Alcohol and Death

Recent studies around alcohol use in the US uncovered a worrying trend. Over the past 20 years, alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled. “Alcohol-related death” refers to losses of life due to:

In 1999, alcohol was linked to 35,914 deaths, and 18 years later it jumped to 75,558. While men make up most of these deaths, increase in deaths showed a statistically larger increase in women. Men have historically suffered greater losses at the hands of alcohol, but this current trend seems to be narrowing the gap between men and women.

Alcohol and the Body: Male vs. Female

With current research and technology, we know some of the reasons that alcohol seems to be impacting men and women differently.

Size Differences

There are some obvious differences in how alcohol may interact with male and female physiology. Male bodies are, on average, larger and they carry more water, which allows the body to hold more alcohol. An average female body is around 52% water, while a male body is around 61% water because of muscle mass. Experts estimate that women can drink about half the volume of alcohol that men drink and achieve similar levels of drunkenness.

Chemical Differences

The size and moisture differences are only part of the puzzle. Men also have more of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that facilitates the breakdown of alcohol. Their reduced supply of dehydrogenase means that women cannot process alcohol as efficiently, leading to more alcohol entering the blood stream.

Hormonal differences between males and females also influence the body’s ability to process alcohol. Female bodies produce more estrogen and research suggests that more estrogen can increase the body’s sensitivity to alcohol in the blood. Times in the menstrual cycle when estrogen is the highest can lead females to get drunk much more quickly. Medications like female birth control, which raise estrogen lead to similar effects with alcohol.

Consequences

Significant increases in female drinking and alcohol related deaths carry a self-evident weight. Any increase in deaths due to alcohol is undesirable, but experts aren’t sure why female drinking habits have picked up over the past 18 years. While men still make up the majority of alcohol abusers and drinking deaths, their share on that market is starting to shrink. While researchers aren’t sure as to the differences in alcohol consumption between the sexes, they have some theories as to why deaths have gone up in general.

Increased Alcohol Consumption: Societal Explanations

Suspending the differences between the sexes, researchers looked at possible social explanations for the overall increase in drinking deaths.

Drink Choices

Popular drinks fluctuate from year to year, but research can establish some long-term trends. It’s more common, especially among college students, to drink beverages with higher proportions of alcohol in them. Sweet mixed drinks have become extremely popular. The more palatable the drink, the easier it is to drink more. When strong alcohol can be introduced into a sweet drink, binge drinking isn’t far behind.

Economic Influences

While physical and chemical factors may be more easily measured and tested, social and economical factors are harder to pin down. Experts believe that one of the explanations behind the large increase in drinking deaths over this period of time could be socioeconomic changes. The 2008 recession changed many lives and not necessarily for the better. The stress of this economic downturn is theorized to have caused at least some of the increase in alcohol consumption.

Avoiding Alcohol-Related Deaths

The ubiquity and acceptance of alcohol have given this substance a wide birth to cause serious damage to individuals and families across the US. If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol abuse, reach out for help today. There are professionals available to help you regain your healthy life without alcohol abuse.

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