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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Alcohol-Related Deaths Increasing in U.S.

Close up of cocktail held by man with other hand holding his forehead

Nearly 1 million people died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017.

Photo: zzzvuk/iStock

An analysis of U.S. death certificate data by researchers at NIAAA found that nearly 1 million people died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017. The number of death certificates mentioning alcohol more than doubled from 35,914 in 1999 to 72,558 in 2017, the year in which alcohol played a role in 2.6 percent of all deaths in the United States. 

The increase in alcohol-related deaths is consistent with reports of increases in alcohol consumption and alcohol-involved emergency department visits and hospitalizations during the same period. 

The new findings are reported online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“Alcohol is not a benign substance and there are many ways it can contribute to mortality,” said NIAAA director Dr. George Koob. “The current findings suggest that alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population. The report is a wakeup call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health.”

In the new study, Dr. Aaron White, senior scientific advisor to the NIAAA director, and colleagues analyzed data from all U.S. death certificates filed from 1999 to 2017. A death was identified as alcohol-related if an alcohol-induced cause was listed as the underlying cause or as a contributing cause of death. 

The researchers found that, in 2017, nearly half of alcohol-related deaths resulted from liver disease (31 percent; 22,245) or overdoses on alcohol alone or with other drugs (18 percent; 12,954). People ages 45-74 had the highest rates of deaths related to alcohol, but the biggest increases over time were among people ages 25-34. 

High rates among middle-age adults are consistent with recent reports of increases in “deaths of despair,” generally defined as deaths related to overdoses, alcohol-associated liver cirrhosis and suicides, primarily among non-Hispanic whites. However, the authors report that, by the end of the study period, alcohol-related deaths were increasing among people in almost all age and racial and ethnic groups.

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