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  • Increased alcohol consumption = increased cancer risk

    03 July 2020

    Has your alcohol increased by a glass or two recently? If so, you’re not alone.

    New insights show that Australians are drinking more now, than before the recent and stressful Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit—and it could be increasing cancer risk.

    Alcohol consumption is linked to approximately 3,000 cancer cases in Australia each year, which means that for Australians who turn to alcohol during difficult or stressful times in their life, their drink to ‘relax’ or ‘feel happy’ could be doing more harm than good.

    Results of the household impacts of COVID-19 survey undertaken by the ABS on 10-12 June 2020 show that one in seven Australians (14 per cent) are increasing their alcohol consumption, with more women (5.1 per cent) than men (3.5 per cent) found to be increasing consumption.  

    Effects of alcohol on the body

    When you drink alcohol, your brain starts producing chemicals including endorphins, that make you feel happy and more relaxed.

    However, alcohol is a depressant, so while it may help you feel good in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. 

    Sadly, alcohol companies seem to have jumped on these vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, boosting advertising by showing 35 ads per second, research from FARE has found. 

    Evidence shows that with increased advertising comes an increase in consumption of alcohol which is cause for concern as every drink is doing damage, and increases your risk of cancers of the breast, bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver.  

    Each year, alcohol consumption is responsible for approximately 830 cases of breast cancer, and nearly 870 cases of bowel cancer—two of the most common cancers in Australian women, and cancers that are not often thought of in relation to alcohol consumption.

    How alcohol contributes to cancer risk 

    Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen, the highest classification available, and means alcohol causes cancer. It is thought that there are a few ways in which alcohol causes cancer including: 

    • The alcohol (ethanol) in alcoholic drinks is converted into a toxic substance in the body, which damages DNA and stops cells from repairing
    • Increasing hormones such as oestrogen, which are linked to breast cancer
    • Altering cell function by changing folate metabolism

    With every drink, the risk of cell mutations and cancer increases. Alcohol is doing more harm than you think, so take the time now to rethink your alcohol intake and take steps to reduce intake.

    Alcohol consumption recommendations    

    How much you drink is your choice, but you should know that drinking is never free of risk. The more you drink and the longer you have been drinking, the greater the risk to your health. 

    Cancer Council recommends that people limit or avoid drinking alcohol. For those who choose to drink, drink no more than two standard drinks per day and be sure to include alcohol free days across the week. 

    Alternatives to drinking alcohol

    If you are turning to alcohol as a pick-me-up, to help you wind-down or relax, try some of these other stress relieving strategies:

    • Practice mindfulness
    • Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that interact with your brain to make you feel happier. It also stimulates the release of other chemicals that can aid in stress relief. Read more about low intensity vs high intensity exercise here.

    What should I do if I choose to drink?

    If you choose to drink alcohol, there are some things you should consider:

    • Have no more than two standard drinks per day.
    • Have at least two alcohol free days every week. 
    • Avoid binge drinking. Do not 'save' your drinks using alcohol free days, only to consume them in one session. 
    • Choose low-alcohol or no-alcohol beer or wine. 
    • Order beer and cider in a smaller glass, for example a South Australian ‘butcher’ or ‘schooner’ rather than a pint. 
    • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones, such as sparkling water garnished with lemon or lime, or a soda, lime and bitters. 
    •  Dilute alcoholic drinks. For example, try a mimosa (sparkling wine and ‘no added sugar’ juice) or white wine and mineral water.

    Taking the time to rethink your alcohol consumption and take steps to avoid or limit alcohol will reduce your risk of cancer. As an added bonus, you will also benefit from the wide array of other health benefits that come with not drinking.

    For more information on reducing you alcohol consumption and cancer risk, click here.

    Seeking support or help? Visit https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/alcohol-contacts 

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