Every day, excessive alcohol use kills more than 380 people in America. New data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in October show that alcohol misuse was responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States each year during 2015–2019. By comparison, the annual number of drug overdose fatalities for those years was between 52–72 thousand.
These numbers are quite shocking. In that period, one in eight working-age Americans died from excessive drinking. Among those ages 20 to 49, one in five deaths was attributable to alcohol. For those ages 20 to 34, it was one in four.
Ted Alcorn is an independent journalist who covers health and justice issues. He told the PBS Newshour that we typically underappreciate the harms caused by alcohol consumption “because some of them are scattered across the health system. People tend to think of alcohol and its impacts being on the roadways, in terms of drunk driving accidents, and don’t recognize the huge number of chronic disease deaths that it contributes to. The CDC study put together 58 different causes of death. All are alcohol-attributable, including some that aren’t necessarily top of mind of people but are very important.”
The CDC indicates that each year, deaths from excessive drinking during 2015–19:
- Shortened the lives of those who died by an average of 26 years, for a total of nearly 3.6 million years of potential life lost.
- Usually involved adults aged 35 or older and males.
- Were mostly due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as various types of cancer, liver disease, and heart disease.
- Led to premature deaths. Deaths from drinking too much in a short time (from causes such as motor vehicle crashes, poisonings involving substances in addition to alcohol, and suicides) accounted for more than half of the years of potential life lost.
On the Newshour, Alcorn pointed out that the CDC’s October data are already a few years out of date as they were collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The preliminary data, mortality data that we have from 2020 suggests that, indeed, some kinds of alcohol-related deaths jumped considerably that year. And it was a period of time when people appeared to have been drinking more frequently, drinking at home, and drinking sometimes at a higher volume than they would have been if they’d been out at restaurants or bars. So, the numbers as they come in now for this year and in future years are likely to be even worse.”
In this month’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Data Brief, the CDC provided some preliminary data showing that the age-adjusted rate of alcohol-induced deaths “increased 26 percent” from 2019 to 2020.
According to the latest data, deaths from alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis increased an alarming 50 percent in just one year from 2019 to 2020, 33 percent for deaths from mental and behavioral disorders due to the use of alcohol, and 23 percent for deaths from alcoholic liver disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic killed more than 1,068,000 people in the United States, and rates of alcohol-induced deaths for 2021 are expected to be even worse than in 2020.
Many of these premature deaths were also among people experiencing severe alcohol use disorder (addiction). Like other psychoactive substances, alcohol has a powerful effect on the brain, producing pleasurable feelings and blunting negative ones, such as persistent fears during a deadly health crisis. Anxiety, depression, and the impact of trauma can motivate some people to drink alcohol again and again, and in ever larger amounts, to ease their emotional pain despite the risks to their health and well-being. However, severe alcohol use disorder is a complex, systemic problem that may be caused by myriad underlying factors, and only a careful individual assessment can attempt to determine root causes and indicate appropriate treatment considerations. Diagnosing and treating alcohol use disorder can be a complex process requiring a holistic focus on numerous lifestyle factors and experiential, medical, and family histories.
New Paradigm Recovery provides expert assessment and treatment for people experiencing many forms of substance use disorders and dual-diagnosis conditions, including alcohol use disorder, which is prevalent. Because New Paradigm’s experienced case managers and clinicians work closely with clients, families, and other care providers, they can address the chronic comorbidities often present with substance use disorders.
New Paradigm Recovery co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Joshua Cagney, M.A., has years of experience working with individuals and families suffering from long-term alcohol use disorders and discusses some of the challenges posed by the problem. “People who have been drinking for years or decades often face a barrage of serious physiological problems like liver cirrhosis, malnutrition, and neurological disorders requiring specialized care, in addition to the psychological and relational health problems we can help address. To make our treatment truly effective, we must ensure that clients are medically stable before entering our program. But the time between receiving inpatient or outpatient medical care and starting behavioral healthcare is very fragile. People get detoxification and medical treatment, start feeling better physically, and put off recovery-specific behavioral healthcare. However, the medical care they receive for comorbidities does not address the underlying problems that led them to develop addictive disorders, so they return to problematic substance use. Compounding the issue is the nature of detoxification from alcohol: withdrawals from substance and alcohol use is unpleasant, but withdrawals from alcohol is actually life threatening; it can lead to seizures and sometimes death. Medically supervised detox is a crucial part of the treatment process with alcohol use. That’s why ensuring the continuity of care is one of the main reasons we focus so heavily on case management. We must help our clients transition effectively from detoxification and other forms of medical care to addiction-specific treatment as seamlessly as possible. We need to reinforce their desire to treat their addictive disorders and coordinate with friends, family members, and other providers to help them stay on the track toward recovery.”
Once medically stable clients begin treatment at New Paradigm Recovery, they receive a holistic, personalized program of psychotherapy, psychiatry, psychoeducation, wellness services, and other supports that address the stresses, lifestyle factors, relationship issues, trauma histories, and other factors that lead to substance use. The program also focuses on family system relationships, including marriages and partnerships, parent and child relationships, and family system cultures which can play roles in developing mental health and substance use disorders. Importantly, helping to improve family relationships and communication can improve the quality of life for many family members and help identified clients maintain recovery.
“Changing ingrained personal beliefs and behaviors is one of the hardest things people can do. Dealing with deep-seated problems and developing the mindset, skills, and resilience to deal with life’s many stresses without relying on problematic substance use means changing one’s entire life, which can be a very intimidating prospect. Helping people address so many aspects of their lives and make needed changes takes time, patience, openness, and partnership. The inability to find providers able to commit the personalized approaches, time and resources – in search of creating hope for clients and families – is a primary reason that people often need numerous treatment episodes. We created New Paradigm Recovery to provide the close personal attention, flexibility, and range of services needed to do the very challenging work of adopting lasting change.”
Learn more about New Paradigm Recovery by speaking confidentially with an informed team member at (703) 214-5888.