Alcohol kills 88,000 a year in U.S.

It’s no secret that America’s favorite legal drug has vast impacts on public health. But just how closely binge drinking and overconsumption of alcohol are linked to deaths may come as a surprise.

One in 10 deaths of working-age adults every year is attributable to “excessive alcohol consumption,” according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a finding that keeps booze as “a leading cause of premature mortality nationwide.”

The 88,000 deaths annually from 2006 to 2010 included acute causes, such as violence, alcohol poisoning and car crashes, as well as the health effects of prolonged overconsumption of alcohol, such as liver disease, heart disease and breast cancer. Excessive drinking shortened the lives of the people who died by about 30 years each, for a total of about 2.5 million years of potential life lost.

Seventy-one percent of those who died were men.

The impact varied widely by state, from the 51 deaths per 100,000 people in New Mexico to the 19.1 in New Jersey. The only other state with more than 40 deaths per 100,000 people was Alaska, with 41.1. Researchers estimated that excessive drinking cost the United States about $224 billion in 2006.

For their report, the researchers defined excessive consumption as a binge of five or more drinks per occasion for men or four or more for women; 15 or more drinks per week for men or eight for women; and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than 21. Binge drinking, they said, is responsible for more than half the deaths and three-quarters of the economic costs of excessive drinking.

Alcoholic liver disease topped the list of all alcohol-related deaths, causing 14,364 a year. Next were motor vehicle crashes (12,460), suicide (8,179) and homicide (7,756).

The most recent similar study found that 75,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of life were lost in 2001, so things are not trending the right way. The authors note that if anything, these figures may be on the low side, because they are based on self-reporting that “may underestimate the true prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption.”

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