We’re Drinking Ourselves to Death

A report issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed what we really already knew: The rate of deaths that can be directly attributed to alcohol rose nearly 30% in the U.S. during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With public attention focused on the opioid epidemic, excessive alcohol consumption has been overlooked as a public health problem.

But here are the grim statistics: The rate of such deaths had been increasing in the two decades before the pandemic, by 7% or less each year, but In 2020, they rose 26%, to about 13 deaths per 100,000 Americans, the highest rate recorded in at least 40 years.

Such deaths are twice as common in men than in women, but rose for both in 2020, the study found. The rate continued to be highest for people ages 55 to 64, but rose dramatically for certain other groups, including jumping 42% among women ages 35 to 44.

In addition, a second report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assocaiton, looked at a wider range of deaths that could be linked to drinking, such as motor vehicle accidents, suicides, falls, and cancers. More than 140,000 of that broader category of alcohol-related deaths occur annually, based on data from 2015 to 2019, the researchers said. CDC researchers say about 82,000 of those deaths are from drinking too much over a long period of time and 58,000 from causes tied to acute intoxication.

The study found that as many as 1 in 8 deaths among U.S. adults ages 20 to 64 were alcohol-related, including chronic illnesses such as liver cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Drinking by pregnant women can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects. Health officials say alcohol is a factor in as many as one-third of serious falls among the elderly.

And that’s not to mention the harm to others because of drunk driving accidents or alcohol-fueled violence, which causes death and injury to tens of thousands of Americans every year.

As we have noted many times in this space, the U.S. needs to launch a public health campaign, especially for young people, against alcohol similar to what we did with regard to cigarettes and tobacco use in the 1990s that finally brought that epidemic under control.

The statistics speak for themselves — and it’s time to take action.

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