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How Many People Die From Alcohol in the U.S. Every Year?

Excessive alcohol consumption is a public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),4 excessive drinking is the culprit behind more than 95,000 deaths in the United States every single year. That equates to 261 alcohol-related deaths each and every day.

More than half of those who have lost their lives to alcohol suffered from the long-term health effects of drinking too much. These include certain types of cancers, liver disease, and heart disease. But some people were also killed in motor vehicle accidents and overdoses that also involved other substances. 

Regardless of how they died, their deaths shortened their lives by an average of nearly 29 years. This adds up to a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost to excessive alcohol consumption.

In fact, excessive alcohol use is such a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, it cost the country $249 billion in 2010.

How Many People Die From Alcohol Worldwide Every Year?

Around the world, people die from alcohol use every single day. In fact, the world witnesses three million alcohol-attributable deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization.1 This represents 5.3 percent of all deaths worldwide.

Moreover, alcohol is responsible for 5.1 percent of the global burden of disease and injury. In other words, if alcohol isn’t killing people directly, it’s causing diseases and injuries that can.

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Why Have Alcohol-Related Deaths Doubled Since 1999?

Since 1999, alcohol-related death rates in the United States have doubled among people who are at least 16 years old, according to a recent study published recently in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research by researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.17

Specifically, the amount of alcohol‐related deaths per year among people of at least 16 years old doubled from 35,914 to 72,558. The rate also increased 50.9% from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000. The study suggests that about one million alcohol-related deaths were recorded from 1999 to 2017. In fact, in 2017, 2.6 percent of the about 2.8 million deaths in the United States involved alcohol in some way, shape, or form.

There could be a whole host of reasons behind this increase. For example, alcohol is largely linked to depression,7 and depression has, too, been on the rise.

In fact, depression has tripled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.9 Plus, the rise of social media in recent years has led to people’s constant fear of missing out and the need to compare themselves to each other’s highlight reels. That alone has upped depression rates.14

Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Mortality

The risk of mortality increases the more (and more often) someone drinks.12 While heavy drinkers are at the highest risk of alcohol-related mortality, moderate drinkers still face some level of risk. Non-drinkers even face risk because they may be unfortunate victims in motor vehicle crashes.

For example, in 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.15 These drunk driving accidents accounted for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths across the country.

What are the Most Common Alcohol-Related Deaths? 

Some of the most common alcohol-related deaths include heart disease, cancer, and liver disease. Heavy use of alcohol, like all excessive substance use, can take a significant toll.

Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality

People die from excessive alcohol consumption every single day. On average, six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the United States.3 Many more people lose their lives to overdoses that involve other substances, including prescription drugs.

But the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths relate to longer-term diseases.

Alcohol Consumption and Heart Disease Mortality

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.6 This is true for both men and women across the board.

One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States due to heart disease. This adds up to about 655,000 Americans who die from it every year. That equates to about one in every four deaths across the country.

Alcohol misuse can lead to high blood pressure and other health conditions that cause strokes and cardiovascular diseases over time.5

Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Mortality

Heavy drinking can increase one’s risk of developing certain types of cancer. In fact, alcohol consumption ends in anywhere between 18,200 and 21,300 cancer deaths, or 3.2 to 3.7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.11 From 2013 to 2016 alone, alcohol consumption was linked to 75,000 new cancer diagnoses and nearly 19,000 cancer-related deaths each year.13

Mouth and throat cancer is largely linked to alcohol. Almost half of new diagnoses are related to drinking alcohol in most states.10 Almost 30 percent of all voice box (laryngeal) cancers are tied to alcohol. And about 12 percent of new breast cancer diagnoses in women related to drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Consumption and Liver Disease Mortality

Alcohol is one of the leading causes of liver disease. And liver disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. 

Liver cirrhosis was the 12th leading cause of death in the country in 2015.8 Specifically, 42,443 people died that year, which was 2,494 more people than the year before. Among the number of alcohol-related deaths linked to liver cirrhosis in 2015, nearly half (49.5) percent were alcohol-related.

Who is at Risk of Alcohol-Related Problems?

Anyone can develop alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is defined as an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol intake, despite the consequences, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.16

Binge drinkers and heavy drinkers are at higher risks of developing AUD over time.16 But other factors also contribute.

People who start drinking at an early age are at an increased risk of AUD later down the line. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are actually five times as likely to report having AUD as those who waited until the legal drinking age of 21 years old. Women in this group are at a higher risk than men.

Likewise, people who have a family history of alcohol problems are at risk of developing their own. About 60 percent of alcoholism is tied to genetics. This is also because parent’s drinking habits can influence their children’s patterns.

Mental health also plays a role. People who struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other mental illnesses are vulnerable to AUD. Those who still cope with childhood traumas are also at a higher risk.

That said, anyone can develop a drinking problem. If you, a loved one, or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction, seek professional help. You don’t have to navigate the road to recovery alone (and doing so is dangerous). 

How to Reduce Your Risk of Harm from Alcohol 

To reduce your risk of health problems from alcohol, be smart about how much and how often you drink — if you choose to drink at all. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.

Moderate alcohol use typically means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.2 This might be a standard beer (12 fluid ounces) or two, or a standard glass of wine (five fluid ounces) or two.

If you are dealing with a mental illness that may be driving you to want to drink, get professional help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and traditional talk psychotherapy can help you unpack your triggers and find healthier coping mechanisms.

Addiction Treatment: How to Stop the Cycle of Alcohol Abuse

Addiction treatment is available. Consider inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facilities, support groups, therapy, holistic health programs, and medication-assisted addiction treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you, and explore your options.

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Resources

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(1) “Alcohol Fact Sheets.World Health Organization, World Health Organization.

(2) “Alcohol in Moderation: How Many Drinks Is That?Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Oct. 2019.

(3) “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Jan. 2015.

(4) “Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use in the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan. 2021.

(5) Friesema, I H M, et al. “Alcohol Intake and Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: the Role of Pre-Existing Disease.Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, BMJ Group, May 2007.

(6) “Heart Disease Facts.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Sept. 2020.

(7) Kuria, Mary W, et al. “The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence.ISRN Psychiatry, International Scholarly Research Network, 26 Jan. 2012.

(8) “LIVER CIRRHOSIS MORTALITY IN THE UNITED STATES: NATIONAL, STATE, AND REGIONAL TRENDS, 20002015.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

(9) Mary Van Beusekom | News Writer | CIDRAP News  | Sep 03, 2020. “Depression Triples in US Adults amid COVID-19 Stressors.CIDRAP, 3 Sept. 2020.

(10) McDowell, Sandy. “US States Vary in How Drinking Alcohol Affects Cancer Diagnoses and Deaths.American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society, 22 Jan. 2021.

(11) Nelson, David E, et al. “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States.American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, Apr. 2013.

(12) Rogers, Richard G, et al. “NONDRINKER MORTALITY RISK IN THE UNITED STATES.Population Research and Policy Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2013.

(13) Sauer, Ann Goding, et al. “Proportion of Cancer Cases and Deaths Attributable to Alcohol Consumption by US State, 2013-2016.Cancer Epidemiology, Elsevier, 19 Jan. 2021.

(14) Seabrook, Elizabeth M, et al. “Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review.JMIR Mental Health, JMIR Publications, 23 Nov. 2016.

(15) “Traffic Safety Facts: Alcohol-Impaired Driving.NHTSA.

(16) “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

(17) White, Aaron M., et al. “Using Death Certificates to Explore Changes in Alcohol‐Related Mortality in the United States, 1999 to 2017.Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 7 Jan. 2020.

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