How do I know if I have an alcohol problem?

If you feel like you need to drink to cope with your cancer treatment, you should speak with a member of your healthcare team or trusted adult. Your treatment team can help you with the resources necessary to help keep alcohol out of your life while undergoing treatment.

While drinking any alcohol while undergoing treatment can be dangerous, there are three drinking behaviors that can be especially problematic and dangerous:


Alcoholism is a disease often marked by these elements:

  • Craving. The person has a strong need to drink.
  • Loss of control. The person finds it difficult to stop drinking once he or she starts.
  • Physical dependence. The person has withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when he or she stops drinking after a period of heavy alcohol use.
  • Tolerance. The person finds he or she needs to drink more alcohol to get high.


Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it doesn’t include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence. Instead, alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that may be accompanied by one or more of the following problems:

  • Failure to follow through on major work, school, or home responsibilities.
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous. A person might drink while driving a car or operating machinery.
  • Recurring alcohol-related legal problems. These include being arrested for driving under the influence or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems caused or worsened by alcohol.


Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk—the point at which the drinker is risking health or behavioral problems as a consequence of drinking. For men, that means having five or more drinks in quick succession. Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol, so their binges are defined as four or more drinks in a row. Binge drinking is common among those who suffer from alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

Besides the risk of death from overdose, bingeing involves other dangerous or negative consequences, including:

  • Accidents. Alcohol impairs sensory perceptions, judgment and reaction time.
  • Date rape. Alcohol can be a significant factor in sexual assaults on students.
  • Unprotected sex. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also have a greater chance of pregnancy.
  • Violence. Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
  • Alcoholism. Some college students who abuse alcohol will become alcoholics. Chronic alcohol use can damage the liver and heart and increase the risk of some cancers.
  • Bad grades. Students who drink the most have the worst grades.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

Although alcohol affects different people in different ways, in general, it is quickly absorbed from your digestive system into your blood. The amount alcohol in your blood peaks within 30 to 45 minutes.

Guys generally can drink more alcohol than girls of the same size before they show its effects. This is because girls have less body water than guys of similar body weight. Because alcohol mixes with water, girls tend to have a higher concentration of alcohol than guys of the same weight after drinking the same amount of alcohol. Women also have lower levels of one of the enzymes that metabolize alcohol, so the alcohol they drink stays in their bodies for a longer time. Therefore, with the same amount of consumption, a woman’s brain and other organs are exposed to more alcohol and more of its toxic byproducts.

*It is very important to know speak with your doctor about the effects of drinking alcohol with any of the medications you may be taking for your treatment.*

Does alcohol affect my cancer?

Alcohol can have a number of negative effects on your body while undergoing cancer treatment.

  • Alcohol can influence medications and how well they work, including many cancer treatments, and antidepressant and antianxiety drugs you may take during your treatment. In fact, it can cause serious, negative reactions or reduce the effectiveness of drugs being used to fight your cancer.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects of chemotherapy and can leave you dehydrated. If you add alcohol to the mix, the dehydration is made much worse.

While you are undergoing chemotherapy, your liver is working extra hard to process the extra toxins in your body. Alcohol can interfere with the liver’s ability to effectively break down the toxins. In many cases, your doctor may recommend that you avoid alcohol altogether, especially if you have liver damage or have a cancer affecting the liver.

Cancer and Drinking

Being diagnosed with cancer is tough. You probably feel confused, angry and overwhelmed with questions. You may turn to drinking alcohol to help relieve the physical and emotional pain that you experience or may want to continue drinking with friends as you’ve done in the past.