Americans are drinking themselves to death at record rates. Hooray!
Some very uplifting news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol related deaths are up 37 percent from 2002. From 2006 to 2010, excessive alcohol use led to about 88,000 deaths each year.
Alcohol related, by the way, does not include drunk driving deaths, other accidents, or homicides committed under the influence. The CDC estimates that, should those numbers be added to this depressing tally, the number of annual deaths directly or indirectly caused by alcohol would rise to 90,000.
Deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers have skyrocketed since the early 2000s, so public health experts have expended their energy and focus on those issues. But the new federal data indicates more people died from alcohol-induced causes than from heroin and prescription painkillers combined. (The margin is slim but significant: 30,722 alcohol deaths, compared to 28,647 heroin plus prescription deaths.)
It is worth it to note that perhaps a useful metric to employ would not just be “number of people killed” but also “percentage of users killed,” as there is a bit of an implication here that alcohol is more dangerous than, say, heroin. This seems… not exactly accurate. It is, after all, possible to consume alcohol in moderation; not so for heroin, cocaine, and the like.
The CDC defines “excessive drinking” in an interesting way: it includes both the obvious (binge drinking) and the questionable (“any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21,” which suggests that even a teen taking a sip of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine is technically “binge drinking”).
Binge drinking means four or more drinks in a single sitting for women, five or more for men, because the patriarchy is everywhere. Heavy drinking is a separate category: at least eight drinks a week for a woman and 15 or more drinks per week for a man. The CDC notes that most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.
Per capita alcohol consumption has been increasing since the 1990s, particularly among women.
But don’t panic/dump out all the eggnog just yet: Duke University professor Philip J. Cook, who studies alcohol consumption patterns, told the Chicago Tribune that, when adjusted for age, the increase in alcohol fatality rates does narrow. Older Americans face a higher risk of diseases like cirrhosis, and the American population has aged quite a bit since the 1980s. The increase in alcohol deaths “could plausibly be accounted for by the growth in per capita consumption,” Cook said.