How Long Does Alcoholism Take To Kill You

How Long Does Alcoholism Take to Kill You?

It is no secret that alcoholism is bad for the body. It can harm the most vital organs, including the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. To make matters worse, it can weaken your immune system – and make you susceptible to certain cancers.

She's Drinking Alcohol

Given these effects, alcoholism may kill you in the long run. Depending on the disease you develop, you may only have a month to 20 years to live.

Advanced Liver Disease

Alcohol takes a heavy toll on the liver. It starts with alcoholic fatty liver disease, where the fat envelops the liver. During this first stage, the symptoms may be easily reversed with abstinence.

Should you continue with your drinking spree, your condition will progress to the next stage which is acute alcoholic hepatitis. As the name suggests, this is the time when the liver swells.

Although certain treatments may stop its progression, it can eventually lead to the third stage which is alcoholic cirrhosis. As the severe stage of liver disease, it is marked by liver damage that cannot be undone.

The prognosis for this disease depends on the stage and your ability (or inability) to stop drinking. According to the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project, the survival rate in 50% of patients is a mere 2 years. A smaller percentage – 35% – may survive well beyond 5 years.

Heart Disease

While drinking in moderation (1 a day for women and 2 for men) is good for the heart, too much alcohol can do the exact opposite. For one, binge drinking – or consuming 4 (for women) to 5 (for men) drinks in 5 hours – may lead to arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms.

Heart Disease

Alcohol can also affect the heart by causing high blood pressure. This may then lead to heart failure. Depending on the presence of other medical conditions, Dr. John Cunha of EMedicine Health puts life expectancy at about 10 years for roughly 30% of patients.

Alcoholism may also increase your risk for heart attack by a whopping 40%.  

Drinking can also lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is a condition that affects the cardiac muscles. Successful treatment depends on abstinence, with research showing 40-50% of unmanaged patients dying within 4-5 years.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Alcohol can drastically change the brain. Thiamine deficiency is the most common condition, affecting as much as 80% of heavy drinkers. Without proper management, this may progress to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS).

WKS is categorized into 2 disorders. One is Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is characterized by mental confusion, muscle incoordination, and paralysis of certain eye nerves.

Another syndrome is Korsakoff’s psychosis, which comes with memory and learning disturbances. This forgetfulness eventually leads to problems in coordination and walking.

While there is no established life expectancy for people with WKS, death may occur in as short as 6 months. With abstinence and the right treatment, a complete recovery is expected in about 25% of the population. 50% are expected to make partial recoveries, while the rest (25%) will, unfortunately, remain the same.

Alcoholic Pancreatitis

Consumption of alcohol leads to the production of harmful substances in the pancreas. In the long run, this could lead to alcoholic pancreatitis, which is the inflammation and swelling of the vessels in the said organ.

Alcoholic Pancreatitis

Chronic alcoholism is the main reason behind 17% to 25% of acute pancreatitis cases. Here, the onset is quick. The duration of symptoms such as upper abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting may last for a few days.

Acute pancreatitis usually occurs in persons who continuously drink 5 servings every day for 5 years. When combined with other risk factors such as cigarette smoking, consumption of 400 grams/40 drinks every month can increase one’s risk four-fold.

Likewise, chronic alcoholism is the culprit behind 40% to 70% of chronic pancreatitis, which is caused by recurrent acute pancreatitis attacks. Unfortunately, this increases the person’s risk for pancreatic cancer by as much as 20 times.

Sadly, there is no set treatment for pancreatitis. Doctors can only provide supplemental therapy, which includes IV fluids and pain medications. Given these remedies, Medscape puts life expectancy at 10 years (for 70% of patients) to as much as 20 years (45% of patients).


Liver Cancer

Alcoholism is a strong driving force behind several cancers. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it can cause the following malignancies:

1. Head and Neck Cancer

People who consume 3.5 drinks or more each day are likely to develop cancers of the oral cavity (except lips), throat, and voice box. According to Cancer Research UK, life expectancy for these conditions can range from 1 year (in 60% to 61% of patients) to 5 years (in 27% to 30% of patients).

2. Esophageal Cancer

Alcohol drinkers are at risk of developing esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. This often comes with a very poor prognosis, as only 10% to 20% of patients last for about 5 years.

3. Liver Cancer

Alcoholism is a common cause of liver cancer. The survival rate can be as low as 2 years, although some may last up to 5 years – granted that the tumor remains localized.

4. Breast Cancer

Women who drink more than 3 servings a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer. A 7% to 12% risk is also present in those who drink at least 1 serving (10 grams) each day.

Depending on the progression of the disease, life expectancy may be as low as 3 years (stage 4) to over 10 years (stage 1).

5. Colorectal Cancer

Like breast cancer, drinkers who consume 3.5 servings a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop cancers of the colon or rectum. Again, even 1 daily serving can increase risk by as much as 7%.

According to the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, about 10% of diagnosed individuals (usually aged 80 above) die within a month of diagnosis. Although this is the case, approximately 63% of patients enjoy a 5-year survival rate.


The life expectancy of alcohol-related diseases depends on severity – and whether or not you’re willing to quit drinking and undergo treatment. It can be as short as 1 month for colorectal cancer cases to as much as 20 years for managed pancreatitis.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)