We all know the risks of heavy drinking—blackouts, alcohol poisoning, liver disease—but because alcohol is a carcinogen, even one glass of chardonnay comes with its own risks. “We’ve done a fairly good job of talking about the risks of smoking—even kids know smoking is bad—but alcohol brings similar harms, yet there are no warning labels on bottles,” says Ashley Wettlaufer, a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (Yukon started labelling bottles last fall, warning about consumption and cancer risk.) Even moderate drinking can mess with us day to day and increase our risk for developing a number of long-term health conditions. How much is too much when it comes to alcohol?
1. Heart disease and stroke
Women who consume more than two drinks daily are more susceptible to heart disease, while the risk of stroke for men is at least doubled when they exceed three drinks per day.
2. Colorectal cancer
Every drink raises this risk, too—less than one drink a day can increase risk by seven percent, while those who drink 3.5 drinks per day have 1.5 times the risk of developing colon and rectum cancers than occasional and non-drinkers.
3. Anxiety and depression
Women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressant, anti-anxiety and pain medications. When you mix these with alcohol, symptoms can actually worsen or blood pressure can increase.
4. Decreased fertility
A recent Danish study of more than 6,000 women trying to conceive found that those who drank an average of two drinks per week were no less likely to conceive than abstainers. However, heavier drinking was associated with an 18-percent drop in fertility.
5. Breast cancer
The threat to women is real. For every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day—that’s one drink—the relative risk of developing breast cancer increases by seven percent.
6. Head and neck cancers
The US National Cancer Institute calls alcohol consumption a major risk factor for head and neck cancers, particularly of the throat and larynx. Those who have more than 3.5 drinks per day have two to three times the risk of developing these cancers than non-drinkers.
7. Poor sleep
We assume that since an evening drink makes us drowsy, we’ll for sure sleep well. Not quite. While it has initial sedative effects, alcohol disrupts and decreases the quality of sleep, according to a 2015 study from the University of Melbourne.