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.

Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
  • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask.

The future of learning will be different, and now is the time to lay the groundwork.

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask. | Caroline ...
Future of Learning
  • The coronavirus pandemic has left many at an interesting crossroads in terms of mapping out the future of their respective fields and industries. For schools, that may mean a total shift not only in how educators teach, but what they teach.
  • One important strategy moving forward, thought leader Caroline Hill says, is to push back against the idea that getting ahead is more important than getting along. "The opportunity that education has in this moment to really push students and think about what is the right way to live, how do we do it and how do we do it in a way that doesn't hurt or rob the dignity of other people?"
  • Hill also argues that now is the time for bigger swings and for removing the barriers that limit education. The online space is boundary free and provides educators with new opportunities to connect with students around the world.

Keep reading Show less

Here are 3 things white people can do right now to help #BLM

Remaining silent is being complicit.

Demonstrators pause for a moment of silence during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer, in McCarren Park in the borough of Brooklyn on June 3, 2020 in New York City.

Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Protests around the world are demanding an end to police discrimination and violence against black citizens in America.
  • Author and activist Dax-Devlon Ross offers advice on how white people can help during this moment.
  • Ross's suggestions include thinking and voting locally, supporting black-owned businesses, and practicing self-reflection.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…