Did you know that a whopping 95,000 Americans die from alcohol every single year?
Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death today. Find out what the other top two causes are and the dozens of different ways in which alcohol cuts your life short, as well as the one single health benefit of alcohol that, according to the CDC, saves the lives of 57 Americans every year.
The purpose of what we’re going to discuss today is not to scare but simply to educate.
I remember when I was going to school, we were constantly told, and I mean bombarded, about the dangers of illegal drugs. And particularly heroin. And so we should have been. But when you look at the hard data and compare the deaths from illegal drugs like heroin, they pale in comparison to alcohol. And you hardly hear anything about them.
Well, that’s all going to change today. So let’s get into it. We’re going to dive into the official Centers for Disease Control statistics, which are linked below.
The Big Picture
Alcohol kills 95,000 Americans every year.
On average, each of these 95,000 people died 29 years before their time. You multiply 95,000 people by 29 years and arrive at a figure of 2,755,000 lost years of life every year.
Overall, around 3.4 million Americans die from all causes every year, which means that alcohol claims the life of one out of every 36 people.
The National Institute of Health classes alcohol as the third leading preventable cause of death, trailing only tobacco and physical inactivity/poor diet. Tobacco claims about 435 thousand lives a year, and physical inactivity and a poor diet another 400 thousand.
Here’s how this total of 95,000 alcohol-related deaths breaks down. The large majority of victims are male, 68 thousand compared to 27 thousand females. Across both sexes, chronic causes of death are slightly more critical than acute: roughly 53% compared to 47%.
Chronic Causes of Death
We’re going to look at the chronic effects first. Everything that follows is for both sexes. To keep it simple, I’m not going to give separate stats per sex, but you can check out the links below if you want them broken down by sex.
The CDC splits the 51 thousand annual deaths from chronic causes into five categories.
First is what the CDC classifies as 100% Alcohol Attributable, which is exactly what it sounds like: deaths That have no other cause except for drinking alcohol. This breaks up into several subcategories, of which by far the most important is liver disease, accounting for 18 thousand deaths.
This is followed by two slightly more vague categories: alcohol dependence syndrome and alcohol abuse, at 4.2 and 2.6 thousand deaths, respectively. The CDC doesn’t give us more details about these categories. But I think it’s safe to say it refers to what we’d call chronic alcoholism, where the entire body basically gives out from all the years of excessive drinking.
None of the other subcategories in this group account for over 1,000 annual deaths.
The second major category of chronic deaths is cancer, with slightly over 5,000 deaths. According to the CDC, drinking alcohol is not 100% responsible for these deaths but contributes to them in people with cancer risk.
Again, we see the liver is by far the most affected organ. Colorectal cancer and cancers of the mouth and pharynx follow this.
The third major chronic category is heart disease and stroke.
Remember all the news stories about how red wine is good for your heart? Well, I have news for you: it’s not.
Around 3.5 thousand deaths from heart disease are linked to alcohol, and an equal number of deaths are linked to hypertension. Alcohol-related strokes kill over a thousand people a year.
The fourth category Is liver, gallbladder, and pancreas disease, accounting for a combined 10 thousand deaths.
Last but not least is a residual category of other chronic causes, which accounts for 315 deaths.
Acute Causes of Death
Moving on to the acute causes of death, we have five major categories.
First, alcohol-related poisonings. Interestingly, of the 14 thousand deaths in this category, only slightly over two thousand correspond to poisoning from alcohol itself.
You see, even though alcohol is a fairly toxic substance, a truly lethal dose is massive. Depending on your tolerance level, you’d need to do some heavy drinking, about four bottles of wine in one sitting, to die. It’s challenging to get to that point without passing out first. Hence the relatively low number of alcohol poisonings.
Far more common than alcohol poisoning is poisoning from other substances. Typically this will be cocaine or some other substance use that a drunk person will consume at the same time.
The second leading cause of acute deaths is suicides, with roughly 10 thousand deaths a year. Independent researchers estimate that 30 to 40% of suicides involve some degree of alcohol intoxication.
This is followed by motor vehicle crashes, with 7,000 annual deaths.
Last but not least, we have a residual category of other acute causes. This is quite the mixed bag.
The most common cause of death here is homicide, with 7,000 annual deaths. When you consider that the total annual number of homicides is 24 thousand, you see that alcohol is involved in almost 30% of these.
This is followed by fall Injuries, with 2,000 annual deaths, and then by fire injuries, at about a thousand deaths a year.
All the remaining categories account for a few hundred deaths each. For example, you have hypothermia at roughly 300 deaths a year. This is mostly people falling asleep out in the cold and never waking up after heavy drinking. Occupation and machine injuries account for slightly over a hundred deaths, as do accidental firearm injuries.
What About the Health Benefits of Alcohol?
Now, the section of the CDC website that we’re pulling this data from tabulates the total excess deaths from alcohol in the general population of the United States. In other words, how many extra people die in the US each year who would still be alive but for alcohol?
And, in all fairness, the CDC gives us their best estimate for the number of people alive today because of alcohol. In other words, the CDC believes that alcohol use has a certain health benefit, and according to its own data, 57 deaths are prevented each year due to this benefit.
And I’ll give you a little hint. It’s not a heart-related benefit. The CDC does not believe that alcohol protects anyone from heart disease. Can you take a guess?
According to the CDC, alcohol consumption saves the lives of 57 people a year who would otherwise die from gallbladder disease.
The theory is that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of gallstones and, in some cases, prevent the progression of gallbladder disease. But, this will benefit only around one in every 5 million people.
Let me know what you make of this; I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.