Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths — United States, 2010–2012

Dafna Kanny, PhD; Robert D. Brewer, MD; Jessica B. Mesnick, MPH; Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD; Timothy S. Naimi, MD; Hua Lu, MS


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2015;63(53):1238-1242. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background Alcohol poisoning is typically caused by binge drinking at high intensity (i.e., consuming a very large amount of alcohol during an episode of binge drinking). Approximately 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consuming an average of eight drinks per episode.

Methods CDC analyzed data for 2010–2012 from the National Vital Statistics System to assess average annual alcohol poisoning deaths and death rates (ICD-10 codes X45 and Y15; underlying cause of death) in the United States among persons aged ≥15 years, by sex, age group, race/ethnicity, and state.

Results During 2010–2012, an annual average of 2,221 alcohol poisoning deaths (8.8 deaths per 1 million population) occurred among persons aged ≥15 years in the United States. Of those deaths, 1,681 (75.7%) involved adults aged 35–64 years, and 1,696 (76.4%) involved men. Although non-Hispanic whites accounted for the majority of alcohol poisoning deaths (67.5%; 1,500 deaths), the highest age-adjusted death rate was among American Indians/Alaska Natives (49.1 per 1 million). The age-adjusted rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in states ranged from 5.3 per 1 million in Alabama to 46.5 per 1 million in Alaska.

Conclusions On average, six persons, mostly adult men, die from alcohol poisoning each day in the United States. Alcohol poisoning death rates vary substantially by state.

Implications for Public Health Practice Evidence-based strategies for preventing excessive drinking (e.g., regulating alcohol outlet density and preventing illegal alcohol sales in retail settings) could reduce alcohol poisoning deaths by reducing the prevalence, frequency, and intensity of binge drinking.


Excessive alcohol use accounted for an average of one in 10 deaths among working-age adults (aged 20–64 years) in the United States each year during 2006–2010,[1] and cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006.[2] Binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men on an occasion, was responsible for more than half of these deaths[1] and three fourths of the economic costs.[2] Binge drinking also is responsible for many health and social problems, including alcohol poisoning.[3] Yet, approximately 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month, and consume an average of eight drinks per binge episode .[4] Most binge drinkers (90%) are not alcohol dependent.[5]

Alcohol poisoning is typically caused by binge drinking at high intensity. Such drinking can exceed the body's physiologic capacity to process alcohol, causing the blood alcohol concentration to rise. The clinical signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication are progressive, and range from minimal impairment, decreased judgment and control, slurred speech, reduced muscle coordination, vomiting, and stupor (reduced level of consciousness and cognitive function) to coma and death. However, an individual's response to alcohol is variable depending on many factors, including the amount and rate of alcohol consumption, health status, consumption of other drugs, and metabolic and functional tolerance of the drinker.[6,7]

Reducing the proportion of adults engaging in binge drinking (objective SA-14.3) and reducing the number of deaths attributable to alcohol (objective SA-20), including deaths from alcohol poisoning, are among the objectives in Healthy People 2020.[8] Reducing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use are also key components of the National Prevention Strategy.[9]