Excessive drinking is behind 1 in 8 adult deaths: study

About 5% of all deaths in U.S. are from alcohol-related causes

About 1 in 8 deaths among Americans age 20 to 64 are attributable to excessive alcohol consumption. For those age 20-49, the proportion increases to 1 in 5. Overall, excessive alcohol use accounts for 1 in 20 deaths in the U.S.

Those results emerge from a comprehensive new study of adult deaths either fully or partially due to alcohol consumption—one of the leading preventable causes of premature deaths in the U.S.—during the years 2015-2019. The authors used mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System and other sources to analyze deaths from 58 alcohol-attributable causes of death, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They found that of the 694,660 deaths among those age 20-64 during that period, 89,697, or 12.9%, resulted from either liver disease, other poisoning, or motor vehicle crashes—the three leading causes of alcohol-related deaths.

Among those age 20-34, 25.4% of deaths were alcohol-related. For those in the 35-49 age cohort it was 17.5%, and for those age 50-64 it was 9.5%. Of the 2.8 million total deaths during the period, 140,557, or 5%, were the result of excessive alcohol consumption. About 15% of adult deaths among men were due to excessive drinking, compared to 9.4% for women.

By state, New Mexico had the highest rate of alcohol-attributable deaths among adults 20-64 at 21.7%. Other states with high rates included Alaska (19.7%,), Wyoming (19%), and Colorado (18.2%). Mississippi, with 9.3%, had the lowest rate.

The authors note that death rates where alcohol is an underlying or contributing cause increased during 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the proportion of alcohol-related deaths among total deaths might be higher now than during the study period. They suggest that deaths from excessive alcohol consumption could be reduced by raising taxes on alcohol, regulating the density of alcohol outlets, and increasing rates of screening and intervention.

The study, “Estimated Deaths Attributable to Excessive Alcohol Use Among US Adults Aged 20 to 64 Years, 2015-2019,” was published November 1 on JAMA Network Open.