- Researchers say excessive alcohol consumption in the United States is causing both long- and short-term deaths.
- They add that an increase in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the trend.
- They advise people to exercise, read, or talk with friends and family to avoid drinking too much.
Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 93,000 deaths and 2.7 million years of potential life lost every year in the United States.
This means an average of 255 Americans die every day from excessive drinking, shortening their lives by an average of 29 years.
That’s according to a
Researchers used the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact application to estimate national and state average annual alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost from 2011 to 2015.
The researchers concluded that while more than half of these deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, the short-term health effects from consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time accounted for the majority of the years of potential life lost.
Long-term effects of excessive drinking resulting in death included various types of cancer, liver disease, and heart disease.
The short-term effects included deaths due to suicide, motor vehicle accidents, and poisonings involving another substance in addition to alcohol.
COVID-19 adds to the challenge
In addition, experts are saying the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is further increasing the risks and effects of excessive drinking for those with alcohol and substance use disorders as well as the general population.
“We know that alcohol use has increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic,” said Pat Aussem, LPC, MAC, the associate vice president of consumer clinical content development at the Partnership to End Addiction.
“While alcohol-related car fatalities may have declined due to quarantining, it’s not a stretch to believe that increased alcohol consumption will contribute to loss of life in other ways related to injuries, violence, and chronic health conditions,” she told Healthline.
“Many people have always turned to alcohol as a way of relieving stress,” added Dr. Todd Sontag, a family medicine physician with Orlando Health Physician Associates in Florida.
“With the pandemic going on, it is only natural that more people are experiencing more stressors than usual,” he told Healthline.
Sontag lists the following factors affecting drinking rates during the pandemic:
- less social interaction
- frustration with politics
- lack of job security
- concerns about the economy
- boredom due to imposed restrictions
- COVID-19-related concerns
He says all of these factors have led to increased stress with a corresponding increase in alcohol use.
“People have concerns about the virus itself, as in, what would happen if they or a loved one would happen to catch the virus, and would they be the type that contracts it and doesn’t have any symptoms, or would they be the type that could have a severe response to the virus?” he said.
Aside from the viral implications, people are also stressed about the ripple effects from the virus, says Sontag.
“Many are worried about their income and potential for being laid off from employment,” he said. “And people have taken sides about the severity of the virus, and with social media playing such a big role in our lives, it can only lead to increased stress when we see people we care about think very differently about the virus.”
Aussem added that the “‘wine o’clock memes’ and the like suggest that for some people the lack of structure and routine provided by going to an office or work in general may have loosened boundaries around when and how much they consume.”
People may be also consuming alcohol during the pandemic to help them fall asleep more quickly, she adds.
Defining excessive alcohol use
Life may be different during the pandemic, but the
This means that if you’re of legal drinking age and choose to drink alcohol, you should consume it in moderation.
The guidelines define moderate drinking as up to one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Any alcohol consumption exceeding those guidelines is considered excessive.
“It’s important to note that a ‘drink’ is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol, so a Tallboy beer or a mixed drink with two shots would be considered two drinks, even though it’s only one serving,” Aussem said.
Additionally, the CDC says the guidelines aren’t intended as an average over several days, but rather the amount consumed on any single day.
“Binge drinking, on the other hand, is when women consume four or more drinks or men consume five or more drinks in a 2-hour period,” Aussem said. “It’s a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dL or higher — above the legal limit for driving.”
Marissa Esser, PhD, lead study author and team lead of the alcohol program at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says their most recent data can help people understand the importance of the guidelines in helping reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms.
It also emphasizes that more progress can be made in reducing excessive drinking in states, she says.
Tips for reducing alcohol use
Esser says alcohol-related deaths can be prevented with more widespread use of evidence-based, population-level strategies that reduce the affordability, availability, and accessibility of alcohol.
“These interventions have been found highly effective for improving public health and reducing excessive alcohol use,” Esser told Healthline.
On an individual level, Sontag reminds us there’s a safe level of alcohol use.
“Generally speaking, one to two drinks a night are considered to be safe,” he said. “If you find your drinking has increased recently or you are above what’s considered a safe amount, it’s important to find ways to limit your use.”
“Talk to your friends, family, and doctor if you feel like you need help in reducing your intake,” he added. “Go for a walk, pick up the phone, or do something else you enjoy to help redirect your increase in consumption.”
“For some, you may find meditation, exercise, yoga, or reading to be helpful to limit your use,” Sontag noted. “Your primary care doctor will typically have resources for you should you need outside help.”
Aussem adds that if you need help, you can text “Reduce” to 55753 to subscribe to Partnership to End Addiction’s free text message app.
“The app provides daily messages of support as well as useful tips and resources to reduce or abstain from drinking,” she said.
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