No good comes out of drowning one's self in alcohol. From physical ailments to psychiatric conditions, alcohol can ravage an individual through and through. Now, deaths associated with alcohol are on the rise as well. According to a study by researchers National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly one million people in the US lost their lives due to alcohol-related causes between1999 to 2017.

The study also highlighted a concerning trend. It was found that the mention of alcohol in death certificates doubled to 72,558 in 2017 from 35,914 in 1999. The rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths commensurates the rise in the consumption of alcohol and emergency room visits involving alcohol, and admissions to hospitals during the 18 year period.

"The current findings suggest that alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses, and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population. The report is a wakeup call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health," said George F. Koob, Director, NIAAA, in a statement.

Death certificates narrate a grim story

Data from death certificates registered between 1999 to 2017 were analysed by the researchers. If the certificate mentioned an alcohol-induced cause as the primary reason or as an associated cause of demise, it was considered an alcohol-related death.

The findings were not encouraging. In 2017, nearly half the number of alcohol-related deaths were caused by liver disease or overdose of alcohol or in combination with other drugs. Numerically, it translates to 31 percent or 22,245 deaths due to the former, and 18 percent or 12,954 deaths due to the latter.

Drinking alcohol
Drinking alcohol Reuters

Deaths related to alcohol were found to be the highest among people between the ages of 45-74. However, a steep rise was seen in the age group of 25-34. These high-rates of deaths among middle-aged people are accordant with reports of an increasing number of death known as 'deaths of despair'—usually defined as deaths connected to overdoses, suicides, and associated liver cirrhosis, mostly among Caucasians. However, the authors pointed out that near the end of the period of study, the increase of alcohol-related deaths was observed among nearly all ethnic and racial groups.

Women are 'drinking themselves to death'

While the consumption of alcohol and medical emergencies associated with it are on the rise, the rates of alcohol-related deaths witnessed a drastic spike. It rose to 85% among women as compared to 15% among men during the course of the study. The timing of these findings coincides with that of other studies that suggest that even one drink a day raises the chances or risk of developing breast cancer in women. The study also suggests that women are at a greater risk of developing alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases, alcohol use disorder, liver disease, and other complications when compared to men.

Stating that it is a growing health issue among women, Koob stressed that "The rapid increase in deaths involving alcohol among women is troubling and parallels the increases in alcohol consumption among women over the past few decades."

Alcohol
Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

Alcohol deaths underreported authors say

According to the authors, previous studies have demonstrated that the part that alcohol plays in deaths is largely underreported. As the current study analysed only death certificates, the actual or real number of deaths related to alcohol in 2017 may exceed the number—72,558 propounded by the researchers.

Koob concluded, "the findings of this study and others suggest that alcohol-related harms are increasing at multiple levels – from ED visits and hospitalizations to deaths. We know that the contribution of alcohol often fails to make it onto death certificates. Better surveillance of alcohol involvement in mortality is essential in order to better understand and address the impact of alcohol on public health."