Excessive alcohol use accounts for almost one in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the United States, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study, released late last week, found that from 2006 to 2010 excessive use of alcohol killed nearly 88,000 Americans each year. In 2001, the last time CDC researchers reviewed the data, alcohol was blamed for almost 75,800 deaths.
Almost 70 percent of the deaths in 2006-2010 involved people ages 20 to 64; 5 percent were younger. The remainder were 65 or older.
Binge drinking – five or more drinks in a two-hour span for men; four or more drinks for women - accounted for more than half of these deaths.
The five states with the highest percentages of working-age deaths were New Mexico (16.4 percent), Alaska (15.9 percent), Colorado (14.2 percent), Wisconsin (13.4 percent) and Arizona (13.4 percent).
“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” Ursula E. Bauer, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a prepared statement that accompanied release of the study. “We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”
According to the study, roughly 5,450 working-age Kansans died in each of the five years. Of these deaths, 9.5 percent (almost 520 people) were due to excessive alcohol use, resulting in either chronic conditions – liver disease, primarily – or "acute causes" such as car crashes, drownings, suicides, falls and homicides.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s latest vital statistics report shows that 163 Kansans died of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in 2012.
Dulcinea Rakestraw, vice president of treatment service at Preferred Family Healthcare, Wichita, and chair of the Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals, says she wasn’t surprised by the CDC’s findings.
Alcohol abuse, she says, has been the top reason for admission to rehabilitation programs for “a long time, and in 20-to-64 age group, a lot of the people we see are working.”
One of the “strange" things about alcohol abuse, Rakestraw says, is that some people are able to “compartmentalize it” in ways that allow them to hold jobs and have families.
“It’s why we have such a hard time treating multiple DUI offenders,” she says. “Their alcohol abuse doesn’t seem to get into the other parts of their lives, so they don’t see themselves having a problem with alcohol because they still have their job and they still have their family. The problem, they say, is with their driving.”
The percentage of alcohol-caused deaths in Kansas was the 22nd highest in the nation. New Jersey’s was the lowest, at 7.8 percent.
“It really doesn’t matter where we rank in comparison to other states because every community in Kansas should want the lowest rank possible,” says Shana Burgess, manager of prevention services at the Johnson County Mental Health Center. “These are preventable deaths.”
Nationally, the study found that excessive alcohol use killed males (71 percent) more often than females (29 percent).
In Kansas, most of the state’s alcohol-abuse prevention efforts are housed in 10 regional centers.
“The main focus of our work is centered on community coalitions and engaging different sectors in the community so that kids all hear the same message from their parents, from the schools, from the faith community and from local businesses,” says Burgess, who runs the regional prevention center in Johnson County.
Earlier surveys of Kansas children, she says, have found that one in every four Kansas 12th-graders report having participated in binge drinking in the last two weeks.
The surveys, Burgess says, also found that in Kansas the average age for first use of alcohol is 13.
“The most important message I took away from this report is that all alcohol-related deaths are preventable,” Burgess says.
Dave Ranney is senior writer/editor with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.