As the U.S. population increasingly reaches for the bottle, this is having a worrisome impact on their health and longevity, NPR reports. A new analysis of national death records over the past decade found that the number of deaths for which alcohol was listed as a contributing cause has doubled while the per capita rate has increased by 50%.
Aaron M. White, PhD, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and colleagues conducted an analysis of 1999 to 2017 mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In these records, each death has listed an underlying cause as well as up to 20 other contributing causes. If alcohol was listed in any capacity as an underlying or contributing cause, the study authors considered it alcohol related.
Some alcohol-related causes of death include alcohol-related liver disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and accidents.
Recent research suggested that quitting smoking, drinking no more than moderately and eating a healthy diet could greatly reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC, the most common form of liver cancer).
Publishing their findings in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, White and his coauthors found that between 1999 and 2017, the number of annual alcohol-related deaths increased from about 36,000 to approximately 72,500. The rate of alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 deaths increased by 51% during this time, from 16.9 to 25.5.
During the entire span of the study, about 945,000 deaths were deemed related to alcohol.
Alcohol slightly exceeds drug overdoses, including those from opioids, as a contributing factor behind annual U.S. deaths; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 70,000 people died of overdoses in 2017. However, cigarettes are vastly more lethal than both drugs and alcohol, driving about 480,000 deaths annually.
Seventy percent of the U.S. adult population consumed alcohol in 2017, consuming an average of about 3.6 gallons of pure alcohol, or about 110 drinks.
Overall, the proportion of the population that drinks did not change during the study. However, among women, drinking prevalence increased by 10% and binge drinking prevalence increased by 23%.
Thirty-one percent of the alcohol-related deaths were driven by liver disease, while 18% were a result of overdoses, whether from alcohol alone or in conjunction with drugs.
The highest alcohol-related death rates were among men, those 45 to 74 years old and among Native Americans or Native Alaskans.
Alcohol-related death rates increased in all age groups, except 16- to 20-year-olds and those 75 years old or older, as well as in all racial groups. Initially, decreases in this death rate were seen among Latino men and Blacks, although the rates for both groups subsequently increased.
The steepest annual increase was among white women.
“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,” the study authors cautioned. They concluded, “Findings confirm an increasing burden of alcohol on public health and support the need for improving surveillance of alcohol-involved mortality.”
To read the NPR report, click here.
To read the study, click here.