February 26, 2024

The long-term health impacts of alcohol

crates of wine

Alcohol comes with serious health risks.

But many people just don’t know about the long-term health impacts of drinking.

Globally, 3 million people die each year from harmful drinking.1

And drinking alcohol can lead to more than 60 different medical conditions.

In Australia it causes a significant amount of injury and disease.2,3

In 2022, there were 1,742 deaths caused by alcohol in Australia – up 9.1%, compared to 2021.4

Last year (2023), alcohol use disorders were in the top 10 diseases that cause the most premature deaths and years of healthy life lost for people aged 25-44.5

Drinking can increase health risks

Many things can influence a person’s risk of different health conditions, including their genetics, lifestyle and socio-economic status.

Drinking also increases the risk of many health conditions.


  • Alcohol is a carcinogen. This means it causes cancer. In fact, alcohol is known to increase the risk of seven types of cancer – including throat, mouth, liver, breast and bowel cancer.6
  • The more someone drinks, the greater the risk of cancer.
  • In Australia, around 4% of cancer cases were caused by alcohol in 2020.7 And, 5.8% of breast cancer diagnoses were caused by alcohol.8

Heart disease

  • Any amount of drinking can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • The more someone drinks – the greater the risk of heart disease.9
  • People who have 21 standard drinks or more a week are at a very high risk of heart disease.9


  • People who often drink more than 3 standard drinks per day have a 6% higher risk of ischemic stroke compared to non-drinkers.10


  • People who consume 1 to 2 drinks daily have a 34% higher risk of developing osteoporosis, which causes weak and brittle bones, compared to non-drinkers.11

Chronic health conditions caused by alcohol

Alcohol, especially frequent and/or heavy drinking, can also lead to other health issues.


  • People who drink more than 6 standard drinks a day are at a higher risk of developing alcoholic fatty liver, with some developing more serious liver diseases including alcoholic steatohepatitis (inflammation/swelling) and cirrhosis (permanent scarring).12
  • Liver cirrhosis occurs in around 30% of people who drink more than 4 standard drinks a day over the long-term.12,13


  • Alcohol is the second most common cause of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas - an organ that helps us digest food and regulate blood sugar). It is responsible for 17-25% of acute pancreatitis cases globally.14
  • Drinking 4-5 standard drinks per day greatly increases the risk of pancreatitis.14

Gastrointestinal diseases

  • Drinking can also lead to many gastrointestinal (e.g. stomach and bowel) diseases and inflammation.15

Muscle function

  • Alcoholic myopathy (muscle weakness) occurs in 40-60% of people who experience a long-term dependence on alcohol.16

Are there any health benefits to drinking alcohol?

There are no health benefits from drinking alcohol.17

Studies - funded by alcohol companies - have claimed that moderate drinking can be good for you, by protecting against some heart conditions and Type 2 diabetes.17

But these claims were based on flawed research.

The studies compared moderate drinkers to non-drinkers and claimed the moderate drinkers had better health outcomes.17

When the research was investigated, it was found:

  • The people in the studies who didn’t drink had pre-existing health issues, which meant they had given up alcohol altogether. This means the moderate drinkers were being compared to people who had poor underlying health problems.17
  • Of the 87 alcohol-funded studies, 74 were found to be based on a flawed study design and the remaining 13 found that alcohol had no health benefits.17

To read more about the problems with alcohol industry funded research visit our Insight on Public health vs ‘Big Alcohol’ profits.

Lower-risk drinking can reduce health impacts

The Australian Guidelines state that no amount of alcohol is safe.

But if you do decide to drink, you can reduce the risks by having no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.18

Drinking won’t always lead to a serious health condition, but it does increase the risk. And the more someone drinks, the higher the risk.

For people with underlying health conditions, or who have a family history of illness, it’s good to be cautious.

More information on the relationship between alcohol and long-term health impacts can be found here.

Help and support

If you’re worried about your own, or someone else’s drinking, there’s help and support available. Visit or call the resources below:

  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015
    A 24/7 telephone service where you can chat about your alcohol and other drug use, and treatment and referral options
  • Path2Help: the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s free, online platform that helps you find alcohol or other drug services near you
  • Family Drug Support (NSW, QLD, NT, ACT): 1300 368 186
    A 24/7 national telephone service for families and friends who are impacted by a loved one’s alcohol and other drug use.
  • Family Drug Help (VIC, TAS, SA): 1300 660 068
    A 24/7 national telephone service for families and friends who are impacted by a loved one’s alcohol and other drug use.
  • Your local GP (doctor).
  1. World Health Organization. Alcohol 2022 [07.12.2023].
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018. 2021 [11.12.2023].
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Impact of alcohol and illicit drugs use on the burden of disease and injury in Australia 2018 [11.12.2023].
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of Death, Australia 2023 [07.12.2023].
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2023 [10.01.2023].
  6. National Cancer Institute.Alcohol and Cancer Risk 2021 [08.12.2023].
  7. Rumgay H, Shield K, Harvat H, Ferrari P, Sornpaisarn B, Obot I, et al. Global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption: a population-based study. The Lancet Oncology [Internet]. 2021 [07.12.2023]; 22(8):[1071-80 pp.].
  8. Pandeya N, Wilson LF, Webb PM, Neale RE, Bain CJ, Whiteman DC. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of alcohol. Aust N Z J Public Health [Internet]. 2015 [11.12.2023]; 39(5):[408-13 pp.].
  9. Biddinger KJ, Emdin CAMDD, Haas MEP, Wang MP, Hindy GMD, Ellinor PTMDP, et al. Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA Network Open [Internet]. 2022 [08.12.2023]; 5(3):[e223849 p.]. Available from:
  10. Jeong S-M, Lee HR, Han K, Jeon KH, Kim D, Yoo JE, et al. Association of Change in Alcohol Consumption With Risk of Ischemic Stroke. Stroke [Internet]. 2022 [08.12.2023]; 53(8):[2488-96 pp.].
  11. Cheraghi Z, Doosti-Irani A, Almasi-Hashiani A, Baigi V, Mansournia N, Etminan M, et al. The effect of alcohol on osteoporosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence [Internet]. 2019 [08.12.2023]; 197:[197-202 pp.].
  12. Patel RM, M. Alcoholic Liver Disease. NCBI [Internet]. 2023 [08.12.2023]. Available from:
  13. Osna NA, Donohue TMJ, Kharbanda KK. Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management. Alcohol research : current reviews [Internet]. 2017 [08.12.2023]; 38(2):[147-61 pp.].
  14. Klochkov A, Kudaravalli P, Lim L, Sun Y.Alcoholic Pancreatitis. NCBI [Internet]. 2023 [08.12.2023].
  15. Seitz Helmut K, Scherübl H.Alcohol Use and Gastrointestinal Diseases. Visceral medicine [Internet]. 2020 [11.12.2023]; 36(3):[157-9 pp.]. Available from:
  16. Simon L, Jolley SE, Molina PE. Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Alcohol research : current reviews [Internet]. 2017 [11.12.2023]; 38(2):[207-17 pp.].
  17. Stockwell T, Zhao J, Panwar S, Roemer A, Naimi T, Chikritzhs T. Do "Moderate" Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs [Internet]. 2016 [11.12.2023]; 77(2):[185-98 pp.].
  18. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2020 [11.12.2023].

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