For anyone who thinks alcoholism isn’t a deadly habit, a new government report paints a picture of the dangers of excessive drinking for adults in the U.S., warning that deaths directly related to alcohol have exponentially increased in recent years.
The science and other stuff to know
The report, published in the JAMA Network journal, shows alcohol abuse was responsible for nearly 13 percent of deaths in U.S. adults under the age of 65 between 2015 and 2019. The statistics were even more shocking among younger American adults: excessive alcohol use was responsible for more than 20 percent of deaths in people aged 20 to 49.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states “excessive drinking” includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, as well as any alcohol use by a pregnant person or an individual under the age of 21.
While the percentage of deaths attributed to alcohol use in the new study varied state by state, nationally, alcoholism is a leading cause of preventable death, according to lead study author Marissa Esser, who leads the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Alcohol Program.
In the study, researchers analyzed national and state mortality data from 2015 to 2019. The team then looked at deaths either partially or fully attributable to excessive drinking. Those causes of death included alcohol poisoning, car accidents, and other health impacts, such as liver disease. They found that excessive alcohol use accounted for more than 140,000 deaths per year.
There are a few limitations to the study, though. For one, researchers didn’t include the deaths of individuals who previously used alcohol but stopped later in life. The team also noted that individuals tend to under-report their alcohol consumption, which is why the actual numbers might be higher. The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic also saw more people drinking heavily, which could further skew the numbers.
For health and safety, researchers said the goal for the state and government agencies should be encouraging everyone to drink less to avoid addiction.
“States and communities can prevent these premature deaths using evidence-based strategies to reduce the availability and accessibility of alcohol and increase its price,” said Esser. That can mean increasing taxes on alcohol, limiting where alcohol is sold, and intervention, she added.
On an individual level, Esser suggested that people could try to stop or limit alcohol consumption. The CDC even has an alcohol screening tool that can help you evaluate your drinking habits and then come up with a plan to make healthier alcohol choices.
Reducing alcohol consumption has many health benefits, says Andrew Zasada, an internal medicine physician at OSF HealthCare in Champaign County, Illinois. “You might lose weight. You might lower your blood pressure. It may increase heart health,” Zasada said. “You’ll think clearer. You’ll sleep better.”
It’s also equally important to know how to help someone struggling with excessive drinking.