Number 72 July 2007
Alcohol Metabolism: An Update
Drinking heavily puts people at risk for many adverse health consequences, including alcoholism, liver damage, and variouscancers. But some people appear to be at greater risk than others for developing these problems. Why do some people drink more than others? And why do some people who drink develop problems, whereas others do not?
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Research shows that alcohol use and alcohol-related problems are influenced by individual variations in alcohol metabolism, or the way in which alcohol is broken down and eliminated by the body. Alcohol metabolism is controlled by genetic factors, such as variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol; and environmental factors, such as the amount of alcohol an individual consumes and his or her overall nutrition. Differences in alcohol metabolism may put somepeople at greater risk for alcohol problems, whereas others may be at least somewhat protected from alcohol’s harmful effects.
This Alcohol Alert describes the basic process involved in the breakdown of alcohol, including how toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism may lead to problems such as alcoholic liver disease, cancer, and pancreatitis. This Alert also describes populations who may be at particular risk for problems resulting from alcohol metabolism as well as people who may be genetically “protected” from these adverse effect . . . . . . .