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Excessive drinking causes 10% of deaths among working-age adults

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Although many premature deaths are due to illegal drugs, a drug available since antiquity, alcohol, currently causes a substantial number of deaths. According to a new study released on June 26 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use is responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years in the US. The report notes that from 2006 through 2010, excessive alcohol use caused approximately 88,000 deaths per year, and shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years. The deaths were due to health damage from excessive drinking over time that caused diseases such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease, Some deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle accidents. In total, the CDC notes that 2.5 million years of potential life were lost each year due to excessive alcohol use.

The report notes that almost 70% of deaths due to excessive drinking involved working-age adults; furthermore, the majority (70%) were among men. Approximately 5% of the deaths involved individuals under age 21. The highest death rate due to excessive drinking was in New Mexico (51 deaths per 100,000 population), and the lowest rate was in New Jersey (19.1 per 100,000). “Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” explained Ursula E. Bauer, PhD, MPH, director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. She added, “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 report defined excessive drinking as any of the following: 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 any alcohol intake by pregnant women or those under the minimum legal drinking age of 21. The CDC notes that the price tag for excessive drinking in the US in 2006 was approximately $224 billion, or $1.90 per drink. Most of these costs were a result of lost productivity, including reduced earnings among excessive drinkers as well as deaths due to excessive drinking among working age adults.

The CDC researchers reviewed data from the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application for 2006-2010 to estimate the deaths. The ARDI makes available national and state-specific estimates of alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost. Currently, the ARDI includes 54 causes of death for which estimates of alcohol involvement were either directly available or could be calculated based on existing scientific information.

The independent HHS Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends several evidence-based strategies to reduce excessive drinking. These include increasing alcohol taxes, regulating alcohol outlet density, and avoiding further privatization of alcohol retail sales. For more information about excessive drinking, including binge drinking, and how to prevent this hazardous behavior, click on this link. Individuals who are concerned about their own or someone else’s drinking can call 1-800-662-HELP to receive assistance from the national Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service.