An average of six Americans die each day from alcohol poisoning — and most are binge-drinking, middle-aged white men, according to a study published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Those findings will undoubtedly surprise many people. For, according to conventional wisdom, alcohol poisoning — caused by consuming a very large amount of alcohol during a short amount of time — is a problem primarily for either college-aged men or old alcoholics.
Indeed, the CDC reported last fall that 18- to 34-year-olds were the age group with the most binge drinkers and that people 65 years and older were the ones who binge drink most frequently. (Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men on a single occasion.)
But this new study, which analyzed National Vital Statistics System data, found that three-quarters of the 2,221 people aged 15 and older who died of alcohol poisoning in the United States between 2010 and 2012 were not young or old, but middle-aged: 35 to 64 years old. It also found — less surprisingly — that three in four were men. The highest death rate was among men aged 45 to 64.
The study also found that nearly 70 percent of the deaths were among non-Hispanic whites, a finding that is consistent with the high incidence of binge-drinking previously reported in this population. The highest rate of alcohol-poisoning deaths — 49 deaths per 1 million people — occurred among American Indians and Alaska Natives, however. Another study recently found that these populations were seven times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning than whites. Reduced access to medical care as well has high binge drinking rates may contribute to their higher death rate, the CDC researchers point out.
Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) was a contributing factor in only 30 percent of the alcohol-poisoning deaths reported in this current study. “This result is consistent with the results of a recent study that found that nine in 10 adults who drink excessively were not alcohol dependent, including more than two thirds of those who reported binge drinking” 10 or more times per month, say the CDC researchers.
The new study also reports on the differences in alcohol-poisoning death rates among states. Those rates range from 5.3 deaths per 1 million people in Alabama to 46.5 deaths per 1 million in Alaska.
Minnesota fares poorly in this comparison, with 16.4 deaths per 1 million people. That death rate is the 8th highest among all the states.
You can read the CDC study on the agency’s website.