of excessive drinking and to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse.


1. Liver Diseases

American Liver Foundation. (2022). Alcohol-related liver disease.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol and the liver.

2. Cardiovascular Diseases

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol and the cardiovascular system.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2021). Alcohol and heart health.

3. Cancer

American Cancer Society. (2022). Alcohol use and cancer.

National Cancer Institute. (2021). Alcohol and cancer risk.

4. Mental Health Disorders

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol and mental health.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Alcohol use disorder.

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