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Drunken Americans: Alcohol Related Death at 35-Year High — Outpacing Deaths from Painkillers and Heroin Combined

Photo Keoni Cabral.
Photo Keoni Cabral.

By
Many Americans love alcohol — we drink a few beers while watching sporting events, enjoy wine with dinner, and have a scotch to relax. Some, however, have always loved it a little too much, prompting public health officials and groups to begin touting the dangers of excessive drinking. Despite many campaigns aimed at curbing binge drinking and drunk driving, we’re still overdoing it. Alcohol is killing Americans at a rate not seen in the last 35 years.

In 2014, there were 30,000 American deaths from alcohol-induced causes, including alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis, liver damage primarily caused by drinking. That translates to 9.6 deaths from alcohol-induced causes per 100,000 people, a figure that has risen 37 percent since 2002. These alarming numbers don’t even include deaths from drunk driving, and other accidents or homicides committed under the influence of alcohol. Factoring in deaths directly or indirectly caused by alcohol would cause the number of annual deaths to rise to around 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Where The Problem Lies

Per-capita alcohol consumption has been rising nationally since the late 1990s, according to Philip J. Cook, a Duke University professor who studies alcohol consumption patterns.

“Since the prevalence of heavy drinking tends to follow closely with per capita consumption, it is likely that one explanation for the growth in alcohol-related deaths is that more people are drinking more,” he told The Washington Post.

The number of Americans who drink at least once per month rose by a small but significant amount between 2002 and 2014, from 54.9 percent to 56.9 percent, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This change occurred most significantly in women—the percentage of women drinking at least monthly rose from 47.9 to 51.9 during the years examined. The women also reported higher rates of binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on one occasion.

Somewhat predictably, the heaviest drinkers are at greatest risk for alcohol-induced causes of mortality. Prior research by Cook demonstrated that the top 10 percent of American adults consume the majority of alcohol in the country — an astonishing 74 drinks per week on average. For those who drink less, the line between moderate and dangerous can be a thin one. Research has shown one to two drinks a day is associated with health benefits and a decreased risk of mortality, but just a little more can have the opposite effect.

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