Alcohol and Long-Term Health
Alcohol consumption can have long-term impacts on a person’s health and is linked to an increased risk of chronic disease and early death.12 Nearly 1 in 15 Western Australian’s aged 14 years or older drink every day, and almost 1 in 5 drink at levels that place them at risk of alcohol-related harm in their lifetime.3
Alcohol-related disease is often associated with what is commonly referred to as ‘heavy' drinking. However, anyone who regularly drinks more than 10 standard drinks a week is at increased risk of developing an alcohol-related disease.
Alcohol is a toxic substance.4 Once consumed, alcohol enters the bloodstream and in a healthy person one standard drink is digested within approximately 60 minutes,5 though this can vary due to a number of factors. Over time, alcohol causes long-term damage to the body by adversely effecting organs and tissues.16
Alcohol use has been linked to at least 60 short and long-term diseases,1 including:
- Cancer in at least seven sites of the body, including mouth, throat, liver, bowel and breast.
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Liver disease.
- Alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence.
- Mental health problems.
The World Health Organization and other key groups advise that there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol,71 including the consumption of red wine for cardiovascular health.8
Put simply, the more you drink over your lifetime, the higher your risk of dying from alcohol-related disease or injury.9 The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of experiencing alcohol related harm.1
For healthy men and women to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease over the lifetime, health experts recommend drinking no more than 10 standard drinks a week.5
To reduce how much you drink, consider having some alcohol-free days and swapping to low alcohol alternatives. For more tips, click here.
Facts and figures
- In 2018, Western Australians were hospitalised a total of 8,045 times for long-term, alcohol-attributable conditions, equating to 22 people per day.10
- This resulted in a total of 35,671 bed-days that cost approximately $59.6 million.10
- In 2017, there were a total of 359 deaths caused by long-term alcohol-attributable conditions in Western Australia. This equates to almost one death per day.10
Griswold, M., et al. (2018). Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories,1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet, 392, 1015-35.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Alcohol overview. Retrieved from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/alcohol/overview
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. AIHW: Canberra.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Alcohol. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/alcohol#tab=tab_1
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2020). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.
Rusyn, I., & Bataller, R. (2013). Alcohol and toxicity. Journal of Hepatology, 59(2) 387-388.
World Health Organization. (2018). Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. WHO: Geneva.
National Heart Foundation. (2010). Position statement: Antioxidants in food, drinks and supplements for cardiovascular health. Retrieved from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Antioxidants-Position-Statement.pdf
Rehm, J., Gmel Sr, G., Gmel, G., Hasan, O., Imtiaz, S., Popova, S., … & Shyper, P. (2017). The relationship between different dimensions of alcohol use and the burden of disease – an update. Addiction,112, 968-1001.
Epidemiology Branch, Department of Health. (2019). Alcohol-attributable hospitalisation and death data. Unpublished.
Page last updated: 24 February 2021