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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol-Related Deaths Per Year: The Facts, Impacts, and Solutions

May 3, 2024
20 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 3, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 3, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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Analyzing Alcohol-Related Deaths Per Year

  • Alcohol is heavily ingrained in our social culture, but its effects on rising mortality rates are alarming.

  • Increasing public awareness and education can reduce tragic outcomes from alcohol use. It’s best to start with ourselves and share our knowledge with our loved ones.

  • Ready to rethink your relationship with alcohol? Reframe can help you develop a healthy relationship with alcohol that allows you to live a full, happy life!

“Just say no!” and “Drugs can kill!” are slogans we commonly hear growing up to discourage drug use. But what about alcohol? Unbeknownst to some, alcohol is a drug, and it is more deadly than some of the substances we frequently think of when we hear the word “drug.” 

Alcohol is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the world — a fact that urges us to take a closer look at the issue and what we can do about it. “Out of sight, out of mind” can work for some things, but in this case, looking past the fatal effects of alcohol will allow it to continue taking more and more lives. Let’s take a deep dive into how alcohol can cause death and how we can fight back.

How Much Alcohol Can Kill You?

A person sitting with their head bowed down, several bottles of alcohol on a table

Drinking is commonly associated with feelings of intoxication, which we refer to as being drunk. Common symptoms include slurred speech, impaired motor function, nausea, decreased awareness, and more. However, excessive drinking can cause more serious symptoms and can even be fatal. 

Studies show that alcohol can be potentially fatal when our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at or above 0.40%. To put it into perspective, a BAC of 0.40% is about 25 standard drinks. Although this may seem like a lot, it’s important to note that common drinks we order at the bar can contain more than what is considered a standard drink. For example, one standard drink is 12 oz of beer, but a pint is 16 oz. Similarly, one shot of a spirit is one standard drink. However, most cocktails contain anywhere from 1 to 3 shots, depending on the bar and the drink. 

Although we can get a rough estimate of how much alcohol can be fatal, it will vary from person to person. Factors such as sex, weight, age, health, and tolerance can impact the amount of alcohol that can be fatal. In addition to being aware of our tolerance level, it’s helpful to be aware of signs of alcohol overdose:

  • Vomiting
  • Low heart rate
  • Low body temperature 
  • Seizures
  • Pale/blue/ashen skin
  • Slow/irregular breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Altered mental state  
  • Confusion

Overdose from alcohol can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. For medical and safety emergencies in the U.S., call 911.

Types of Alcohol-Related Deaths

Alcohol overdose is just one way that alcohol can cause death. To understand the extensive impact that alcohol has on public health and safety, let’s further examine the different types of alcohol-related deaths.

Alcohol Poisoning

Poisoning or overdose from alcohol occurs when the alcohol level in our blood is so high that our brain begins to shut down. Since our brain controls basic life functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure, excessive drinking can lead to coma and death. 

Alcohol poisoning commonly occurs as a result of binge drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking in a short period that results in a BAC of .08% or higher. According to the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application, from 2020 to 2021, alcohol poisoning accounted for 12% of alcohol-related deaths. 

Alcohol-Related Health Conditions

The majority of alcohol-related deaths are due to health conditions that stem from chronic alcohol misuse. Dying from alcoholism accounted for 66% of total alcohol-related fatalities in 2020. 

Alcohol has severe impacts on our health. It is directly linked with an increased risk of developing disease and cancer. These alcohol-related chronic diseases account for a high number of deaths per year:

  • Alcoholic liver disease 
  • Hypertension 
  • Liver cirrhosis 
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Liver cancer 

Chronic and excessive drinking impacts the way our cells and organs function. While most alcohol-related deaths occur from health conditions that develop over time from excessive drinking, sudden death from chronic alcoholism is also common. The shocking number of alcohol-related fatalities is a sobering reminder of the detrimental impacts of alcohol.

Mental Health 

Alcohol’s negative impact on our mental health can also be destructive if not fatal. 

ARDI reports that 9,801 alcohol-related suicides occurred in 2020. Along with homicides, mental health-related deaths account for almost 10% of alcohol-related deaths per year. Mental health is just as important as physical health. The 988 Lifeline is available 24/7 for suicide and crisis support.

Alcohol-Related Accidents

Because it impairs our judgment and our coordination among other things, alcohol can make simple activities dangerous. Alcohol-related accidents like drowning, falling, and aspiration (to name a few) make up 17% of all alcohol-related mortalities, and drunk driving accidents account for at least half of that number. 

It’s easy to talk in percentages, but each of these incidents was a tragedy that marred a family. And this is only a small piece of the big picture. To even begin to grasp the extensiveness of alcohol-related deaths per year and why it’s important, we have to zoom out. 

How Many People Die From Alcohol Each Year?

According to the CDC, about 178,000 alcohol-related deaths occur in the U.S. each year. This amounts to an average of 488 deaths per day. The following chart outlines alcohol-related fatalities per state using the ARDI application. 

How Many People Die From Alcohol Each Year

An analysis of alcohol-related deaths in 2019 by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) reported the following findings:

  • New Mexico has the highest rate of death per 100,000 people.
  • 80% of alcohol-related deaths involved adults at or over the age of 35.
  • Long-term health consequences are the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths. 

A 2022 analysis by the CDC, reported similar findings: 

  • The age group between 55 and 64 had the highest number of deaths in 2020.
  • Alcoholic liver disease is the most frequent underlying cause of alcohol-related deaths.

Through the data on alcohol-related deaths per year, we can see the detrimental impacts of alcohol. As the world has gone through several significant events throughout the years, let’s take a closer look at how the numbers have changed in recent years. 

Analyzing the Trends in Alcohol-Related Deaths Per Year

A recent study by the CDC showed that alcohol-related deaths increased an appalling 29% from 2016 to 2021. The study highlighted an especially sharp increase from 2019-2021, which may be attributed to COVID-19. Pandemic aside, alcohol-related deaths continue to show an upward trend.

Impacts of COVID-19

A rise in alcohol-related death rates during the peak years of COVID-19 is speculated to be attributed to several factors:

  • Change in alcohol regulations. As social distancing regulations were put in place, alcohol regulations loosened. We could get alcohol delivered to our doorstep and purchase alcoholic beverages to enjoy outside of licensed establishments. The increased availability is directly correlated with an increase in overall alcohol consumption. 
  • Lower federal taxes. Despite inflation, taxes on alcohol have decreased within the last several years. The low taxation on alcohol continues to promote excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Health. COVID-19 took a toll on our health, and we saw a rise in hospitalizations and related deaths. Alcohol-related health conditions, when combined with poor health, caused an even greater incline in fatalities. 
  • Mental health. The global pandemic led to more than just physical health impacts. Many of us said goodbye to loved ones, lost employment, and had our lives turned upside down. Substance misuse is positively correlated with poor mental health, which also contributes to the increase in death rates from 2019 to 2021. 

COVID-19 contributed significantly to the surge of alcohol-related mortalities in recent years, but it’s not the only reason for the upward trend.

The War on Drugs

Over the years, we’ve seen increasing focus on the war on drugs. Policies to crack down on drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine have been enforced more strongly. But the same can’t be said for alcohol. Despite alcohol being a drug, it’s often not thought of as one or treated like one. The social acceptance of drinking and the lack of policies to regulate alcohol contribute to the growing number of alcohol-related deaths per year.

Female Death Rates

A rise in alcohol-related deaths has been disproportionately higher in females. Research shows that female-focused alcohol advertising may be to blame. 

Trends such as “wine moms” and targeted marketing including a focus on slimness, motherhood, female friendships, and femininity have ramped up in recent years. These toxic trends and gender-specific marketing help to explain the significant rise in alcohol-related deaths, specifically among women.

Why the Rising Rate of Alcohol-Related Deaths Is Important

Alcohol remains one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the U.S. and around the world. A mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” This saying also goes for preventing alcohol-related fatalities. If we do not implement changes to reduce our overall alcohol consumption, the rate of alcohol-related deaths will continue to rise. 

While drinking is massively accepted, alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder (AUD) continue to be stigmatized. According to an NIAAA’s Core Resource on overcoming barriers to care, stigma continues to be a significant contributing factor to the undertreatment of AUD. Getting treatment or support for alcohol misuse or dependence is crucial in helping prevent AUD and potential alcohol-related health conditions and fatalities. 

How To Help a Loved One With Alcohol Dependence

At times, it can be difficult to recognize that our relationship with alcohol is becoming unhealthy. Approaching a loved one with alcohol dependence in the right way can help them get the clarity and support they need. There are several ways we can support them:

  • Learn more. Having a better understanding of what alcohol dependence is and what causes it can help us approach someone with empathy.
  • Approach and listen with compassion. Approaching someone with alcohol dependence in a confrontational manner can deter them from opening up or reaching out for support. 
  • Offer support. Support can vary depending on what someone may need. Offer to be an accountability partner, suggest alcohol-free activities, or simply provide a safe space for them to express their feelings. 
  • Help explore treatment options. Although different treatment options are available, they are not always easy to access. Show support by exploring different treatment options that may best support their needs.

As we support our loved ones, we might find it helpful to rethink our own relationship with alcohol. 

Developing a Healthy Relationship With Alcohol

When we’re ready to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol, there are five simple steps we can take:

  1. Keep track. Whip out the old pen and paper or check out mindful drinking apps to help you keep track and practice moderation. Acknowledging that our drinking may be a problem is the first step in getting the support we need.

  2. Set goals. Setting goals for cutting back on alcohol helps to keep us accountable. Based on information we’ve gathered by tracking our drinking habits, we can develop achievable goals to work toward. Small steps add up over time and help us work toward better health. 

  3. Limit triggers. Identifying our triggers helps us better prepare for them. We can set ourselves up for success by practicing boundary setting or developing a support system we can lean on.

  4. Find alternatives. Healthy distractions are a great tool to focus our energy on more positive things. Keep a list of bar mocktails or explore new interests and hobbies to develop a fulfilling life outside of alcohol. 

  5. Reach out for support. Having a support system is incredibly helpful in working to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. We can reach out to family and friends, explore treatment options, and check out online tools and resources to help us on our journey.

The Bottom Line

Hiding behind the facade of a fun social beverage, alcohol can rob us of even our vitality. As F. Scott Fitzgerald explains in his novel The Great Gatsby, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” From the data, we can see the multifarious ways that alcohol can lead to death. Leading causes of alcohol-related deaths, including motor accidents, long-term health conditions, and alcohol poisoning, highlight the acute and chronic impacts of drinking. While structural changes are crucial in changing the trajectory of alcohol-related fatalities, we can implement individual changes to cut back on alcohol. Practicing mindful drinking and developing a healthier relationship with alcohol can prevent negative alcohol-related impacts.

Summary FAQs

1. How many alcohol-related deaths per year are there in the United States?

Over 140,000 deaths related to alcohol use occur each year in the United States.

2. What is too much alcohol?

According to NIAAA, five or more drinks a day for men and four or more drinks a day for women is considered heavy drinking. The level of alcohol will vary from person to person and is influenced by factors such as age, sex, weight, and health.

3. Is it true that I can experience sudden death from alcoholism?

Yes. Alcohol is tied to an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.

4. What can I do to prevent dying from alcoholism?

Cutting back or quitting alcohol can help prevent further damage to our health. Addressing alcohol-related conditions or disease can help prevent further complications leading to death.

5. Besides death, what are other negative consequences of excessive drinking?

There are many negative consequences of excessive drinking including worsened overall health, mental health issues, increased risk of alcohol-related accidents, and impacts on our future goals.

6. How can I help someone who is misusing alcohol?

Approaching those of us misusing alcohol with compassion and offering support is one way to help. Helping explore treatment options and creating a judgment-free space also can make seeking help less stigmatized and more accessible.

Worried About Your Relationship With Alcohol? Try Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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