Alcohol is a factor in many illnesses

The long-term heavy and frequent consumption of alcohol causes many physical illnesses. The most well-known are liver diseases and other organ damage.

Liver diseases

The liver diseases caused by alcohol are fatty liver disease, hepatitis and cirrhosis. When alcohol is burned in the liver, it alters the liver’s metabolism. This has various effects, such as disturbing the utilisation of nutrients. Fatty acids from food cannot be burned and fat begins to accumulate in the liver. Once the alcohol has been removed from the body, the fat that has formed in the liver disappears. However, if you continually consume alcohol, the accumulated fat will not be removed. This is why heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol results in fatty liver disease. Without treatment, it may become infected and lead to hepatitis. If you stop drinking, your liver can recover, but if you continue drinking, the disease can progress to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is incurable, as destroyed liver tissue cannot regenerate.

More information Munuais- ja maksaliitto (in Finnish).


Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by too much glucose in the blood, that is, a high blood sugar concentration. The effect that alcohol has on your blood sugar level depends on both the amount of alcohol you consume and the amount of food you eat. Heavy alcohol consumption, particularly when combined with exercise or not eating, increases the risk of low blood sugar, that is, hypoglycaemia. Diabetics should restrict their alcohol consumption to a maximum of two units per day. If you drink alcohol, you should follow your normal meal rhythm – not forgetting an evening snack – and check your blood sugar levels more frequently than usual. It is inadvisable to drink beverages with high sugar contents, such as liqueurs.

You should avoid drinking alcohol if you have a poor therapeutic equilibrium in your diabetes.

Read more at Finnish Diabetes Association.

Alcohol and the heart

Heavy drinking raises the levels of triglycerides in the blood, contributes to weight gain, and increases liver and cerebral diseases. Occasional alcohol use does not affect your blood cholesterol level, but prolonged use raises your HDL cholesterol level. The current understanding is that moderate alcohol use does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The effects of alcohol vary from person to person, and regular use increases the likelihood of addiction, contributes to weight gain, and makes weight control more difficult. Alcohol-related diseases get more common when the number of drinks per day exceeds one for women and two for men. Diseases caused by alcohol are apparently the most common cause of death for working-age Finnish people. Drinking alcohol to prevent cardiovascular diseases is not recommended.

Read more at (in Finnish).

Alcohol increases the risk of cancer

In Western industrial nations, alcohol and tobacco are the most significant causal factors in mouth, throat and esophageal cancer. Alcohol can also increase the risk of liver cancer, as it promotes the development of alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Alcohol also increases the risk of cancer of the large intestine in men. It is likely that alcohol also increases the risk of cancer of the large intestine in women, but the results are not as clear as those for men. The difference in the results probably stems from the fact that, on average, women drink lower volumes of alcohol than men.

The carcinogen acetaldehyde is formed when alcohol is metabolised. Bacteria – and especially those found in the large intestine – oxidise alcohol to form acetaldehyde concentrations that may be thousands of times greater than the concentration in the blood. Cancer of the large intestine is one of the most common cancers in Finland.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in Finnish women. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer involve hormonal factors relating to the female life cycle. After the menopause, obesity also increases the incidence of breast cancer. Alcohol is an additional risk for breast cancer. A diet high in folates may reduce the detrimental effects that alcohol has with regard to breast cancer and cancer of the large intestine. Alcohol’s increased cancer risk stems from the volume of alcohol consumed, not the type of beverage consumed, such as beer, wine or spirits.

Read more at All about cancer.

Image: Kuvatoimisto Gorilla

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