AIDS is the fourth-leading cause of lost years of potential life in New York for men under 65, the government reported, and at its present rate of growth may soon be the leading cause.

The disease, which killed 923 men in New York in 1984, accounted for 24,400 years of lost potential life before age 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

The statistic of lost years of potential life gives the most weight to diseases that kill young people. For example, if a 25-year-old man dies of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, that would be counted as 40 lost years of potential life.

Until 1982, when the AIDS epidemic began its rapid growth in the United States, premature death in New York had declined steadily for seven years, CDC reported recently in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Between 1982 and 1984, premature death increased 8 percent in men and 1 percent in women. Figures for 1985 were not yet available, but with AIDS cases doubling about every year, years of potential life lost also were expected to climb.

"The main difference between the leading causes of death in 1984 and 1982 is the addition of AIDS," the CDC said.

AIDS, which is transmitted primarily sexually or through shared intravenous drug needles, destroys the body's ability to fight disease.

Nationally, the impact of AIDS on death statistics is also become evident. "Although AIDS was not one of the top 15 causes of premature mortality in 1984," the CDC said, "it may emerge as a leading cause in 1985 if present patterns . . . remain constant."

Other leading causes of lost years of life are homicide and suicide, heart disease and certain cancers.