Alcohol-Related Deaths Have Doubled

Ten months ago, we warned on these pages that the alcohol addiction crisis in America was actually worse than the opioid epidemic that continues to draw most of the attention. A new study, published in “Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research” now confirms that troubling fact. 

The new research found that the annual number of Americans who have died from alcohol-related problems more than doubled between 1999 and 2017. In this latest analysis, the number of alcohol-related deaths per year among people aged 16 years and older rose from 35,914 to 72,558 and the rate increased from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000. 

The study looked at mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics to analyze alcohol-related deaths. Deaths were only considered alcohol-related, however, if alcohol was explicitly marked in death certificates as an underlying or contributing cause.

According to the study, nearly one million alcohol-related deaths were recorded between 1999-2017. That figure is more than 40 percent higher than the official number of drug overdose deaths for that period. Nevertheless, it is very likely an underestimate. 

A frequently quoted number, based on 2006–2010 data analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), puts deaths due to alcohol misuse at 88,000 per year, significantly higher than the 72,558 quoted in the new research. The CDC based the 88,000 figure on more than data from death certificates, which are known to miss a potentially high number of alcohol-related deaths. With more expansive analysis, the new study’s results should have been much worse. In fact, some experts regard the decade-old 88,000 number as outdated—and not in a good way. 

“The current findings suggest that alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses, and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population,” said Dr. George F. Koob, the director National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “The report is a wakeup call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health.”

One troubling aspect of this trend is the rise of alcohol-related deaths among women. “With increases in alcohol consumption and related medical emergencies, rates of death involving alcohol increased more for women (85 percent) than men (35 percent) over the study period, further narrowing once large differences in alcohol use and harms between males and females,” NIAAA warned in a statement. The study found that women were at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, alcohol-related liver disease and acute liver failure from excessive drinking. “The rapid increase in deaths involving alcohol among women is troubling and parallels the increases in alcohol consumption among women over the past few decades,” Koob said.

Whatever the exact numbers may be, it seems clear that alcohol use disorder (AUD) remains a serious health risk for too many Americans. According to NIAAA, “an estimated 16 million people in the United States have AUD.” In 2015, approximately 6.2 percent of adults in the United States had AUD. Too many of them do not seek treatment or do not have access to evidence-based therapies. Alcohol misuse continues to be a significant aspect of America’s ongoing addiction crisis. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and could benefit from addiction treatment services, please contact The Farley Center at 800.582.6066 or fill out our admissions request form.