Ask a person on the street what common addictive substance was most likely to give someone cancer, and they’ll likely tell you nicotine. This person certainly wouldn’t be wrong—nicotine’s carcinogenic nature is well-known—but did you know there’s another addictive carcinogen for sale in almost every restaurant and grocery store? Most don’t realize it, but alcohol is a carcinogen as well, meaning that consuming it actively increases a person’s chance of contracting the disease. It is yet another reason why alcohol treatment programs can save someone’s life.
For years, alcohol was considered a cancer catalyst, essentially a possible hazard rather than a proven one. Recent studies have confirmed what some suspected of alcohol: that it is a risk factor for developing cancer. Specifically, alcohol consumption is associated with cancers of the head: mouth, larynx, esophagus, etc. It was also found to cause liver and breast cancers. Alcohol has been designated as a carcinogen for about the last 15 years, but it’s still not quite understood what the link is between it and cancer.
There are two factors that increase alcohol’s carcinogenic effects. The first is being a smoker. Habitual smokers are much more likely to develop cancer from alcohol. However, it’s not fully understood why this is. Of course, nicotine is a carcinogen itself, but it’s not certain whether its effects are somehow compounded by alcohol’s.
The second risk factor is simply drinking too much. Alcohol is a dose-dependent carcinogen. That is, the more someone drinks, the bigger the cancer risk they face. For people addicted to alcohol, this is especially troubling. Alcoholism would carry enough risks without causing cancer, but the fact remains that the volume of consumption required for alcoholism is especially carcinogenic is yet another incentive to get treatment and get sober.
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According to the American Journal of Public Health, 3.5% of American cancer deaths in 2009 were due to alcohol, translating to over 20,000 deaths. The percentage may not be high, but it’s not negligible. And if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s not worth the risk of having them end up as one of those statistics.
Alcohol’s not an easy drug to give up once you are addicted (and it is a drug). Its withdrawal symptoms are brutal and the temptation to relapse is omnipresent, with social drinking nearly ubiquitous. But when cancer is a risk, getting sober is a medical necessity. The best way to get sober and stay that way is to seek help through alcohol treatment programs. If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, don’t wait, get help today.