Alcohol Linked to Disease and Death

Alcohol can liven up a party and allow conversation to flow freely between friends. In the thick of the holidays it may seem as if alcohol is available at every turn. A spirit of celebration may come at too high a cost for those that drink to excess, including injury, assault, vandalism, risky sexual behavior and vehicular crashes.

A study on alcohol consumption showed booze has wide and varied associations with disease and death. Lead author Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D., director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto in Canada, explains that this is not the first meta-analysis of the impact of alcohol use disorders (AUD). However, as Rehm notes, the burden of AUD on disease is surprisingly high.

The researchers used data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions in addition to the burden of disease study by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers discovered that of all deaths, three percent of those over the age of 18 in the United States were connected to alcohol.

The contribution was even greater in cases of AUDs. The analysis showed that a disease burden defined as years lived with disability, or YLD, was significantly affected by AUDs. Among women, there was a total of 658,000 YLD for women and 1,785,000 YLD for men.

Stuart Gitlow, M.D., psychiatrist and president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, confirms there is a significant link between alcohol and the burden of disease in the U.S. However, Gitlow notes that given the wide variance in how AUD is defined in clinical practice and in research, it is difficult to quantify the extent of the impact.

Gitlow provides an example of traffic accidents in which an AUD may or may not play a role. Alcohol leads to high rates of morbidity related to these accidents, but an isolated episode of binge drinking is not reflected in rates of AUD.

Rehm calls for a multi-faceted approach to addressing the burden of AUD on society. While prevention is not effective when undertaken by health care policy makers, strategies can be designed that focus on advertising regulations or tax increases. This type of approach requires a similar long-term view as that seen with reducing the use of tobacco products in the U.S. One immediate recommendation is the use of increasing treatment rates and brief intervention.

Gitlow notes that there is a huge public health cost associated with alcohol consumption, but that little can be accomplished to prevent drinking. He also points out that there are few benefits to drinking alcohol and significant risks.

The findings may help those that develop prevention strategies to include information about the significant number of diseases that are associated with alcohol consumption. Individuals may be more trained to consider the immediate, tragic risks of drinking, while prevention efforts could be adapted to talk about long-term health risks.

Posted on February 4th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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