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Ask your Pharmacist: Alcohol health risks Part 2

Monday, 3rd March, 2014 4:11pm

Ask your Pharmacist: Alcohol health risks Part 2

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

This is the second of three articles in the Westmeath Examiner on dangers of alcohol if taken in excess.

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse

Abuse of alcohol can cause 63 different diseases to our body; I will just discuss some of the more common ones.


Excess drinking reduces the number of red blood cells which carry alcohol around the body and can cause red blood cells to become extremely low. This is called anaemia and can cause many symptoms like fatigue, lightheadedness and shortness of breath.


Many studies show that continual heavy drinking increases cancer risk. One of the reasons for increased cancer risk is that the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Areas where alcohol is known to increase cancer risk include the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), oesophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal region. Cancer risk rises even further in heavy drinkers who also smoke.

Cardiovascular disease

Heavy drinking, especially binge drinking makes platelets more likely to stick together to cause blood clots increasing risk of heart attack and stroke. Excessive drinking can also cause cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal condition where the heart muscle weakens and can eventually fail. Excessive alcohol can cause heart rhythm problems such as atrial and ventricular fibrillation both of which lead to the heart not pumping properly and can lead to clots and death.


Alcohol can cause damage to liver cells if overused over a prolonged period of time. Heavy drinkers can develop cirrhosis, a sometimes lethal condition where the liver is so heavily scarred that it cannot function properly.


As a person ages, the brains shrinks at an average of approximately 2% per decade. However heavy drinking accelerates the shrinkage of key areas in the brain leading to memory loss and other symptoms of dementia. Heavy drinking can also lead to mild but potentially debilitating problems including a person’s ability to plan, make judgments, solve problems and perform complex tasks.


Heavy drinking is often associated with depression. It has often been debated which comes first, the drinking or the depression. One theory is that depressed people use alcohol to ease emotional pain. But many studies are showing that is more likely the other way around (ie) it is heavy drinking that leads to depression more than the other way round.

Continue reading below...

Community Alcohol and Drug Service (CADS)

The HSE Community Alcohol and Drug Service offer counselling and treatment services for adults suffering from addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling. CADS have centres in Mullingar, Athlone and Longford. CADS also help support family members of people suffering from addiction problems. All services are totally confidential. You can contact them at 04493 41630. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer great support to those battling alcohol addiction. (more info on AA in the coming weeks).

To be continued next week….I discuss more conditions caused by alcohol abuse

More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans

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