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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Drinking Too Much Claims 75,000 Lives a Year

Alcohol Abuse, Excessive Drinking Shortens Lives by an Average of 30 Years

WebMD Health News

Sept. 23, 2004 -- Drinking to excess causes more than 75,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, resulting in nearly 2.3 million years of potential life lost among Americans, according to a new CDC report.

Researchers found alcohol-related deaths cut lives short by an average of 30 years, and the most common victims are men over 35.

The study shows deaths due to excessive alcohol use were nearly evenly divided between those caused by chronic conditions related to alcohol abuse, such as liver disease, and acute conditions, including car crashes, violence, and accidents.

Excessive alcohol use is defined as an average of more than two drinks per day or more than four drinks per occasion for men. For women, it's an average of more than one drink per day or more than three drinks per occasion.

Calculating Alcohol's Human Cost

In the study, which appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers used new Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) software to estimate the number of alcohol-related deaths and years of potential life lost.

The software estimates the number of alcohol-related deaths by multiplying the number of deaths from a particular alcohol-related condition, such as cirrhosis of the liver, by the percentage of cases estimated to be attributable to alcohol, which in the case of cirrhosis is 100%.

Years of potential life lost, a commonly used measure of premature death, was estimated by multiplying age- and sex-specific alcohol-related deaths by the corresponding estimate of life expectancy.

The study showed that an estimated 75,766 deaths were attributable to excessive alcohol use in 2001, which translates into nearly 2.3 million years of potential lives lost for the victims.

Other findings include:

  • All acute alcohol-related deaths from injuries were due to binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks per occasion for men and four or more drinks per occasion for women).
  • Most deaths from excessive drinking involved men (72%), and most (75%) of the men who died were age 35 or older.
  • The most common cause of alcohol-related deaths due to chronic conditions was alcoholic liver disease.
  • The most common cause of acute alcohol-related deaths was motor-vehicle crashes.
  • The 2.3 million years of potential life lost for excessive drinking is about half of the total years of potential lives lost that were caused by smoking in 1999, the last year for which estimates are available.

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