“Moderate, Heavy Drinkers More Likely to Reach Age 85 Without Dementia,” one headline proclaims. “People…
Binge Drinking Kills More Middle-Aged Men Coeds
Binge-drinking men in the 45-to-54 age group are poisoning themselves to death at three times the national average, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This statistic flies in the face of the image most would conjure when asked to visualize the typical binge drinker: a frat boy at an all-night beer party. Like many clichés, however, this one is based on faulty assumptions and a scarcity of knowledge.
Yes, a culture of drinking to excess does exist on college campuses, and many young people end up as alcoholics or even worse as a result of their lack of restraint. But binge drinking is not a phenomenon confined to the youthful set—and its worst consequences are experienced by a surprising demographic group.
The ABCs of Binge Drinking and Alcohol Poisoning
Thanks to the report released by the CDC, we now know that between 2010 and 2012, alcohol poisoning killed more than 2,000 Americans on average during each of these years. But despite the publicity given to the youth drinking problem, more than three-quarters of these deaths occurred in the 35-to-64 age group. And even among this group, it was not the youngest subset that experienced the greatest loss of life: 34 percent of those who died from alcohol poisoning were between the ages of 45 and 54, while just 21 percent of the victims were in the 35-to-44 age group. Surprisingly, only 18 percent of the alcohol overdose casualties occurred in the 15-to-34 age group.
Binge drinking has a reputation of being largely a “manly” practice, and in this instance the numbers dovetail with the cliché. Men comprised slightly more than three-fourths of the alcohol poisoning fatalities from 2010 to 2102, and in the 45-to-54 age group, the annual death rate for American men was 25.6 casualties per 1 million of population. To put that statistic in perspective, the overall U.S. death rate for alcohol overdose was only 8.8 per 1 million, which means that binge drinking men aged 45 to 54 are poisoning themselves to death at three times the national average.
Broken down by ethnicity, 68 percent of the victims of alcohol poisoning in the CDC study were white. However, the highest casualty rate by far for any ethnic group was found among Native Americans, at 49.1 deaths per 1 million of population. Other studies have found Native Americans are seven times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning than any other group, and some believe casualties among this demographic are underestimated because of incorrect classifications for race and ethnicity on death certificates.
One interesting finding of this study is that death rates attributable to alcohol toxicity vary greatly from state to state. On the low side, 5.3 per 1 million succumbed annually in Alabama, whereas 46.5 per million perished in Alaska on a yearly basis (the latter statistic is partially explained by the categorization of Alaskan natives as part of the Native American group). New Mexico had the second-highest death rate, at 32.7 per million, and in total, 20 states had casualty rates higher than the national average. No discernible geographic patterns separated high-death states from low-death states, but other studies suggest state and local laws regulating alcohol availability along with cultural and religious factors determine variations in levels of binge drinking.
Confirming the separation between binge drinking and classic alcoholism, the CDC study found that alcohol dependency was a factor in only 30 percent of these deaths—and in most of these cases it was only one factor rather than the exclusive reason for the tragic ending. Estimates are that only about 10 percent of regular or semi-regular binge drinkers suffer from classic alcohol dependency, which would seem to rule out one explanation given for the older age of most alcohol poisoning victims; namely, that their sad fate is a result of accumulated damage sustained through excessive and regular alcohol consumption over an extended period of time.
It is known that tolerance for alcohol lessens as a person ages. That could translate into an increased vulnerability to overconsumption after age 45 for those who continue their drinking habits without adjustment. When people reach middle age, serious health problems become far more common, and some may turn to alcohol to cope. A lack of awareness could also be an issue; people just assume uncontrolled binge drinking is a problem among the college crowd, and it never occurs to them that they or their loved ones might be equally at risk for alcohol poisoning.
Heeding the Signs: Binge Drinking in Middle Age Means Trouble
Even if binge drinking is not connected in most instances to alcoholism per se, if such behavior continues over a prolonged period, it could be a sign of a much deeper psychological disturbance. A person who is still doing this as he or she enters the middle years of life would be wise to consult with a mental health specialist to see what may be behind this irresponsible and potentially fatal drinking behavior. It is clear that not enough people are taking such precautions, and that is why so many men and women in the 35-to-64 age group are falling victim to a wholly preventable cause of death.