Federal health officials are calling for an increased effort to reduce the rate of excessive drinking in the U.S. that they say contributes largely to the more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths that occur each year.
An average of six alcohol poisoning deaths occur each day in the U.S., according to a report released Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three in every four of those involve adults between ages 35 and 64. Only 30% of deaths were among those identified as being alcohol dependent.
“This study shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people,” report coauthor Dr. Robert Brewer, CDC Alcohol Program Lead, said in a statement. “It also emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to reducing binge drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling in healthcare settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it.”
Men account for 76% of alcohol poisoning deaths, with the highest death rate among men between ages 45 and 54. The findings run contrary to many assumptions held regarding what population is most at risk to die from alcohol poisoning. People ages 15 and 24 accounted for only 5% of alcohol poisoning deaths.
“Excessive drinking is responsible for many health and social problems in the U.S.,” Ileana Arias, CDC principal deputy director, said during a conference call Tuesday.
Most excessive drinking is related to binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks in a setting by women and five or more drinks consumed by men, Arias said.
The CDC estimates that more than 38 million Americans drink an average of four times a month, averaging eight drinks per occasion. Binge drinking is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 deaths that occur annually as a result of excessive drinking, according to the CDC. Costs associated with binge drinking totaled $223 billion in 2006, of which median costs to related health expenses were $316 million.
Researchers analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System from 2010 through 2012 on deaths from alcohol poisoning among people over the age of 15.
The report found the majority of deaths occurred among whites, who accounted for 1,500 from 2010 to 2012. The highest rate was among American Indian/Alaskan Natives, who had 49.1 deaths per 1 million people.
Alcohol-poisoning death rates among states ranged from a low of 5.6 per 1 million in Alabama to a high of 47 deaths per 1 million in Alaska.
“Differences in alcohol poisoning death rates in states reflect known differences in state binge drinking patterns, which are strongly influenced by state and local laws governing the price and availability of alcohol, as well as other cultural and religious factors,” the report concluded.
Several strategies identified to reduce excessive drinking include state and local governments limiting the number of establishments that are allowed to serve alcohol, as well as cracking down on illegal alcohol sales.
Other recommendations called on physicians to take a more active role in screening patients for excessive drinking and discussing with them the health concerns associated with such activity. A CDC report released in January found that only 15% of all adults ever discussed alcohol use with a health professional in 2011 and that 25% of binge drinkers had such talks.
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