Summary: More than 85% of US adults report drinking alcohol, and data suggests that about 25% of the population engages in binge drinking. Additionally, it appears that about 6% of adults are addicted to alcohol. Prolonged alcohol abuse causes premature death due to many causes like a motor vehicle accident or liver disease. The new study suggests that Covid-19 intake has increased alcohol-related deaths. This may be due to increased mental stress, work-from-home culture, and other reasons.
Alcohol consumption is pretty common and is a part of western culture. Thus, no surprise that all reputed localities are laced with pubs, bars, and more. It is common for people to have a drink after a hard working day. A drink helps relax and communicate and is an enjoyable activity. Though most people know that excessive alcohol can harm health, many do not realize the scale of the problem. This may explain the rate of increasing deaths due to alcohol addiction.
US data shows that about 85% of all adults drink alcohol. However, casual alcohol drinking is not an issue. But US statistics are alarming as they show that one-fourth of US adults engage in binge drinking. As a result, one-fourth of the population is at the risk of developing excessive alcohol consumption-related disorders and premature death.
Studies also suggest that about 7% of adults in the US are living with alcohol addiction. An estimated 14.5 million people older than 12 years of age have alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). AUD or alcohol addiction is a disease that must be treated; else, it may harm health severely. But, regretfully, only about 10% of those living with AUD or alcohol addiction seek treatment for the condition. Instead of seeking treatment for their alcohol addiction, people are more likely to seek treatment for health disorders caused by excessive drinking.
Alcohol addiction or excessive drinking may cause premature death for many reasons, like motor vehicle accidents, homicides, alcohol overdose, suicides, liver disease, kidney failure, and cancer. What is worrisome is that people of working age are more likely to consume alcohol excessively. Excessive alcohol use now causes more than 140,000 deaths in the US annually. It means about one in ten deaths among working-age adults is due to excessive alcohol use.
What the new studies add to the current understanding of alcohol addiction is that excessive alcohol use-related deaths are rising. It confirms the worrisome trend. Although in the last few decades, there is not much change in the rate of alcohol consumption, but more people are engaging in binge drinking.
The study was especially done by keeping in mind the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on alcohol consumption habits. Covid-19 caused significant stress. Additionally, more people started working from home. The study confirmed that this resulted in excessive alcohol intake. This resulted in a slight increase in alcohol-related deaths in the US from 2.8% in 2019 to 3% in 2020.
Although data may show only a minor increase in alcohol-related deaths, nonetheless, the numbers are significant. Moreover, it shows an upward trend, something that cannot be neglected.
Alcohol consumption in moderation does pose many health threats. However, binge drinking (four or more drinks) or heavy drinking (eight or more drinks) can significantly harm health. To prevent deaths associated with excessive alcohol consumption, people should seek attention for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and not for health complications arising from alcohol addiction.
Treating alcohol addiction or AUD is different from treating drug addiction. AUD is often the result of years of alcohol use. Quite often, a person may not even realize that he or she is living with the condition. Most such individuals start by drinking alcohol in moderate amounts. However, with time or due to stress, they might begin abusing alcohol.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA