Heavy drinking drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves

From 2011 to 2015, excessive drinking ended lives 29 years sooner, on average, than expected

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Excessive drinking killed more than 95,000 people on average in the United States annually from 2011 to 2015. Close to 68,000, or 71 percent, each year were male, researchers report.

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Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life.

From 2011 to 2015, an average of 95,158 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 261 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected.

All told, the United States saw 2.8 million years of potential life lost each year, researchers report in the Oct. 2 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.

The researchers used a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates annual deaths and years of potential life lost due to an individual’s own or another’s excessive drinking. The tool takes into account whether the cause of death is fully attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, or whether excessive drinking can partially contribute to a condition, such as breast cancer.

Annually, about 51,000 of the deaths were from chronic conditions. The rest were sudden demises such as poisonings that involved another substance along with alcohol or alcohol-related car crashes.

The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as binging — drinking five or more drinks at a time for men, four or more for women — or drinking heavily over the course of the week. Men qualify at 15 or more drinks per week; for women, it’s eight or more.

The numbers of deaths and years of life extinguished due to excessive drinking have gone up since the last report. That assessment covered 2006 to 2010 and reported close to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million lost years annually. Recommendations from the Community Preventive Services Task Force, made up of public health and prevention experts, to stem excessive drinking include raising taxes on alcohol and regulating the number of places that sell alcoholic beverages (SN: 8/9/17).

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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