The death toll from binge drinking and other forms of excessive alcohol use in the United States is just shy of 88,000 per year, according to a new nationwide analysis.
Those casualties erased more than 2.5 million years of life that would have been lived each year had victims not been killed in drunk-driving accidents, by liver cirrhosis or as a result of dozens of other alcohol-related causes, the report found.
Binge drinking is responsible for more than half of these alcohol-related deaths, the study said. The authors defined binge drinking as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks at a time for women.
Overall, excessive alcohol use cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006 alone, according to a report published last year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. That worked out to a societal cost of $1.90 per drink.
The new study, published Thursday in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tallied the human -- not the financial -- cost of drinking in the U.S.
To do this, researchers from the CDC and state health departments in Washington and New Mexico used the government database called Alcohol-Related Disease Impact. It tracks deaths from 54 causes that are related to alcohol in whole (such as alcohol poisoning) or in part (such as breast and prostate cancers). The “alcohol-attributable fraction” for each of these causes of death was multiplied by the number of such deaths in the years 2006 through 2010. Then the results for all 54 causes of death were added up.
The nationwide total of so-called alcohol attributable deaths came to 87,798. That worked out to 27.9 deaths per 100,000 Americans (after adjusting for age). Among these casualties, 71% were men. In addition, 69% involved adults between the ages of 20 and 64 and another 5% were under 21. Nearly 1 in 10 of the deaths that befell working-age adults was traceable to alcohol.
The alcohol-related death rate varied widely by state. The lowest rate was in New Jersey (with 19.1 deaths per 100,000 residents) and the highest was in New Mexico (with 51.2 deaths per 100,000 residents). California was slightly above average with 29.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.
To calculate the years of life lost to alcohol, researchers compared the age at which victims died to their expected life span (based on age and gender). When everything was added up, the total number of unlived years added up to an average of 2,560,290 per year.
Men forfeited 72% of these lost years, the researchers reported. In addition, 82% of these lost years were given up by people ages 20 to 64, and 10% were lost by people under the age of 21.
Once again, the variation among states was considerable. In Maryland, alcohol-related deaths accounted for 9.1% of years of life lost, and in New Mexico it was 18.5%. The corresponding figure for California was 8.2%.