Excessive drinking is a public health term that describes participation in any form of short- or long-term alcohol consumption capable of producing significant harm and/or triggering fatal outcomes. Specific forms of this practice include heavy drinking and binge drinking. In a study published in June 2014 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from three U.S. institutions used information from a web-based CDC project called Alcohol-Related Disease Impact to determine how many people in the U.S. die from excessive alcohol intake, as well as how many years of life are lost among excessive drinkers.
Heavy Drinking and Binge Drinking
A person qualifies as a heavy drinker by regularly consuming enough alcohol to surpass the established public health limits on moderate alcohol intake for his or her gender. Each time an individual exceeds either daily or weekly limits for moderate intake in a given 30-day period, his or her chance of eventually developing a diagnosable case of alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism) goes up substantially. A person qualifies as a binge drinker by consuming enough alcohol in a couple of hours to meet the common legal standard for intoxicated operation of a motor vehicle (a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent). Technically, binge drinking is a form of heavy drinking. In addition to increased risks for alcohol use disorder, binge drinkers have heightened odds for serious and potentially life-threatening outcomes such as involvement in car crashes, involvement in intentional violent acts, sexual assault victimization and alcohol poisoning. Two other categories of excessive drinking include any level of alcohol intake by a pregnant woman or an underage person.
Excessive Drinking Frequency
A federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration keeps tabs on how many people in the U.S. drink heavily or binge drink every year. In 2012 (the last year with reported figures as of mid-2014), about 23 percent of all teens and adults took part in binge drinking at least once in a representative month. In terms of age, peak rates for the practice occurred among individuals in their 20s and early 30s. When binge drinking was not included in the definition, about 6.5 percent of all American teens and adults qualified as heavy drinkers in 2012. Peak rates of heavy drinking occurred in people between the ages of 18 and 34. Generally speaking, involvement in any form of alcohol intake, as well as involvement in binge drinking and heavy drinking, drops in older segments of the population.
How Many People Die?
In the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the CDC, the Washington State Department of Health and the University of New Mexico used data from five years of the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact project (2006-2010) to determine how many people in the U.S. die from excessive drinking, in addition to how many potential life years are lost to excessive drinking. Fifty-four specific causes of death were identified as related to alcohol consumption in one way or another. All told, the researchers found that roughly 88,000 people died from alcohol-related causes every year during the period of time under consideration. On average, people with alcohol-related causes of death lost about 30 years from their expected lifespans. Some of the deaths stemmed from short-term problems associated with excessive drinking, including such things as car accidents, episodes of alcohol poisoning and acts of violence. Other deaths stemmed from long-term problems associated with excessive drinking, including such things as cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, liver dysfunction and cancer. For each year examined, about 2.5 million life years were lost to premature, alcohol-related death. Roughly 70 percent of all alcohol-related deaths identified during the study occurred among men; a similar percentage of deaths occurred among people between the age of 18 and retirement age. Only one out of every 20 deaths occurred among underage drinkers. In a state-by-state-breakdown, the highest rate of excessive alcohol-related death (51 out of every 100,000) appeared among residents of New Mexico; conversely, the lowest rate (19 out of every 100,000) appeared among residents of New Jersey. The study’s authors specifically emphasize the unexpectedly high rate of alcohol-related death among people in their prime working years. Overall, they note the obvious and essentially avoidable role that excessive drinking plays in ending and shortening the lives of U.S. residents.