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The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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2 The effects of alcohol on health

You may be familiar with the fact that the excessive use of alcohol can result in liver disease but you may not know that alcohol can also damage the pancreas, the gastrointestinal system, the cardiovascular system and the nervous system. There are in fact 25 chronic diseases and conditions attributable to alcohol consumption. In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] has identified over 200 diseases, injuries or other health conditions that have an association with alcohol consumption, including a range of mental and behavioural disorders; intentional and unintentional injuries and non-communicable conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and several cancers.

As a consequence, worldwide in 2012, about 5.9% of deaths (amounting to 3.3 million deaths) and 5.1% of the illness due to disease and injury were attributable to alcohol use.

A further way in which alcohol can impact on health is through its intoxicating effect which is known to increase the risk of unintentional injury as a result of, for example, road traffic collisions and industrial accidents. An increased risk of intentional injury, to others or yourself, is also associated with alcohol. It is reported that, of those committing suicide in a US national sample, 37% of males and 29% of females had positive blood alcohol levels at the time of death. In addition, risk-taking behaviours such as unprotected sex are greater in those who are intoxicated.

Lastly, alcohol use can result in alcohol use disorders (AUD). AUD is a relatively new term that replaces the terms ‘alcohol abuse’ and ‘alcohol dependence’ (or ‘alcoholism’) with which you may be more familiar.