Alcohol-Related Deaths Have Doubled Since 1999. Here's Why.

  • Alcohol-related deaths are on the rise according to a new study.
  • In 2017, 3 percent of 3 million deaths involved alcohol.
  • Rates were highest among men between the ages of 45 to 74.
  • Study findings indicate women and people over 50 have seen the greatest increases in alcohol use.

A new study finds that the number of alcohol-related deaths per year among people ages 16 and older doubled from 35,914 to 72,558 between 1999 and 2017.

Researchers analyzed U.S. mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics to find almost 1 million alcohol-related deaths were recorded between 1999 and 2017.

The study was published Jan. 7 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Many deaths caused by liver disease or overdose

Researchers found that in 2017 nearly 3 percent of roughly 3 million U.S. deaths involved alcohol. Nearly half of those deaths were caused by liver disease or overdosing on alcohol alone or in addition to other drugs.

Rates were highest among men, people between 45 to 74 years old, and among non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Natives.

“Given previous reports that death certificates often fail to indicate the contribution of alcohol, the scope of alcohol-related mortality in the United States is likely higher than suggested from death certificates alone. Findings confirm an increasing burden of alcohol on public health and support the need for improving surveillance of alcohol-involved mortality,” wrote the study authors.

Alarming statistics

The study reveals that trends in alcohol use are different for men than for women.

Researchers found while the overall prevalence of drinking and binge drinking didn’t change for men, among women there was about a 10 percent increase in the prevalence of drinking and an almost 25 percent increase in binge drinking.

People 50 and older also increased alcohol consumption more compared to younger age groups.

“I think it’s important to recognize what alcohol is. Alcohol is effectively, in many ways an anesthetic, alcohol makes you feel less, not feel more,” Alex Dimitriu, of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine, told Healthline.

“The question then becomes, ‘What is it that we’re trying to anesthetize?’ Because I think that these rising rates of alcohol-related deaths and binge drinking are really evidence of a society that perhaps is trying to mask, hide, or run from something,” he said.

Significant increase in alcohol-related deaths

According to the study findings, rates of emergency department (ED) visits that involve alcohol increased almost 50 percent among people ages 12 and older.

Alcohol-related ED visits and hospitalizations were significantly greater for females than males and even more evident in older age groups.

“Women are continually increasing in their use of alcohol, you know, catching up to men. Alcohol use among women is not only increasing but the openness of it is increasing as well,” said Moe Gelbart, PhD, a psychologist at Gelbart and Associates.

Researchers also found evidence suggesting deaths related to drinking are on the rise.

Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of deaths from alcohol-related liver damage (cirrhosis) in the United States increased 35 percent with the number of deaths about 74 percent higher, according to recently published research.

However, “the full magnitude of alcohol-related mortality in the United States is difficult to determine, in part because the contribution of alcohol is not always apparent at the time that a death certificate is completed,” study authors wrote.

Some research indicates that death certificates can often fail to record the contribution of drinking to cause of death.

One study found fewer than 20 percent of drunk-driving fatalities were recorded as alcohol-related on death certificates.

Alcohol-related deaths in the US

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

  • An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
  • In 2014, alcohol-related driving deaths accounted for nearly 10,000 deaths or 31 percent of overall driving fatalities.

“Another factor is that, like with many other diseases, there’s better reporting. Deaths which were not attributed to alcohol-related illness in the past are being recognized more,” Gelbart said.

“We also know that suicide is greatly on the rise, and alcohol is a huge factor in suicide rates,” he added. “I’m not surprised that there’s an increase in deaths and an increase in alcohol use in general.”

Possible reasons why

Dimitriu emphasized that it looks like people are in distress, and he highlighted the increasing popularity of apps like Calm and others intended to improve anxiety or insomnia.

“My theory is that we’re missing out on something we had before. It could range from either the structure of nearby family, or a good social network,” Dimitriu said.

“Maybe that’s been broken down by the presence of social media or other factors like that, or longer work hours. Depression rates have also been increasing, and suicide has as well,” he said.

He explained that conditions like depression, anxiety, and insomnia, while being physical issues, can also result from “a disconnect from essential functions like off-time, friends, family, and love.”

Dimitriu concluded that maybe technology has outpaced biological evolution and many people need relief from that stress — and alcohol is the most easy drug to access.

The bottom line

New research finds that rates of death from alcohol use have doubled from 1999 to 2017.

Experts emphasize that these findings may underestimate the true numbers because even when alcohol is a factor, it isn’t always recorded as a cause of death.

Study findings indicate women and people over age 50 have seen the greatest increases in alcohol use.

Article adapted from: Healthline

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