Is poverty causing more alcohol-related deaths? (opinion)
by John Patrick
January 9, 2020
Many people love a cold beer and a happy hour, but a troubling new study on alcohol-related mortality has many health experts warning that it may be time to rethink our relationship with alcohol.
Published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study says the rate of deaths involving alcohol has risen more than 50% over the last two decades, from 16.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 25.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2017.
While alcohol can factor into death in different ways, researchers identified liver disease and accidental overdose due to alcohol or drugs mixed with alcohol as the two leading causes of alcohol-related mortality. Together, these two outcomes account for roughly half of all deaths caused by alcohol annually.
In addition to identifying a steep increase in the rate of alcohol-related deaths, the study’s authors also presented other findings showing an increase in the annual number of alcohol-related injuries. From 2006 to 2014, the rate of emergency room admissions due to alcohol consumption increased 47.3% among those older than 12, while alcohol-related hospitalizations increased 51.4% between 2000 and 2015.
In 2017, roughly 70% of the population reported having consumed alcohol in the past year, with an average of slightly more than two drinks a day. Based on medical guidelines of no more than two drinks a day for adult males and one drink for adult females, a large number of people would thus be classified as “heavy drinkers,” according to CNN.
According to a University of Michigan gastroenterologist and alcohol researcher who was not affiliated with the study, Dr. Elliot Tapper, the rise in alcohol-related deaths among adults can largely be attributed to three factors.
First, alcohol abuse combined with a metabolic condition such as obesity can accelerate the rate of overall damage to the liver, known as cirrhosis, which in turn reduces the ability of the body to metabolize the toxic effects of alcohol, and can become life-threatening after a certain stage.
Secondly, Tapper believes that the alcohol content in popular drinks has also risen significantly in recent years, as well.
“I live in a college town, and I see college kids drinking products that are sweeter, easier to drink, and have a higher percentage of alcohol,” Tapper noted. In recent years, many have embraced carbonated beverages with a stronger alcoholic content.
Tapper also believes there may be a socioeconomic link to recent increases in drinking habits, noting that the overall increase in recent alcohol deaths rose dramatically following the 2008 economic crisis.
“This is more speculative, but there is some cultural social force which is leading people to drink more,” Tapper said. “That could be related to changes in socioeconomic status, but it is true we are seeing people drinking more in one sitting, and there is much more binge drinking, which puts people at risk.”
This study confirms what conservatives have long suspected: Societal and economic collapse lead people toward vice and despair. Now we just need to do something about it.