Alcohol-related deaths rapidly rising in US: Report
Deaths related to excessive alcohol consumption are rapidly rising in the United States, especially among women, a new study finds.
While drinking alcohol is still killing more men than women in the US, the rate of alcohol-related deaths is rising faster among women, according to the report published Friday in JAMA Network Open.
“The gender gap is narrowing,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ibraheem Karaye, a professor of population health and director of the health science program at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
Previous studies found that women are drinking greater amounts of alcohol, with binging becoming increasingly common, and that may at least partially explain the rising rates of complications like cirrhosis, he said.
In an analysis of two decades of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Karaye and his colleagues found that women’s alcohol-related mortality rate rose by 14.7%, as compared to 12.5% in men.
Changing attitudes toward heavy drinking by women may partly explain the rise in the number of deaths. Women’s alcohol consumption has been normalized, said Dr. Peter Martin, an addiction expert and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and pharmacology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.
Since the 1900s, there’s been a progressive increase in drinking by women and they’re getting closer to men, he said.
Even a little alcohol harms health
After decades of confusing and sometimes contradictory research in the West, which stated too much alcohol is bad for you but a little bit is good, recent studies prove even small amounts of alcohol can have health consequences.
Research published in November revealed that between 2015 and 2019, excessive alcohol use resulted in roughly 140,000 deaths per year in the United States.
About 40 percent of those deaths had acute causes, like car crashes, poisonings and homicides. But the majority were caused by chronic conditions attributed to alcohol, such as liver disease, cancer and heart disease.
When experts talk about the dire health consequences linked to excessive alcohol use, people often assume that it’s directed at individuals who have an alcohol use disorder. But the health risks from drinking can come from moderate consumption as well.
“Risk starts to go up well below levels where people would think, ‘Oh, that person has an alcohol problem,’” Dr. Tim Naimi, director of the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, told the New York Times.
“Alcohol is harmful to the health starting at very low levels,” Naim said.
Why is alcohol so harmful?
Scientists think that the main way alcohol causes health problems is by damaging DNA. When you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes it into acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic to cells.
Acetaldehyde both “damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage,” said Marissa Esser, who leads the alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Once your DNA is damaged, then a cell can grow out of control and create a cancer tumor,” she said.
Alcohol also creates oxidative stress, another form of DNA damage that can be particularly harmful to the cells that line blood vessels. Oxidative stress can lead to stiffened arteries, resulting in higher blood pressure and coronary artery disease.