Controlled alcohol consumption does not pose any immediate danger to the public’s general health; however, excessive and persistent drinking can negatively compromise the health of a person by increasing the odds of developing a chronic condition earlier on in life.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study have considered alcohol consumption to be linked to 20 disease categories, including chronic diseases, cancer, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular disease. Research that has largely been conducted in Western populations has examined and proved a close tie exists between alcohol consumption and increased risk of chronic conditions and diseases. This association was examined further by Pek Kei Im and colleagues, who factored in a larger variety of drinking patterns and diseases newly associated with alcohol consumption in Chinese men living in China, a less studied demographic in the literature.

A large cohort study of 210,205 men enrolled in the 12-year China Kadoorie Biobank was conducted and published in Nature Medicine in 2023. The study examined patterns in alcohol consumption and risk of developing chronic conditions. Two separate analyses were conducted, the first looked at regular drinkers versus occasional drinks, and the second looked at the impact of dose-response among current drinkers. It was found that 23 disease outcomes were statistically significant in both analyses. More risk of morbidity was associated with alcohol-related diseases than other diseases for ex-drinkers; the risk declined with duration after quitting alcohol. Regular drinkers were 29% more likely to develop colon cancer compared to regular drinkers, and current drinkers who consumed 280 grams of alcohol per week were 10% more likely to develop larynx cancer compared to men who drank less than 140g per week. Other distinct disease categories where increased risk was observed in both analysis groups included blood and immune-related conditions, endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic conditions, circulatory conditions, and respiratory conditions.

Colon cancer decreases the quality of life of all those affected and contributes to the global disease burden. Intervening through preventative public health measures could effectively reverse the rate seen in recent decades. GlobalData epidemiologists estimate that by the end of 2023, the diagnosed incidence (cases per 100,000 population) of colorectal cancer in men ages 18 years and above in urban China will be just over 79 cases per 100,000 population. That number is expected to increase to nearly 97 cases per 100,000 population by the end of 2031 (Figure 1, above).

Heavy periodic and daily drinking exacerbates the risk of developing chronic conditions; a lifestyle change could significantly improve population health and indirectly reduce the disease burden caused by alcohol-related diseases.

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