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Article Summary

The Negative Consequences of Alcoholism

Alcoholism And Health

  • The regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol (defined as more than three drinks per day) is undesirable from the standpoint of health for almost all people and drinking low-to-moderate amounts can be desirable or undesirable, depending on individual characteristics (G Friedman & A Klatsky, "Editorial: Is Alcohol Good For Your Health?," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 329, No. 25, 12/16/93, p. 1883).
  • Although there are fewer deaths from alcohol-related causes than from cancer or heart disease, alcohol-related deaths tend to occur at much younger ages (NIAAA, Eighth Special Report, op. cit., p. 16).
  • Studies of suicide victims in the general population show that about 20% of such suicide victims are alcoholic (NIAAA, AHRW, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1993, p. 133).
  • Heavy and chronic drinking
    • --can harm virtually every organ and system in the body (Ibid., p. xxvii).
    • --is the single most important cause of illness and death from liver disease (alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis) (Ibid., p. 165).
    • --is associated with cardiovascular diseases such as cardiomyopathy, hypertension, arrhythmias, and stroke (Ibid., p. 172).
    • --contributes to approximately 65% of all cases of pancreatitis (Ibid., p. 171).
    • --depresses the immune system and results in a predisposition to infectious diseases, including respiratory infections, pneumonia, and tuberculosis (Ibid., p. 176).
    • --increases risk for cancer, with an estimated 2-4% of all cancer cases thought to be caused either directly or indirectly by alcohol. The strongest link between alcohol and cancer involves cancers of the upper digestive tract, including the esophagus, the mouth, the pharynx, and the larynx. Less consistent data link alcohol consumption and cancers of the liver, breast and colon (NIAAA, Alcohol Alert, No. 21, 7/93).
    • --can lead to inadequate functioning of the testes and ovaries, resulting in hormonal deficiencies, sexual dysfunction and infertility (NIAAA, Alcohol Alert, No. 26, 11/95).
    • --is related to a higher rate of early menopause and a higher frequency of menstrual irregularities (duration, flow, or both) in women (NIAAA, Eighth Special Report, op. cit., p. 179).
  • Each year 4,000 to 12,000 babies are born with the physical signs and intellectual disabilities associated with FAS, and thousands more experience the somewhat lesser disabilities of fetal alcohol effects (SAMHSA, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Toward Preventing Perinatal Abuse of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs, USDHHS, Technical Report, No. 9, 1993, p. 1).
  • An association has been established in both homosexual and heterosexual populations between alcohol use, drug use and behavior that increases the risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, but underlying processes and mechanisms that explain this relationship have not been definitively identified (NIAAA, Eighth Special Report, op. cit., p. 245).

Alcoholism And the Family:

  • Separated and divorced men and women were three times as likely as married men and women to say they had been married to an alcoholic or problem drinker (NCHS, Advance Data, op. cit., p. 6).
  • An estimated 6.6 million children under the age of 18 years live in households with at least one alcoholic parent (NIAAA, Alcohol Alert, No. 9, 7/90, p. 1).

Alcoholism And Unintentional Deaths and Injuries

  • 38% of all traffic fatalities (the leading cause of accidental death) are alcohol-related (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5/27/99 press release); alcoholics are nearly five times more likely than others to die in motor vehicle crashes (NIAAA, Eighth Special Report, op. cit., p. 233).
  • One study showed that half of all boating fatalities had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04; BAC's of .10 or more were found in 31% of the fatalities(US Department of Transportation, United States Coast Guard, Boating Statistics 1994, 9/95).
  • Alcoholics are 16 times more likely than others to die in falls, and 10 times more likely to become fire or burn victims (Ibid.).
  • Estimates suggest that alcohol is associated with between 47% and 65% of adult drownings (Ibid., p. 243).
  • Up to 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism (M Bernstein & JJ Mahoney, "Management Perspectives on Alcoholism: The Employer's Stake in Alcoholism Treatment," Occupational Medicine, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1989, pp. 223-232). [For more information, see NCADD's "Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace" facts.]

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