How bad can one drink a day be?

Conflicting reports on whether moderate drinking of alcohol is good for you or bad for you are enough to drive one to drink.

Some experts say moderate drinking is good for you, may prevent cancer and dementia, and may even extend your life.

Then there are studies that say moderate alcohol consumption doubles your risk of some cancers.

Another study shows that it might not just be the alcohol that’s bad for you, the bottle that holds it can be just as harmful, with labels and decorations potentially leaking toxic contaminants into the liquids.

It is estimated that alcohol causes around 90 deaths a day in Australia.

You might think that these stats only apply to moderate to heavy drinkers.

But a sobering new study published in the British Journal of Cancer says that even one drink a day increases your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer by 10 per cent.

Australia’s largest ever study on the impact of alcohol on cancer risk is particularly relevant because of increased consumption during the COVID-19 crisis.

Although, when YourLifeChoices members were asked if they were drinking more during the pandemic, 84 per cent said no.

However, Alcohol and Drug Foundation research showed that since the coronavirus pandemic began, 12 per cent of Australians now drink daily.

And many of them did not drink regularly beforehand.

According to the study, alcohol was connected to 3500 new cancer cases each year in Australia. And that was before the pandemic.

There are very real fears that if drinking trends continue, these numbers will grow.

At least half of Aussie drinkers at risk think their consumption levels are safe and, instead, identify as light, occasional or social drinkers.

But they’re still at risk of seven types of cancer: liver, oesophagus, mouth, pharynx, larynx, bowel and breast.

Heavy drinkers over 45 – those who consume more than 28 drinks per week – are 41 per cent more at risk of developing one of these cancers, compared to light drinkers who imbibe one to three drinks a week.

Study leader Dr Peter Sarich is concerned about the misconceptions and lack of awareness about the link between cancer and alcohol.

“While liver cancer comes first to mind with alcohol, surprisingly the biggest impact – in terms of population – is for breast and bowel cancer,” he told The Australian Financial Review, adding that alcohol causes 800 breast cancers and 1300 bowel cancers a year on top of the 175 liver cancers.

Medium volume drinkers (seven to 14 drinks a week) increase their risk of developing liver cancer by 48 per cent. Heavy drinkers increase theirs by 202 per cent.

For every 100 people having more than 14 drinks per week over their lifetime, about five will develop cancer due to alcohol by age 85.

No amount of alcohol is regarded as healthy; however, the current National Health and Medical Research Council guideline is to limit yourself to a maximum of 14 drinks per week.

That number is about to be reduced to 10.

Currently, one in six Australians who exceed 14 drinks per week are technically drinking dangerously, says the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and around 40 per cent of them are considered heavy drinkers.

“We often focus on young people and harmful drinking, but this study sheds light on the risks to older Australians, who continue to be more likely to exceed alcohol risk guidelines than their younger counterparts,” said the chair of Cancer Council Australia’s nutrition and physical activity committee, Clare Hughes.

“It is important government interventions target this population given evidence that more than half of risky drinkers aged over 50 years in Australia do not perceive their level of drinking to be harmful, and instead identify as light, occasional or social drinkers.”

Would you be considered a light, medium or heavy drinker?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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