Alcohol Poisoning Kills Six Americans Every Day: CDC

Megan Brooks

January 06, 2015

More than 2200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year in the United States ― six people a day on average ― and most are middle-aged adults, according to new data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the US," said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD, in a statement.

"We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning," she added.

Baby Boomer Problem

Alcohol poisoning deaths are caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period, which can depress breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.

CDC researchers analyzed deaths from alcohol poisoning among individuals aged 15 years and older, using data from the National Vital Statistics System for 2010 to 2012.

According to the CDC's Vital Signs report, three quarters of alcohol poisoning deaths occurred in adults 35 to 64 years old.

"This study shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people," Robert Brewer, MD, CDC alcohol program lead and coauthor on the report, said in a statement.

Most alcohol poisoning deaths occurred in men and non-Hispanic whites, but American Indians/Alaska Natives had the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people.

Death rates from alcohol poisoning varied widely across states, from 46.5 deaths per million residents in Alaska to 5.3 per million residents in Alabama. States with the highest death rates were those in the Great Plains, the western United States, and New England.

"While this study reveals that alcohol poisoning deaths are a bigger problem than previously thought, it is still likely to be an underestimate," the CDC noted in a statement.

The report also shows that alcoholism was a contributing cause of death in only 30% of alcohol poisoning deaths. Most of these deaths involved persons for whom alcohol dependence was not listed as a contributing cause of death. This finding is in line with results of a recent study that found that 9 in 10 adults who drink excessively were not alcohol dependent, including more than two thirds of those who reported binge drinking at least 10 times per month, the CDC says.

Bingeing a Problem

Dr Brewer said the data also highlight the "importance of taking a comprehensive approach to reducing binge drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling in healthcare settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it."

According to the report, more than 38 million US adults report binge drinking an average of four times a month and consuming an average of eight drinks per binge. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion.

"Death from alcohol poisoning is a serious and preventable public health problem in the United States. A comprehensive approach to the prevention of excessive drinking that includes evidence- based community and clinical prevention strategies is needed to decrease alcohol poisoning deaths and other harms attributable to excessive alcohol use," the report concludes.

Vital Signs. Published online January 6, 2015.

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