Alcohol Remains a Leading Cause of Premature Death

Megan Brooks

June 27, 2014

Excessive alcohol drinking accounts for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"It's shocking to see the public health impact of excessive drinking on working-age adults," Robert Brewer, MD, head of the CDC's Alcohol Program and one of the report's authors, said in a statement. "CDC is working with partners to support the implementation of strategies for preventing excessive alcohol use that are recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force, which can help reduce the health and social cost of this dangerous risk behavior," he added.

The CDC says excessive drinking includes binge drinking (4 or more drinks on an occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men); heavy drinking (8 or more drinks a week for women, 15 or more drinks a week for men); and drinking while underage or pregnant.

Annually from 2006 to 2010, excessive alcohol use led to an average of 87,798 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost. Excessive drinking shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years, the CDC reports.

Most of the deaths (69%) involved adults 20 to 64 years old. About 5% of the deaths involved people younger than 21 years.

These deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease; and health effects from drinking too much in a short period, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes, the report notes.

The findings, published June 26 in Preventing Chronic Disease, are based on an analysis of data from the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application for 2006-2010.

ARDI provides national and state-specific estimates of alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost. ARDI currently includes 54 causes of death for which estimates of alcohol involvement were either directly available or could be calculated on the basis of existing scientific information.

Tragic Loss of Life

The highest death rate due to excessive alcohol use was in New Mexico (51 deaths per 100,000 population), and the lowest was in New Jersey (19.1 per 100,000). The national annual average was 28 deaths per 100,000. State-specific estimates of deaths and years of potential life lost because of excessive drinking by condition are available online.

The estimates for 2006 through 2010 are similar to the 2001 estimates, the CDC says, "and emphasize the substantial and ongoing public health impact of excessive drinking in the United States."

"Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives," Ursula E. Bauer, PhD, director of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a statement. "We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result."

The CDC says excessive drinking cost the United States about $224 billion, or $1.90 per drink, in 2006. Most of these costs were due to lost productivity, including reduced earnings among excessive drinkers as well as deaths due to excessive drinking among working-age adults.

Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:130293. Full text

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