Alcohol now actually kills more of us than opioids

Here’s a sobering thought as the nation moves into the traditional holiday partying month of the year:

Despite all the concern, publicity, legislation and hand-wringing photo-ops devoted to the devastating and newer opioid crisis, actually more Americans are dying from alcohol each year than opioids. And the number is growing.

In the 10 years up to 2017, the number of deaths attributed to alcohol and its related effects increased 35 percent. Deaths of teens from alcohol actually declined. But deaths among women (are you sitting down?) jumped fully 85 percent. Among men, alcohol deaths rose 29 percent.

About 72,000 people per year die from opioid abuse, while 88,000 perish from alcohol and its related causes.

Perhaps it’s needless to say, but the pro-opioid overdose lobby is nowhere near as powerful as the country’s liquor lobby. So, the breadth of concern over alcohol abuse has been muted by familiarity.

As a fascinating opus by USA Today notes, it’s not just drunk driving that claims lives. It’s the related fall-outs from excessive and addictive drinking that kill, like suicide, cancer, pancreatitis and liver cirrhosis.

Max Griswold is with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. He helped develop the research that produced these alcohol statistics and observes:

The story is that no one has noticed this. It hasn’t really been researched before.

This might not surprise you. According to an analysis by Griswold and the Institute, the District of Columbia, part of the collection of Beltway counties that are the country’s most affluent, has the highest rate of death from alcohol of anywhere.

The nation’s capital is followed by Georgia and Alabama, which has one of the strictest alcohol control policies.

Other research found that emergency room visits for binge drinking came, not from the expected younger drinkers, but from middle-aged alcohol consumers, especially women.

And in the cases of older excessive drinkers, they then tend to suffer from other complications like heart failure, internal bleeding and brain hemorrhages, as alcohol inhibits blood clotting.

Middle-aged men and women with long-term drinking habits tend to suffer more infections due to immunity suppression, heart failure, stomach ulcers, a much higher risk of cancer and a kind of dementia induced by alcohol.

Long-term alcohol drinkers tend to develop a tolerance for alcohol. But with age, they gain fat, lose muscle and actually become less tolerant of excess alcohol, all of which lead to increased injuries and diseases.

Making matters worse, alcoholism is trickier to treat – and to coerce or curb through shame – than is opioid addiction. “Culturally,” said one expert, “we’ve made it acceptable to drink, but not to go out and shoot up heroin.”

Though it might be a more acceptable addiction socially, the Centers for Disease Control say that alcohol addiction is three times more expensive to treat than opioid addiction.