THURSDAY, Sept. 23, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Excessive drinking took more than 75,000 lives in the United States in 2001, shortening the lives of each of those who died by an average of more than 30 years, a new government report says.
In all, a total of 2.3 million "years of potential life" were lost to alcohol abuse, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is about half of the total years of potential life lost due to smoking in 1999, the most recent year for which figures are available.
"This affirms that excessive drinking is a very serious public health problem in the United States," said Dr. Robert Brewer, alcohol team leader at the CDC and one of the co-authors of the study, which appears in the Sept. 24 issue of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "It's a huge public health impact."
Although there have been other estimates of deaths attributable to alcohol, this report uses a new software program to profile some 54 different conditions, Brewer said. Overall estimates are similar to estimates released earlier this year.
Excessive alcohol consumption is defined as more than two drinks per day or more than four drinks per occasion for men, and an average of more than one drink per day or more than three drinks per occasion for women. According to the report, it is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
The total number of deaths (75,766) in 2001 were almost equally divided among chronic conditions (46 percent) and acute ones (54 percent). Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of deaths involved males, and 6 percent involved people under the age of 21. Three-quarters of the total deaths among males were among those over the age of 35; of those, 58 percent were due to chronic conditions. For both men and women, the leading chronic cause of death was alcoholic liver disease, while the leading acute cause was motor-vehicle crashes.
By contrast, the report pointed out, excessive alcohol use saved an estimated 11 lives in 2001, all of them due to it protective role in reducing the risk of death from gall bladder disease.
All deaths from acute conditions were linked to binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks per occasion for men and four or more drinks per occasion for women). "Binge drinking is associated with young people. In fact, we know that isn't true," Brewer said. "Most of the deaths were in men, and three-quarters of those were 35 and older. It isn't just a problem for young people. This is a problem across the full life span."
The main value of the report, Brewer added, was as a call to action. "There really are some things we can do about it. Effective intervention strategies are some that are more focused on the community, such as an increase in the price of alcohol drinks in the form of excise taxes. That is known to be effective in reducing consumption and to get health-care practitioners, specifically physicians, to screen their patients for drinking problems."
"This is a problem we'll have to work on for a while before we see serious changes," Brewer continued. "But, as a general rule, we have not taken on this problem of excessive drinking."
For more on problems associated with alcohol, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.