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How Many People Die From Alcohol Abuse Annually In The US?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 19, 2019

Alcohol abuse can lead to a number of problems. In the United States, alcohol-related deaths are the third leading preventable cause of death.

Alcohol-Related Deaths

Approximately 88,000 people die each year in the United States from alcohol-related deaths. Most often, these deaths are linked to drinking and driving, drinking while taking medications, binge drinking, or other excessive alcohol consumption habits.

Alcohol poisoning kills about six people per day, over half of these deaths are men. Driving impaired from alcohol accounts for over 30 percent of all driving fatalities annually. Upwards of 100,000 people die each year from accidents, suicides, homicides, and fires involving alcohol abuse every year.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol is one of the most abused substances across the world. Each year, over three million people died as a result of alcohol abuse worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Because it is legal in most places, sometimes people are unsure of what defines alcohol abuse.

Moderate alcohol use is considered to be an average of one alcoholic beverage per day for women and no more than two alcoholic beverages for men. Alcohol abuse is any additional alcohol consumption, binge drinking, heavy drinking, underage drinking, or being unable to control the amount of alcohol ingested.

Binge drinking is defined by drinking multiple alcohol beverages within a period of fewer than two hours (four for women, five for men). Engaging in binge drinking more than five times in a one month period is considered heavy drinking.

Alcohol Abuse In The US

With over 140 million people reporting regular alcohol use, more than 66 million of those individuals are engaging in binge drinking. One in eight people, or nearly 17 million, reported that they meet criteria for heavy drinking.

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Of the 15 million struggling with an alcohol use disorder, less than eight percent receive substance abuse treatment services. With alcohol abuse affecting so many people, across ages and demographics, it is surprising that it seems so difficult for those individuals to obtain alcohol abuse rehab services.

Women And Alcohol Abuse

Women who abuse alcohol are at a higher risk for a number of problems. Intoxication can result in increased risk-taking behaviors, such as drunk driving, unprotected sex, and violent behaviors. All of these can result in negative outcomes that are avoidable or unwanted.

Excessive or heavy drinking has been shown to disrupt the menstrual cycle, and in some cases lead to infertility. Problems can result from drinking while pregnant as well, such as mental and physical birth defects.

Rates of sexual assault increase when rates of binge drinking increase, especially in college settings.

Men And Alcohol Abuse

Men are twice as likely to engage in binge drinking than women, and men tend to drink more often and in higher quantities as well.

With statistics that are nearly double the rates for women, it is no surprise that the following occurs at higher rates with men and alcohol abuse:

  • men are two times more likely than women to be involved in drunk driving and fatal car accidents
  • men tend to be more violent while drinking
  • men are more likely to commit suicide while intoxicated
  • excessive drinking is a factor in sexual assault
  • increased risk of cancer (especially mouth, esophagus, liver, throat, and colon)

Teens And Alcohol Abuse

Over half of all teens, twelve and over, admit to drinking alcohol. This is extremely dangerous to their developing brain, and it increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Many young people lack the self-control to regulate their drinking like adults may be able to.

Teens are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors while drinking. Unprotected sex, pregnancy, rebelling against authority, and substance abuse are just a few of the possible issues that can arise with teen drinking.

Consequences Of Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism

Repeated long term alcohol abuse can result in alcohol dependence. This means that the body has become dependent on alcohol in order to feel normal. Stopping drinking at that point can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, which is one reason why people continue to drink even if they know they have a problem.

This continued alcohol consumption can lead to additional problems beyond what has been listed above and can include issues such as:

  • problems at work or school
  • loss of job
  • loss of family
  • experiencing a blackout (unable to remember events while drinking)
  • legal problems
  • liver disease
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • increased injuries
  • car crashes
  • increased risk for fetal alcohol syndrome
  • pancreatitis
  • weakened immune system

Signs Of An Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism have been placed under the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.

Some of the signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • failed attempts to stop drinking alcohol
  • drinking alcohol for longer or in higher quantities than intended
  • only attending social events where alcohol is served
  • continuing to drink knowing it is negatively impacting their life in various settings
  • excessive time being spent on obtaining, drinking, or recovering from alcohol
  • increased tolerance
  • withdrawal symptoms if attempting to stop drinking alcohol
  • drinking in dangerous situations
  • craving alcohol
  • drinking while pregnant or breastfeeding

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Fewer than eight percent of those in need of alcohol abuse treatment actually receive treatment each year. There are many treatment options available, however seeking treatment is not as simple as scheduling an appointment.

Many factors affect a person’s willingness to seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Having a strong support system is extremely important, and being able to trust that system, is paramount.

Understanding what will be required is also an important factor when a person is seeking substance abuse treatment. Some people will not be willing to leave their home or job in order to address their alcohol abuse. Finding treatment options that the person feels they can agree may be the first step toward sobriety.

Some people are afraid of the withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol dependence, and rightfully so. There have been fatalities associated with alcohol withdrawal. However, medically supervised detoxification programs have been quite successful in easing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal by using medications and counseling.

Aftercare Services

Alcoholism is a lifelong, chronic disease. Once a person gains sobriety and completes a treatment program best suited for them, a thorough aftercare plan is equally important. These aftercare plans are usually developed with an addiction specialist and/or case manager prior to leaving treatment.

Aftercare is designed to keep people on track, address cravings, develop appropriate coping strategies, and provide a network of support for the person in recovery. These support systems are important for people in all stages of recovery.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - National Center for Health Statistics - Alcohol Use, Overdose Death Rates

World Health Organization - Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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