New Numbers on Alcohol’s Toxic Ties to Cancer

Plus: Cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia; physical pain’s relationship to alcohol relapse; and the curative power of words

By William Wagner

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has released new numbers that should give you pause the next time you want to pour yourself a drink: More than 740,000 cases of certain cancers in 2020 were tied to alcohol use.

We also poke around a study that links heavy marijuana use to schizophrenia, the role physical pain can play in alcohol relapse, and our need to think more carefully about the way we talk about mental illness and addiction.

From The Lancet Oncology:
The Link Between Alcohol Use and Cancer

The statistics from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, are nothing short of staggering. As reported in The Lancet Oncology, roughly 4% of the world’s cases of mouth, larynx, colon, rectum, liver and breast cancer in 2020 could be connected to alcohol use.

Our findings highlight the need for effective policy and interventions to increase awareness of cancer risks associated with alcohol use and decrease overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of alcohol-attributable cancers.”—study in “The Lancet Oncology”

The authors of the study say their data should sound an alarm. “Our findings highlight the need for effective policy and interventions to increase awareness of cancer risks associated with alcohol use and decrease overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of alcohol-attributable cancers,” they write.

Alcohol is a cancer threat for a number of reasons, including the damage it does to DNA and the way it inhibits the body’s ability to absorb nutrients that act as a shield against the disease, such as vitamins A, C, D and E. According to the study, two to six drinks per day, classified as “heavy drinking,” make a person particularly vulnerable to the aforementioned cancers.

From JAMA Psychiatry:
Cannabis Use Disorder Can Open the Door to Schizophrenia

Advocates for marijuana legalization are quick to tout the medicinal benefits of the drug. But there are several downsides that can’t be ignored. One is reported by researchers from Denmark in JAMA Psychiatry: Cannabis use disorder, or heavy consumption of cannabis in which a person’s tolerance to the drug steadily grows, can trigger schizophrenia. As cannabis use and potency have increased since the mid-1990s, so have related cases of schizophrenia, the researchers determined.

The researchers write that their “analyses show the proportion of cases of schizophrenia associated with cannabis use disorder has increased 3- to 4-fold [in Denmark] during the past 2 decades, which is expected given previously described increases in the use and potency of cannabis. This finding has important ramifications regarding legalization and control of use of cannabis.”

From Pain:
Physical Pain Can Trigger an Alcohol Relapse

People go to great lengths to tamp down their physical pain, especially the chronic variety. In fact, the quest for pain relief was a key in sparking the opioid epidemic. Relapse drinking also can be connected to physical pain, according to research out of the University of Valencia in Spain. “Pain-induced negative affect reduces life quality of patients by increasing psychiatric comorbidities, including alcohol use disorders (AUD),” the study’s authors write in the journal Pain. “Indeed, clinical data suggest pain as a risk factor to suffer AUD, predicting relapse drinking in abstinent patients.”

From Neuropsychopharmacology:
The Impact of Language on Addiction, Mental Health

We at TreatmentMagazine.com can’t stress it enough: Words matter when it comes to addiction and mental health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is banging that same drum. Leaders from the government agency, notably Nora Volkow, put it bluntly in Neuropsychopharmacology: Using the correct terminology around mental illness and addiction—in other words, language that reduces stigma—can go a long way toward improving outcomes. In particular, care providers need to give more thought to the way they communicate with patients.

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