Prevention Starts Now: Talking to Teens About Alcohol and Breast Cancer

This week’s blog post comes from Barb Thayer, Executive Director at Candor Health Education, an Illinois-based nonprofit organization that educates students, their trusted adults and communities on the topics of drug and sex education.

As Executive Director of Candor Health Education, I am all too familiar with the issues related to young people and alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is the most widely used substance among America’s youth.

Alcohol use and abuse can cause enormous health and safety risks for youth including school problems, social problems, legal problems, and a whole host of other issues. But what about the long-term effects of alcohol use?

As a Breast Cancer Survivor, I learned too late about the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer. According to, drinking even small amounts of alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Alcohol can raise estrogen levels in the body, which may explain some of the increased risks. Avoiding or cutting back on alcohol may be an important way for many women to lower their risk of breast cancer. My mother was also a breast cancer survivor. Had I known about the link between breast cancer and alcohol, I may have made different life choices.

When I was diagnosed in August 2021, it was a huge wake-up call for me. While I felt I had led a relatively healthy lifestyle, I kicked things into high gear, eliminated alcohol, sugar, and animal products, and increased my physical activity. After a lumpectomy and radiation treatments, I began to sink back into my old habits a bit, but drinking alcohol seemed less appealing. After drinking two glasses of wine on two separate occasions, I did not feel well and had hot flashes and crying spells. I determined that was my last drink. Has it been easy? No, but knowing the negative impacts the alcohol had on me each time I drank and the potential cancer-causing effect, I decided it was time to call it quits for good.

According to CNN, between 2002 and 2018, the number of adults age 18 to 22 in the United States who abstained from drinking alcohol increased from 20% to 28% for those in college. For those not in school, the percentage was 30%, up from 24% in 2002. Alcohol abuse among both groups decreased by roughly half. I wonder too if I had more information about the link between alcohol and breast cancer (among other cancers) in my college days or even when my mother was diagnosed when I was in my 30s if I would have made a different choice. I think the most important thing is to provide young people with all the facts and let them make their decision about whether to consume alcohol or not. This might be a good time to have a conversation with those you love.

Other great blog posts from Candor Health Education include:

Just Because They Can, Doesn’t Mean They Do

Teach Mental Health Now For Skills Later

The Power of Positive Self Talk

Please consider signing up for the Candor Health Education newsletter.

Substance Use Resources for Adolescents and Young Adults. Online resources aimed specifically at adolescents and young adults. 

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