Alcohol kills people every day throughout the world. By drinking responsibly and getting treatment for alcohol abuse, you can help stop alcohol from claiming more lives.
What Is the Rate of Alcohol-related Death?
Alcohol is truly the bottled killer. The World Health Organization estimates that alcohol kills three million people throughout the world every year. In other words, alcohol is the cause of 5.3% of all human deaths annually. About 1 in every 20 deaths worldwide is the result of an alcohol-related disease, injury, accident, murder, or suicide. The rate of alcohol-related death is greater than that of HIV, which causes less than 2% of deaths worldwide, and alcohol-unrelated violence, which causes less than 1%.
Every day in the United States, about 30 people lose their lives in a car accident involving alcohol and about 6 people die from alcohol poisoning. In just 4 years from 2006 to 2010, alcohol killed 88,000 Americans, costing the country 2.5 million years of potential human life. Moreover, the extreme consequences of alcohol abuse are not diminishing. From 2007 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States increased by 35%.
There are over 7 billion people on Earth, and about 2.3 billion of them may be classified as alcohol consumers. People who consume alcohol drink, on average, about 33 grams or 1.2 ounces of alcohol every day, which is equivalent to two glasses of wine. Almost 300 million people on Earth suffer from alcoholism or some other alcohol use disorder, especially binge drinking. On a worldwide scale, more people are drinking alcohol than ever before. Alcohol is a more pervasive and widely-abused harmful substance than any illegal drug.
How Can Alcohol Be Lethal?
Since the death toll caused by alcohol abuse is so high, it is important to understand the ways in which alcohol can kill someone. The major causes of alcohol-related death are alcohol poisoning, cancer, car accidents, heart failure, liver damage, and violence.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks so much alcohol that their blood-alcohol content rises to toxic levels. The body has a limited capacity to safely metabolize the toxins in alcohol, so too much alcohol can overwhelm the body’s systems. Alcohol poisoning is a major risk of binge drinking, or drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short span of time. In serious cases of alcohol poisoning, a person could enter a coma, stop breathing, or have a heart attack or seizure. Most people who die from alcohol poisoning are between the ages of 35 and 64.
Alcohol is a known carcinogen, a substance which increases the risk of cancer. Heavy alcohol drinkers are in danger of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and stomach. There may also be a correlation between alcohol and breast cancer. About 3.5% of cancer deaths worldwide are a result of drinking alcohol.
It’s fairly common knowledge that driving while drunk is dangerous, yet thousands of Americans drive under the influence of alcohol every year. Since alcohol impairs coordination and judgment, combining alcohol with driving poses a serious risk to everyone on the road. In 2017, 10,874 people in the United States lost their lives in a car accident in which at least one person had been drinking alcohol. The year before saw 10,497 people die in an alcohol-related car accident. Hundreds of the victims of these accidents were children below the age of 14.
Heavy drinking is dangerous for the heart. Alcohol can increase a person’s blood pressure and ultimately cause a heart attack or a stroke. It is also important to understand that alcohol is high in empty calories and that drinking alcohol has been correlated to obesity. This is an indirect way in which alcohol damages the heart because obesity strains the cardiovascular system and increases the risks of heart disease.
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The liver metabolizes alcohol as acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical. Alcohol scars and inflames the liver and also interferes with its ability to metabolize fats. This causes fat to accumulate in the liver. Long-term alcohol abuse may ultimately cause cirrhosis or hepatitis. Cirrhosis occurs when alcohol so thoroughly scars the liver that the liver suffers organ failure. Once the liver stops filtering blood, the body’s other organ systems also begin to fail. This is a life-threatening condition which kills hundreds of Americans every year. Cirrhosis develops gradually, perhaps even over the course of several decades, and sometimes people are not aware that they have cirrhosis until they have advanced liver damage.
Drinking alcohol is related to higher rates of lethal violence. About 40% of criminals who are currently in prison for violent crimes such as assault, domestic abuse, or homicide had an excessively high blood alcohol content when they were arrested. About 48% of homicide convicts committed murder under the influence of alcohol. People who drink alcohol are also more likely to accidentally die violently. For example, alcohol has been connected to various cases of people drowning, falling, or being struck by cars. Additionally, people who drink alcohol heavily are much more likely to attempt suicide. About 30% of suicide victims drink alcohol before taking their lives.
Men Are More Likely to Die From Alcohol, but Women Are Also at Risk
Alcohol abuse impacts both men and women, but men are more likely to drink heavily, develop alcoholism, and lose their lives to alcohol-related diseases and violence. More than 75% of people who die from alcohol each year are men. From 2007 to 2017, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths among American men increased by 29%. Studies also estimate that 15% of men in Europe and 11.5% of men in the Western Hemisphere struggle with alcohol abuse. Men are also twice as likely to develop cirrhosis and four times as likely to develop liver cancer.
The percentages for alcohol use disorders are lower among women: 3.5% of women in European and 5% of women in the Western Hemisphere are living with alcoholism. Nevertheless, the number of women who are dying from alcohol is also rising as worldwide alcohol consumption increases. In the past ten years, alcohol-related deaths among women have risen by 75% in the United States. Women are generally not able to metabolize as much alcohol as men due to weight and size. Women are also far more likely to experience domestic abuse and domestic violence, which often involves alcohol. At least one thousand women die from domestic violence every year in the United States.
You Can Prevent Alcohol-related Death
Alcohol is a dangerous substance which has inflicted astounding costs on the world. Achieving recovery from alcoholism might be the difference between life and death. Please don’t wait for alcohol to take another life.
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, contact a dedicated treatment professional today to learn about the many treatment options for alcohol abuse. There are rehab facilities throughout the country and all over the world which specialize in helping people overcome alcohol addiction.
- Medical Reviewer — Last Reviewed: July 22, 2019
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Shoot, B. (2018). Related Deaths Are On the Rise with Death Rate of Women Increasing Dramatically. Forbes. Retrieved on June 5, 2019, from http://fortune.com/2018/11/20/alcohol-related-deaths-drinking-women-mortality-rate/
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