Total U.S. alcohol deaths reached 72,558 in 2017 — up from 35,914 in 1999 — with almost a third tied to liver disease, according to the study. Over 18 years, the total was almost 1 million.
“The report is a wakeup call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health,” George Koob, director of the institute, said in a statement. “Alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population.”
Higher rates of deaths among middle-aged and older drinkers may raise concerns for public health experts, given projected growth in the population of those 65 and older to 95 million in 2060 from 51 million in 2017. Alcohol accounted for 2.6 percent of all deaths in 2017.
“Even if rates of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms stay the same, the number of alcohol-related health-care visits and fatalities could increase substantially, thereby increasing the overall burden of alcohol on public health,” according to the study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Rapid and 'troubling'
Among women, the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in 1999 was among those ages 65 to 74, followed by 55 to 64. By 2017, women ages 55 to 64 led, followed by ages 45 to 54. The annual increase of death for women jumped to 5.2 percent a year in 2010-2017 from 2.1 percent a year in 1999-2010, the research-based death certificates showed.
“The rapid increase in deaths involving alcohol among women is troubling and parallels the increases in alcohol consumption among women over the past few decades,” Koob said.
The study said women were at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, alcohol-related liver disease and acute liver failure from excessive drinking.
Researchers said further study of alcohol use over time between males and females and by age-groups, race, and ethnicity is needed “for understanding the public health burden of alcohol.”
People ages 45 to 74 had the highest death rate over the two decades, four times higher than those ages 25 to 34, but the younger group had the largest average annual increase at 5.9 percent, the researchers said.
Emergency room visits related to alcohol increased 76 percent in the 16 years ending in 2015. More women than men visited ERs with alcohol-related sicknesses, according to the study. The role of alcohol is not always clear when a death certificate is completed, making it difficult to measure the full magnitude of drinking and death, the study said.
The researchers led by Aaron White, senior scientific adviser to Koob, found the trends in drinking were different for men than for women.
While the prevalence of drinking and bingeing didn’t change for men, there was a 10.1 percent rise in the prevalence of drinking and a 23.3 percent increase in binge drinking among women.