Premature deaths from alcohol have lost Americans a combined 2,560,290 years of their lives each year on average. That translates into 1 in 10 potential years lost for every working-age American. It may be poured from a fancy bottle, served in a frosty mug, or garnished with olives, but that does not negate the fact that alcohol is a drug – and like any drug, it can kill. Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking – defined as consuming five-plus drinks on one occasion for men and four-plus drinks for women – comes with serious risks.
Along with contributing to health problems such as cancer, liver damage, brain damage, hypertension, heart disease, and fetal damage, alcohol abuse can increase the risk of injuries, violence, and accidents. Issues like these have caused excessive alcohol consumption to become the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
To highlight this tragic issue, we gathered CDC data that tracks alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost during a five-year period. Comparing the ages at which people died with their typical life expectancies yielded an estimate of lost years. We examined three core areas: which states lose the most residents to alcohol-related deaths, which diseases and injuries cause more years of life to be lost, and which gender is most prone to losing happy, productive years due to alcohol. Explore our real-time ticker to see just how many lives are lost to alcohol in the U.S. over time – and keep reading for the grim truth about the toll alcohol takes on people’s lives.
Mapping deaths from alcohol
Many of the states that suffer the most years lost to alcohol-related deaths among residents (based on population) are located in the West and the Southeast. The top five are New Mexico, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and Mississippi. Rural states can especially struggle with alcohol-related deaths for various reasons. Obesity – prevalent in rural areas – can heighten the risks of alcohol consumption. Additionally, rural states tend to have less access to health care than do urban states with higher populations and people tend to log more miles in vehicles – both of which are factors in alcohol-related deaths. In New Mexico, a total of 1,491.6 years per 100,000 residents has been lost to alcohol. Deaths related to alcohol comprise 16.4 percent of all deaths – a higher proportion than in any other state. Experts point to factors such as New Mexicans’ propensity for binge drinking that becomes deadly and areas with a large Native American population (a group particularly at risk for alcohol-related health problems).In addition, New Mexico has a high rate of drug overdoses (alcohol use can be a contributing factor) and a high rate of alcohol poisoning.Not surprising due to it’s high rates of alcohol-related deaths, Alaska, residents rank near the top among all states when it comes to alcohol consumption per capita. Similar to New Mexico, the extremely rural state has a high Native American population and in addition, low access to many social services.
Conversely, Missouri has the fewest years of life lost to alcohol-related deaths: 544.6 per 100,000 residents. Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Utah complete the bottom five states with the lowest alcohol-related deaths. According to the CDC, Missouri ranks below the national average for drunk driving, and it has a relatively low rate of excessive drinking and a high rate of high school graduation.
Hawaii comes in second to Missouri in low rates of alcohol-related deaths. This is not surprising as the state is often hailed as the healthiest in the nation due to low smoking and obesity rates, as well as a low prevalence of depression and a high exercise rate.
alcohol-related diseases by gender
Next, we examined chronic diseases related to alcohol that can steal years from Americans’ lives. Across the board, men experienced more lost years than women. In some cases, these conditions are a direct result of consuming alcohol; in others, they are the effects of another person’s drinking – for instance, an infant born with low birth weight due to a mother’s drinking or a person riding in a car with a drunk driver.
Among both genders, the top four diseases were shared: alcoholic liver disease, liver cirrhosis (a late-stage disease marked by liver scarring), alcohol dependence syndrome, and alcohol abuse. However, the fifth most deadly alcohol-related disease differed between men and women. Men are more affected by hemorrhagic stroke, while women are more likely to succumb to hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure).
Other diseases that are particularly concerning for men include liver cancer, alcoholic psychosis, and alcoholic cardiomyopathy (an abnormality in the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure). Diseases exclusive to the top 10 for women are breast cancer and low birth weight prematurity, in which infants fail to grow during pregnancy and weigh below the 10th percentile for normal weight. The CDC estimates that 3.3 million women in America put their unborn babies at risk by consuming alcohol while sexually active without using birth control.
Top Reason for Alcohol-Related Deaths in Each State
Deaths attributed to alcohol comprise multiple causes: Some are chronic diseases (such as alcoholic liver disease) while others are acute causes, with a very short period between onset and death (such as homicides). Across the country, 33 percent of years of life lost to alcohol were caused by chronic diseases, while 67 percent were due to acute conditions. We mapped the potential years lost by top cause in each state.
Of acute conditions, one stands out as most harmful: in the majority of states, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents outnumber other causes of death per 100,000 residents. However, along the West Coast (save for Hawaii) and in parts of the Southwest, alcoholic liver disease is a more common cause of death. Other states see less common contributors to alcohol related deaths such as suicide, homicide or non-alcoholic poisoning. In Alaska, alcohol-related suicide claims the most years of life, while in New York, D.C., and Illinois, alcohol-fueled homicide is the top cause. In Nevada, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, most deaths resulted from from non-alcoholic poisoning. In these cases, alcohol use directly contributes to the consumption of a harmful substance, including prescription medication.
How Do Men and Women Compare?
Men are much more prone than women to losing potential years of their lives to alcohol consumption. This is, in part, because men are more likely to binge drink, they binge drink more often, and they consume more drinks when they do so.
When examining the years each gender loses to alcohol in every state, immediate standouts emerge. Men in California have by far lost the most years to alcohol: a total of 223,463. Men in Texas have lost 145,850 years, while men in Florida have lost 134,072. These states represent three of the four in the nation with the highest population; however, in New York, which has the third-highest population, total years lost to alcohol by men was only 82,994. On the low end among men, male residents in Vermont lost the fewest years (3,102), followed by men in North Dakota, South Dakota, and D.C.
Within every state, men have lost more years to alcohol than women. However, three states stand out for female residents’ potential years of life lost: Women in California have lost 81,809 years to alcohol, women in Texas have lost 53,678 years, and women in Florida have lost 52,996. Conversely, of every state, women in Vermont have lost the fewest years to alcohol – only 1,233. Women in North Dakota, D.C., Wyoming, and Delaware also lost comparatively few years of life due to alcohol use.
Breakdown of Each Age Range
The interactive feature above tracks the number of years lost to alcohol by Americans in each age group.To explore the top causes in each age group, click on the ages along the top of the graphic.
Among Americans age 0 to 19, motor vehicle crashes shave off the most years (71,546), followed by homicide (58,115). “Other” reasons are the third-most-common cause. These include various chronic and acute causes, such as hypertension, drowning, and aspiration. Suicide and low birth weight (which of course only ranks as a cause in the youngest age group) are also relatively prevalent.
People aged 20 to 34 have a somewhat similar breakdown (car accidents the most prevalent, followed by homicide, non-alcoholic poisoning, and suicide), but the numbers are vastly larger. Nearly 261,000 years were lost to alcohol-related crashes in this age group compared with nearly 72,000 in the youngest group. Alcohol poisoning is responsible for nearly 15,000 lost years.
For Americans age 35 to 49, the cause that claimed the most years of life (over 193,000) was listed as “other.” Alcoholic liver disease was the second-most prevalent cause, shaving off 137,849 years. Motor vehicle accidents claimed 129,390 years and poisoning took 126,341 years.
As people age, the causes of alcohol-attributed deaths change. For people age 50 to 64, incidents and diseases that fall under the “other” category comprise the top cause. Alcoholic liver disease is the second-most frequent cause, followed by liver cirrhosis. Conversely, car crashes make up the lowest proportion of years lost. Fast-forward to age 65-plus, and injuries from falls claim the most years aside from the other category. Liver cirrhosis comes second, followed by alcoholic liver disease. Suicide and stroke are relatively common, as well.
This sobering visualization calculates the total number of lives and years lost to alcohol in the U.S., based on the numbers presented by the CDC. The arching red line represents the potential lifespan, while the falling red dot represents when a life ended. The continuing white lines on this graphic symbolize the potential life that was lost. With this, you can see how lives are ending much earlier than their expected lifespan.
As our study revealed, Americans are losing out on many years of life due to alcohol-related diseases and other causes. These people are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, and even grandparents. They are best friends, mentors, and co-workers. Tragically, they are losing many years that could otherwise be spent savoring life: gathering with friends and family, enjoying beloved pastimes, and meeting future generations.
Various factors can affect each state’s battles with alcohol abuse, including laws surrounding the availability, marketing, and price of alcohol. According to the Community Preventive Services Task Force, referenced in the CDC data we gathered, raising alcohol taxes to increase the cost of intoxicating beverages, regulating the density of stores that sell alcohol, and cracking down on those who serve alcohol to minors and already intoxicated patrons when it results in harm can help to decrease excessive alcohol consumption. In New Mexico, the No. 1 state for years lost to alcohol deaths, the governor’s office is making other recommendations, including urging doctors to ask patients about their alcohol use during checkups.
Your life matters too much to lose years to alcohol. If you are battling issues of alcohol addiction and abuse, Alcoholic.org can help. We offer free support and advice to empower you to find the right rehabilitation option so you can take back your life. Call 1-888-919-3845 to discuss your options, or visit Alcoholic.org to fill out a free and confidential form so we can send you information about rehab program options to help you find proper care.
Using data from 2006 to 2010 provided by the CDC, we were able to look at the various causes of death alcohol is attributed to and find out how many years, on average, have been lost due to alcohol-related deaths. We used 2013 population data to calculate per capita rates.
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