Alcohol Poisoning Kills 6 Americans Every Day, CDC Says
Older adults hardest hit by binge-drinking deaths, and long-term effects of alcoholism often play a role
TUESDAY, Jan. 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A new report finds that six people die in the United States each day after consuming far too much alcohol in too short a time -- a condition known as alcohol poisoning.
"Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.," Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an agency news release.
According to the new CDC Vital Signs report, alcohol poisoning kills more than 2,200 Americans a year. Adults aged 35 to 64 account for 75 percent of these deaths, and white males are most often the victims.
Alcohol poisoning death rates vary widely across states, ranging from 5.3 per million people in Alabama to 46.5 deaths per million people in Alaska. The states with the highest alcohol poisoning death rates are in the Great Plains, western United States and New England, the CDC said.
According to the agency, consuming very high levels of alcohol can cause areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate and body temperature to shut down, resulting in death.
Alcohol poisoning can occur when people binge drink, defined as having more than five drinks in one sitting for men and more than four in one sitting for women. According to the CDC, more than 38 million American adults say they binge drink an average of four times per month and have an average of eight drinks per binge.
"We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning," Arias said in the news release.
Alcoholism is a key risk factor in alcohol poisoning deaths. The new report -- based on national data from 2010-2012 -- found that alcoholism was a contributing factor in 30 percent of such deaths, and that other drugs were a factor in about 3 percent of the deaths.
The findings show that alcohol poisoning deaths are a bigger problem in the United States than previously believed, but the report likely underestimates the number of such deaths, the CDC said.
"This study shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people," report co-author Dr. Robert Brewer, head of the CDC's Alcohol Program, said in the news release.
One expert agreed. "For all the cases of alcohol poisoning that are reported, there are many more cases that go underreported," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
"While this study emphasized the effects of alcohol on middle-aged men, binge drinking continues to be a serious problem for many people," he added.
Too many people may not seek help for alcohol-related issues, Krakower said.
"Understanding the problem is half the battle -- getting someone to open up about it is even harder," he explained. "The future challenge will be to find better ways to screen patients, in a nonjudgmental manner."
Paul Rinaldi is director of the Addiction Institute of New York at Mount Sinai Roosevelt and Mount Sinai St. Luke's in New York City. He said that even though binge-drinking deaths occur more often in older adults, that does not mean that "there is less binge drinking among young people -- it only shows that older binge drinkers may be less resilient."
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about the dangers of drinking too much.