Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

1 in 10 premature deaths in U.S. is linked to alcohol

1 in 10 premature deaths in U.S. are linked to alcohol
Nationally, the annual rate of alcohol-related premature deaths in the study was 27.9 per 100,000 people, or 3.6 percent of all deaths.

Here’s a startling — and sobering — statistic: The excessive consumption of alcohol leads to nearly 1 in 10 premature deaths among working-age adults in the United States.

That’s a key finding from a new report published late last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Using U.S. death data and a special statistical tool, the CDC researchers estimated that excessive alcohol use — which includes binge drinking, heavy weekly alcohol consumption and drinking while pregnant or under the age of 21 — was responsible for an average of almost 88,000 deaths annually from 2006 through 2010.

The researchers also found that alcohol-related premature deaths resulted in an estimated 2.5 million years of potential life lost during that five-year period, or an average of 30 years lost for each death.

Nationally, the annual rate of alcohol-related premature deaths in the study was 27.9 per 100,000 people, or 3.6 percent of all deaths. The state rates ranged from 51.2 per 100,000 (6.6 percent) in New Mexico to 19.1 (2.5 percent) in New Jersey.

Minnesota’s rate was 23.3 per 100,000, or 3.3 percent of all deaths.

When only adults of working age — 20 to 64 years old — were considered, the rates quickly doubled or tripled, the CDC study found. Among this age group, 9.8 percent of all deaths in the United States between 2006 and 2010 were attributable to excessive drinking. Once again, New Mexico had the highest rate (16.4 percent), but this time Maryland had the lowest (7.5 percent)

Minnesota’s rate of alcohol-attributable deaths among working-aged adults was 9.9 percent.

Dozens of illnesses

When we hear the words “alcohol-related death,” most of us tend to think of cirrhosis of the liver or a drinking-related car crash or perhaps even alcohol poisoning (such as a young person foolishly and tragically downing too many drinks at his or her 21st birthday celebration).

Those may be among the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths, but, as this CDC report makes clear, they’re not the only ways that drinking too much alcohol can kill.

Indeed, the CDC study lists 44 different chronic and acute alcohol-related causes of premature death.

Among the chronic causes are stroke (2,090 deaths per year, on average, during the period of the study); high blood pressure (1,603 deaths); liver cancer (997 deaths); epilepsy (203 deaths); and newborn deaths due to low birth weight, prematurity or other problems (165 deaths).

Among the acute causes are suicides (8,179 deaths), homicides (7,756 deaths), fall injuries (7,541 deaths), fire injuries (1,089 deaths), and drowning (963 deaths).

Drinking too much alcohol is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind smoking, a poor diet and a lack of physical activity.

A high cost

In addition to the physical, emotional and financial toll that excessive alcohol consumption places on individuals and their families, it also imposes a huge financial burden on the country. A few years ago, researchers reported that excessive drinking cost the U.S. economy $223 billion in 2006. Some of those costs are direct (health care and criminal justice expenses); others are indirect (lost productivity).

That adds up to about $1.90 a drink.

The authors of the CDC report recommend more widespread implementation of evidence-based interventions, including raising alcohol taxes, making alcohol retail establishments responsible for any harm that results from the serving of alcohol to underage or intoxicated customers, and limiting the days and hours during which alcohol can be sold.

You can read the CDC report on the agency’s website.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/30/2014 - 01:28 pm.

    A useful comparison

    It might be worthwhile – I’m neither a lawyer nor a public-policy professional, so I don’t have the tools or skills to do this quickly – to compare the costs in injuries and deaths from alcohol to those same costs in injuries and deaths from not just marijuana, but all other chemical substances currently deemed “illegal.”

    We know from past experience that prohibition doesn’t work, though – as a teetotaler – that’s the approach that my gut tells me we should take. Making public policy on the basis of emotion usually results in pretty poor public policy, and the facts don’t support prohibition as a useful means of dealing with what, I’d argue, ought to be considered a mental health/public health issue. Moreover, we know just as well from past experience that prohibition doesn’t work in the “…other than alcohol” arena of forbidden substances, either. If it did, there’s be no issues over marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and a whole rainbow of “recreational drugs” that appear and disappear on the party scene.

    So it would be interesting, and maybe even worthwhile, to examine the public dollars spent to regulate and/or limit the purchase and consumption of alcohol – given the number of premature deaths suggested here – versus the number of public dollars spent to regulate and/or limit (or in this case, prohibit) the purchase and consumption of all the other substances we’ve currently labeled as “illegal drugs” – especially given what I suspect is a substantially smaller number of deaths. My casual and totally unresearched guess is that we spend far, far more on the “war on drugs,” than we do regulating and limiting alcohol purchase and consumption, though I’m willing to be corrected on this. How much in the way of police resources – hours on the job, equipment, training, incarceration, rehabilitation, etc. – is spent on the “war on drugs?” How many “drug dealers” go to prison, or at least have a low-level felony on their record for supplying a willing customer with an ounce of marijuana, or cocaine? How many barkeepers go to prison, or at least have a low-level felony on their record for supplying a willing customer with the alcohol that pushed that customer over the legal limit, with the result that they crashed their automobile into that unsuspecting bike rider, or pedestrian, or family in another vehicle? Why don’t we prosecute indulgent parents who buy a an assortment of hard liquor for their child’s graduation party when someone at that party foolishly drinks enough to kill themselves?

    When some of my neighbors and acquaintances begin to speak disparagingly of “drug dealers,” as has sometimes happened, I’m often tempted to remind them that every liquor store in the country is a “drug emporium,” and every liquor store owner and/or clerk, not to mention the even more obvious barkeeper, is just as much a “drug dealer” as that guy or girl on the street corner with the little plastic bags in his/her pocket.

    Given the influence of liquor store owners/drug dealers on the state legislature in Minnesota, not to mention other states, I don’t think we should expect to see ANY of those provisions at the end of the column – from raising taxes to limiting hours of sales to holding dealers responsible for harm to their customers – enacted any time soon.

    I do wonder how the CDC managed to achieve the granularity they imply that they’ve done in separating out those deaths “influenced” by alcohol from similar deaths in which alcohol played no role.

  2. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 06/30/2014 - 09:50 pm.

    Easing Minds about People with Mental Illnesses and Alcoholism

    I have been serving the Hennepin County Adult Mental Health Advisory Council, appointed by our Hennepin County commissioners in February 2012, with a mission to de-rail apprehensions, exaggerations, and other hurtful, harmful, and frightening misinformation about people with mental health issues.

    To be clear, I am interested in de-mystifying and de-stigmatizing people regardless of their medical condition.

    Despite the tendency of people with mental illnesses, including alcoholism, to be portrayed as killers and other dangerous people; and the blow back being harassment, joblessness, marginalization; and other adverse factors that typically keep even those of us from the wealthiest of families poor throughout our lives — given time away from work and despite progression toward and into excellent health, I ask the community to look both at the numbers of people with mental illnesses who fall into alcoholism, and into deadly collisions when driving impaired.

    The greater problem is with those who drink, whether or not they have a mental illness, drive drunk, and harm themselves or others, leading to death.

    We as a society must be more open-minded about the way we talk about, and use, alcohol around under-age drinkers and non-drinkers, and set a good example by teaching good alcohol consumption hygiene.

    The summer movies that portray teen and college age drinkers as drunks; and society’s unspoken tolerance and intolerance for famous people who get wild at parties must firmly and frequently be raised to the companies and political parties who continue to work with undisciplined alcoholics and young entertainer “bad boys,” and “bad girls,” without shaming people for being alcoholics.

    Openly talking about this form of chemical dependency and mental illness is continuing to be great for bringing down deaths. Having a society that is energized and motivated to nurture and get their friends, loved ones, and colleagues to long-term therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous will continue to lend ourselves to a safer, healthier, and a less anxious environment.

    I am particularly interested in people with mental illnesses who drink alcohol at all, at any time, and for any reason. If someone is on medication, the combination may create an opportunity for greater sickness, accidents, and death.

    As one who has tackled Bi-Polar Disorder since I was in my teens (I am now 52), I don’t find that alcohol has much of a place in my life. I’ll occasionally have a glass of wine, but it is mostly iced tea, soft drinks, coffee, and water — and chocolate milk shakes, which I use for creating a little high in my life from the sugar and caffeine, and from the wine or beer. I consume less than two alcoholic drinks a year, on average.

    Hazing people to “just have a drink! You’ll enjoy yourself,” and other obnoxious taunts, is no longer appropriate as we as a society become more cost and collision conscious. The state of our overall health is far more important than imbibing at a cost to our health, livelihoods, and life.

    I do not endorse total abstinence for most people, but a cautionary word to those who cannot hold one drink without getting arrested for a violation on the road is needed.

    One of my friends is very responsible with most of what is going on in his business and family life for most of the time. He is wiry and muscular; from India. Last year, in New Prague, he was pulled over twice for intoxicated driving, even though he had only one drink in two hours both times while with his in-laws and wife’s superior at work.

    Subsequently, he is on probation, must blow into a machine installed into his Audi, every fifteen minutes; and has been on house arrest for a period of time. He also did time in a local jail for a week, where he taught other inmates yoga moves and made friends.

    Life is what we make of it. Young adults must learn that it is mostly fine to drink alcohol; but, that limits must be set — and those limits should be taught by responsible and enthusiastic parents or other safe adult figures.

    Stopping to give money to poor people at stoplights is, in my opinion, not the brightest idea for a number of reasons: often, the money goes back to alcohol, and they remain in a lifestyle of begging, instead of getting into therapy and having a place to live where abusers are accepted, given responsibilities, and taught to find work.

    Also, not all “beggars” are interested in simply our money. Car thieves and sexual offenders may be being playing the role of beggar.

    The bottom line, in this note, is that most killers are not deranged people who are mentally ill — although suspenseful movies and ongoing news reports about a person with a mental illness who shot up a school, assassinating small children, dock-workers, military personnel, high school students, movie-goers, and temple visitors, and the like, have taken our consciousness for months at a time, and created harmful stigma.

    Let’s begin to radically change our thoughts on how youth and overburdened adults enter the alcohol drinking community, become less frightened of most drunks and most people with mental illness; and create within ourselves a nurturing spirit to aid people in their nascence as a drinker, and then through recovery. Again, shaming people is not the way to go. Responsibly supporting those around us is, indeed, our best hope.

    Barry N. Peterson
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    University of Minnesota – CLA, B.A., History, 1996

Leave a Reply