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CDC Report: Too Many People Die of Alcohol Poisoning in U.S.

Most deaths occur among middle-aged adults

More than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year in the U.S. –– an average of six deaths each day –– according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Three out of four alcohol poisoning deaths involve adults 35 to 64 years of age, and most deaths occur among men and non-Hispanic whites. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people.

Alcohol poisoning deaths are caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This can result in very high levels of alcohol in the body, which can shut down critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature –– resulting in death.

More than 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consume an average of eight drinks per binge. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on one occasion. The more a person drinks, the greater is his or her risk of death.

“Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD. “We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning.”

Alcohol poisoning death rates varied widely across the U.S., from 46.5 deaths per million residents in Alaska to 5.3 deaths per million residents in Alabama. The states with the highest death rates were in the Great Plains, the western United States, and New England.

Researchers at the CDC analyzed deaths from alcohol poisoning among people aged 15 years and older, using multiple cause-of-death data from the National Vital Statistics System for 2010–2012. Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) was identified as a contributing factor in 30% of these deaths, and other drugs were a factor in approximately 3% of the deaths. While this study reveals that alcohol poisoning deaths are a bigger problem than previously thought, it is still likely to be an underestimate, the CDC says.

“This study shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people,” said co-author Robert Brewer, MD, MSPH. “It also emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to reducing binge drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling in health care settings, and high-quality substance-abuse treatment for those who need it.”

Sources: CDC; January 6, 2015; and Vital Signs; January 6, 2015.


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