Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

One in Five Deaths Among Young Adults is Due to Alcohol

ONE IN FIVE DEATHS OF YOUNG ADULTS ages 20 to 49 is secondary to excessive alcohol use in the United States. For individuals ages 20 to 64, drinking-related deaths account for one in eight. These are the statistics offered by a new population-based study.

I live in Seattle, a wonderful verdant environment. It is also a place where a glass of wine or a cocktail is ubiquitous. A new study reminds us to be mindful of our alcohol consumption.

Drinking too much alcohol is linked with numerous leading causes of death among young adults in the USA, including heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, and liver disease.

Unfortunately, deaths due to causes fully attributable to alcohol (such as alcoholic liver disease) have risen over the last decade, including among young folks.

However, a United States-based assessment of alcohol-attributable deaths among this population accounting for partially alcohol-attributable causes (such as cancers) is lacking.

Today we explore a study published in JAMA Network Open examining some of the perils of alcohol use in excess. Researchers examined the average annual deaths secondary to too much alcohol use among adults aged 20 to 64.

“[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool — it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”

― Homer, The Odyssey

Alcohol and mortality

I will begin with a striking observation from Dr. Marissa Esser, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s alcohol program leader. Speaking to CNN, she observes this:

“While the percentage of deaths attributed to alcohol use varies state by state, it’s a leading cause of preventable death in the USA.” She adds that “alcohol is often overlooked as a public health problem.”

While the percentage of deaths attributed to alcohol use varies state by state, it’s a leading cause of preventable death in the USA. She adds that “alcohol is often overlooked as a public health problem.

Approximately one in five deaths of young adults appeared secondary to excessive alcohol use. For those 20 to 64, drinking-related deaths accounted for one in eight.

The researchers examined national and state mortality data from 2015 to 2019 and noted deaths fully (or partially) attributable to excessive drinking.

The causes included deaths from motor vehicle accidents, alcohol poisoning, and other health impacts (for example, liver disease or pancreas failure). They obtained mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System.

Such deaths have been on the rise, increasing by up to seven percent annually in the two decades before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alcohol and mortality — My take

The study reminds us to limit our alcohol consumption to a reasonable level. The alcohol-attributable death estimates in this study are likely underestimates. The researchers did not estimate alcohol-attributable deaths due to partially alcohol-attributable conditions — the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System does not collect the prevalence of former alcohol consumption.

Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash

The numbers are disturbing, with one in five deaths among adults 20 to 49 attributable to excessive alcohol consumption. Moreover, the study data showed that deaths due to alcohol have gone up in the past decade.

I do not know the solution, but the study authors note that some have proposed increased implementation of evidence-based alcohol policies (for example, increasing alcohol taxes and regulating alcohol outlet density), alcohol screening, and brief intervention.

Be careful

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines moderate drinking as two drinks or less daily for men or one drink or less for women. The organization notes that two-thirds of adults consume more than moderate amounts at least once per month.

The CDC also estimates that one in six adults binge drink — women consuming four or more drinks in one sitting and men drinking five or more — with a quarter of those doing so at least weekly.

Thank you for joining me in this brief look at how one in five deaths among young adults is due to alcohol. One more thing:

A Centers for Disease Control tool can help individuals evaluate their drinking and devise a plan to make healthier alcohol choices.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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