I’ve been posting a lot about alcohol lately, partly because much of my work is focused on addiction, partly because many are embracing the concept of a “Dry January” and mostly because it still kills more people than any other drug on the planet.
That point was driven home further in a study published yesterday in the scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Study authors took a look at death certificates for people over the age of 16 filed nationally between the years 1999-2017. The results were astounding.
Alcohol-related deaths more than doubled between 1999 and 2017, claiming the lives of almost 1 million Americans.
Specifically, alcohol-related deaths increased 50.9% from 16.9 in 1999 (35,914 deaths) to 25.5 per 100,000 in 2017 (72,558 deaths). That means that in 2017 alone, 2.6% of about 2.8 million deaths in the US were alcohol-related. And given that death certificates often fail to accurately cite alcohol as a contributing factor, it’s even worse than we think.
Consider this: Opioid overdoses, which have been in the spotlight for the last decade, claimed the lives of 47,600 American in 2017. Alcohol killed 72,558. Generally, men died at a higher rate than women, but the largest annual increase in alcohol-related deaths was among non-Hispanic white women – not surprising given the pressures many women face and the “mommy wine” culture that’s become popular. It’s also not surprising that death rates also increased among older Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 given the depression and social isolation many seniors face.
About half of alcohol-related deaths in America are from liver disease or an overdose from alcohol or alcohol mixed with other drugs. The rest came from car crashes, a variety of cancers and other illnesses.
As our nation has rightly been focused on opioids, alcohol use and alcohol-related deaths have continued to climb. Heading into 2020, perhaps now’s the time to stop chasing the drug du jour and finally address the fundamental questions about why so many Americans are willing to risk their lives in order to escape.