Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that the number of alcohol-related deaths in 1999 was just under 36,000. However, in 2017 the number had increased to nearly 73,000.
Researchers also point out that alcohol-related death numbers are likely to be undercounted given that death certificates often fail to specify alcohol as a cause of death.
CNN reported that about only 1 in 6 drink driving deaths are reported as related to alcohol.
From the total alcohol-related deaths, about half were caused by liver disease or an overdose from alcohol or alcohol mixed with other drugs.
Overall, the study shows that men died at a higher rate than women. The highest rates of death were among Non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Native men between the ages of 45 and 74 years.
But the rate of death increase in women, specifically non-Hispanic white women, were the highest, followed by middle-aged people and older.
“With the increases in alcohol use among women, there have been increases in harms for women including ER visits, hospitalization, and deaths,” Aaron White, one of the authors of the paper, told NPR.
“Women are at greater risk than men at comparable levels of alcohol exposure for alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, alcohol-related liver disease, and acute liver failure due to excessive drinking,” wrote authors of the paper.
“Because women reach higher blood alcohol levels than men of comparable weights after consuming the same amount of alcohol, their body tissues are exposed to more alcohol and acetaldehyde, a toxic metabolite of alcohol, after each drink.”
Besides women, the annual increase in deaths for people of middle age and older was four times greater than people in their 20s and 30s.
Dr. Elliot Tapper, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, told CNN that he’s thought a lot about the causes of increased alcohol-related deaths in the United States and attributes them to three factors: increased health issues, stronger drinks, and cultural social force.
“I don’t think drinking is a crime, not at all, but there has to be a way to change policy to reduce access to the insane quantity of alcohol available for at-risk people,” Tapper said.
“I’ve seen people come into my clinic with liver failure and then after they stop drinking a year later, they look like a million dollars. The liver can regenerate and this is a problem that often times can be helped.”