Alcohol is one of the world’s most popular drugs. While it’s normal to meet friends at the bar for a cocktail at happy hour or enjoy a glass of wine, a new study highlights the importance of knowing when you’ve had enough to drink.
Nearly one in five deaths among Americans aged 20 to 49 were related to excessive drinking, according to a recent study published online in JAMA Network Open. When it comes to Americans aged 20 to 64, an estimated one in eight total deaths were alcohol-related, the study said.
The results indicated that death rates from fully alcohol-related causes have shot up in the past decade. While the study’s proportion of alcohol-related deaths varied by state, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Overall, alcohol contributes to about 95,000 deaths each year (68,000 men and 27,000 women), according to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The study’s researchers used national and state mortality data from 2015 to 2019 and examined deaths either directly or partly related to excessive drinking, including:
- Motor vehicle traffic crashes
- Alcohol poisoning
- Alcoholic liver disease
“This study is upsettingly not surprising with how our society views excessive drinking as different than drug use,” said Steven Henderson, assistant clinical director at addiction treatment center Landmark Recovery of Las Vegas. “There are plenty of people outside of this industry that I have met that aren’t even aware that alcohol withdrawal can kill you.”
There were many deaths that were likely alcohol-related, but were excluded from the study’s estimates, the researchers wrote. That’s because various factors made it hard to verify whether alcohol was fully or partly related. Additionally, researchers were unable to dictate if a person who died of an alcohol-related illness such as liver disease had a history of excessive drinking, but stopped. The study also accounted for “substantial underreporting of alcohol consumption in nationwide surveys.”
Moderate drinking vs excessive drinking
In the interest of public health and safety, Henderson said society as a whole should be more educated on the long-term effects of excessive alcohol use.
“Our society needs to be better educated on the effects of alcohol on the body and mind as well as what the CDC recommends for regular drinking, which is two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women,” Henderson said.
The CDC defines excessive drinking as:
- Binge drinking. Four (women) to five (men) or more drinks on one occasion, usually two hours
- Heavy drinking. Eight (women) to 15 (men) or more drinks per week
- Drinking by pregnant women or people younger than 21 years old (legal drinking age)
On the other hand, moderate drinking (or regular drinking), as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, suggests that adults of legal drinking age (21 or older) consume one (women) to two (men) drinks or less in one day.
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The benefits of limiting your drinking
Reduced drinking has many health benefits, says Andrew Zasada, an internal medicine physician at OSF HealthCare in Champaign County, Illinois. It’s equally important to know how to help somebody who struggles with excessive drinking as it is to monitor your own drinking.
“You might lose weight. You might lower your blood pressure. It may increase heart health,” Zasada said. “You’ll think clearer. You’ll sleep better.”
One short-term solution Zasada recommends is calling 911 at a party, for example, if a person needs immediate medical assistance. You can take their keys away if they’re unable to drive, and also provide headache medicine at recommended doses to help them avoid a hangover, one of the most common things to happen when a person stops drinking.
“We can only improve as a society if people are properly informed of these things,” Henderson added. “I highly encourage anyone reading this that if you or your loved one is drinking more than is recommended by the CDC to either reduce your drinking or seek help for their use.”
Need help with excessive drinking?
If you or a loved one struggles with excessive drinking, you could benefit from alcohol detox or behavioral therapy with licensed addiction recovery professionals. Call 888-448-0302 for more information on treatment programs at Landmark Recovery. A member of our admissions team is available 24/7.
Visit our locations page to find a treatment center near you.