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Study: U.S. alcohol deaths have doubled since 1997
A separate study shows that binge drinkers are also ordering more rounds.
- From 1997 to 2017, alcohol-related deaths among Americans aged 16 and older doubled from 35,914 to 72,558.
- From 2011 to 2017, the average number of drinks consumed by binge-drinkers rose from 472 to 529.
- A 2018 study showed that people who consume six or more drinks per week are more likely to die early.
Americans are drinking more alcohol and dying at higher rates from it, according to two new reports released in January.
A study published in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research examined alcohol-related deaths from 1997 to 2007. (The researchers considered a death to be alcohol-related if a death certificate listed alcohol as a primary or secondary cause of death.) The results showed that over the past two decades:
- Alcohol deaths among Americans ages 16 and older doubled from 35,914 in 1997, to 72,558 in 2017.
- The death rate increased 50.9% from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000.
- 944,880 alcohol‐related deaths were recorded between 1999 and 2017.
- In 2017, alcohol was associated with 72,558 deaths, making it more deadly than illegal drugs, including opioids.
- Only cigarettes are more deadly than alcohol in the U.S.
How exactly are Americans dying from booze? In 2017, about half of alcohol deaths were the result of liver disease; separate research shows that far more young Americans have been dying from alcohol-related liver diseases than they did just two decades ago. But interestingly, since 1997, significantly fewer Americans died in alcohol-related car accidents, possibly because of the rise of ridesharing apps like Uber (though the data aren't exactly clear on that).
However, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses that also involve alcohol.
"In 2017, death certificates captured 10,596 deaths due to overdoses on a combination of alcohol and other drugs and another 2,358 deaths from overdoses on alcohol alone," the researchers wrote. "Alcohol causes respiratory depression on its own, and the risk of acute respiratory failure increases when alcohol is combined with other drugs that suppress respiration, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."
Age‐adjusted death rates by sex and race/ethnicity for (A) all alcohol‐induced causes, (B) acute causes, and (C) chronic causes, fitted with joinpoint log‐linear regression: United States, 1999 to 2017. Rate is shown on a natural log scale to depict a relative change over time (i.e., APC).
The researchers added that mixing alcohol with opioids was especially deadly for Americans ages 66 to 77.
"The fact that a moderately intoxicating dose of alcohol significantly increased the respiratory depression produced by a medicinal dose of oxycodone suggests that any alcohol consumption could contribute to fatal overdoses involving opioid," they wrote.
A second study examined rates of binge-drinking among Americans from 2011 to 2017. (The study defined binge drinking as five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four for women.) The results show that, while the percentage of Americans who drink to excess hasn't really budged, those who do binge-drink are drinking more:
- The average number of drinks consumed by binge-drinkers rose from 472 in 2011, to 529 in 2017.
- The most significant rise in binge-drinking rates occurred among Americans without a high-school degree.
- That group consumed 942 drinks per person in 2017, up from 646 in 2011.
- In 2018, 26.45% of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month, while 6.6 percent reported engaging in "heavy" alcohol use.
Why alcohol is addictive
Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. The data vary by study, but it's estimated that between 6 and 30 percent of Americans are alcoholics, and that most are men. Why is drinking addictive? A few explanations include:
- Alcohol triggers the reward centers of the brain, releasing dopamine and endorphins, which reinforces physical dependency.
- Alcohol contains large amounts of sugar, which by itself can be addictive, at least according to some research.
- People often use drinking as a coping mechanism, whether in social situations or for anxiety and/or depression, which can reinforce the behavior and make us more likely to repeat it in the future.
- Some research suggests that people whose brains release large amounts of natural opioids in response to alcohol are especially vulnerable to alcoholism.
How to curb your drinking
So, how much alcohol is too much? It's difficult to say, but a 2018 study found that people who drink more than six drinks per week were significantly more likely to die early, specifically of stroke, heart disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm. If you're looking to curb your alcohol intake, consider some of these tips from Harvard Medical School:
- Put it in writing: List specific reasons why you want to quit. Studies suggest writing goals down makes us more likely to achieve them.
- Don't keep booze in the house: Try to put more distance between you and alcohol; make it difficult to grab a drink.
- Drink slowly: Try ordering a soda (or better, a water) between drinks.
- Set a drinking goal: If you want to keep drinking, try setting a drink limit before going out so you know exactly when to stop.
- Guard against temptations: Become aware of what triggers you to drink: certain friends, stress levels, particular places, etc. Be mindful of whether you're using alcohol to cope with stress, and if so, work to replace that coping mechanism with a healthier one.
- How much alcohol is safe? None, warns new global study - Big Think ›
- Alcohol is responsible for 5% of global deaths, says WHO - Big Think ›
- Study reveals alarming link between binge-drinking and anxiety - Big Think ›
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.
- It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
- Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
- Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
For some time, scientists have suspected that sharks belong among the growing number of animals known to navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Testing anything with a shark, though, requires some care.
The key was selecting the right candidate. Keller and his colleagues chose the bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, a small critter that summers at Turkey Point Shoal off the coast of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory with which Keller is affiliated.
Bonnetheads elsewhere have been known to complete 620-mile roundtrip migrations. As the lab's Dean Grubbs puts it, "That's not bad for a shark that is only two to three feet long. The question is how do they find their way back to that same estuary year after year." There's a report of a great white shark migrating between two locations, one in South Africa and another in Australia, year after year.
The research is published in Current Biology.
Keller and his team rounded up 20 local juvenile bonnetheads and transported them into a holding tank at the marine lab. For the tests, the researchers simulated three real-world magnetic fields. As the various magnetic fields were activated, the sharks' movements were captured by GoPro cameras and their average swimming orientations calculated by software.
The first simulation, serving as a control, mimicked the magnetic field of the nearby shoal from which the sharks had been captured. When this field was activated, the sharks essentially acted like they were "home," just swimming around as they do.
A second field was the magnetic equivalent of a location 600 kilometers south of the lab within the Gulf of Mexico. When this field was activated, the sharks, apparently mistaking themselves for being far south in the Gulf, began swimming northward toward the shoal.
The opposite occurred with a field standing in for a location in continental North America 600 km north of their home shoal — the sharks began swimming southward.
"For 50 years," says Keller, "scientists have hypothesized that sharks use the magnetic field as a navigational aid. This theory has been so popular because sharks, skates, and rays have been shown to be very sensitive to magnetic fields. They have also been trained to react to unique geomagnetic signatures, so we know they are capable of detecting and reacting to variation in the magnetic field."
His team's experiments confirm what's long been suspected, Keller says: "Sharks use map-like information from the geomagnetic field as a navigational aid. This ability is useful for navigation and possibly maintaining population structure."
A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.