We rarely ask “Is alcohol deadly?”, despite the significant number of fatalities associated with its consumption. This is due to alcohol’s cultural acceptance and greater media coverage for hard drugs like opiates or meth. But alcoholism treatment programs see clients with alcohol use disorder at alarming rates. Learn more about alcohol use and if it’s more dangerous than other drugs.
Alcohol More Deadly Than Opioids?
There’s no question that our nation’s battle with opioid addiction continues. Opioid overdose deaths more than doubled in less than ten years, rising from 21,019 in 2010 to 49,860 in 2019.1 And in the period between June 2019 and May 2020 (when COVID-19 social distancing and quarantine mandates made drug treatment more difficult), we saw alarming levels of drug overdose deaths -driven primarily by synthetic opioids.2
In reality, alcohol is quite deadly, being responsible for 95,000 deaths each year3 either directly and indirectly. That’s likely because alcohol is socially accepted and easy to access, and most alcohol-related deaths are not the result of an overdose. However, alcohol is a drug that, when overused, can drastically cause our physical and mental health to decline. In this article, we’ll explore the many ways that alcohol abuse contributes to more U.S. deaths each year than any other single drug. We’ll conclude by providing resources for alcoholism treatment programs for either you or a loved one.
Death Statistics Show How Deadly Alcohol Is
In October 2020, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report identifying alcohol-attributed deaths due to excessive alcohol use. The study counted any time that alcohol was the underlying cause or contributed to a death. Here are some of the findings:3
- Males are much more likely to die from alcohol-related causes. Out of 95,158 alcohol-attributed deaths, 91% were male.
- Deaths that were 100% attributed to alcohol accounted for 28% of the total number of alcohol-attributed deaths.
- The remaining 72% of deaths attributed to alcohol include:
- Cancer (liver, colorectal, oral and pharyngeal, breast, and esophageal)
- Heart Disease and Stroke
- Liver, pancreatic, and gallbladder disease (primarily cirrhosis of the liver)
- Alcohol-related poisonings
- Motor-vehicle crashes
- Acute causes such as homicide, drowning, fire, and deaths from a fall
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a similar study and found that the number of death certificates that included alcohol as an underlying or contributing cause doubled between 1999 and 2017.4 Considering that not all death certificates will indicate alcohol was involved in the fatality, it’s likely that the reported figures do not represent a complete picture of alcohol’s role in U.S. deaths.
Is Alcohol Deadly When Combined With Other Drugs?
The study commissioned by the NIAAA found that overdoses on alcohol by itself or when used with other drugs accounted for 18% of the deaths.4 When people use alcohol in combination with illicit or prescription drugs, the interaction between the two substances can be harmful or even deadly. For example, one oxycodone tablet (a semi-synthetic opioid drug) taken with even a small quantity of alcohol can lead to respiratory failure.5
Other examples of dangerous alcohol and drug mixing include:
- Alcohol with Cocaine – When alcohol is used with cocaine, it produces another substance called cocaethylene. Cocaethylene can increase the risk of cardiovascular toxicity, which causes stress and pressure on the heart.6
- Alcohol with Ecstasy (MDMA) – Alcohol can increase the blood concentration of MDMA, and that may cause toxic effects to the nervous system.7
- Alcohol with Depressants – Drinking alcohol along with a sleep aid like Ambien or a benzodiazepine such as Xanax or Valium could decrease heart rate, slow breathing, and possibly cause death.8
- Alcohol with Stimulants – Alcohol used with stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin can increase blood pressure and risk alcohol overdose since stimulants mask the depressant effect of alcohol.9
Society Doesn’t Treat Alcohol Like a Drug, but Alcoholism Treatment Programs Can Help
Although alcohol causes more annual deaths than any other single drug, people likely downplay its danger because drinking is socially acceptable. You’ll not only find alcohol at bars and restaurants but also sports arenas, movie theaters, family-themed neighborhood festivals, and fundraisers. High-end clothing stores serve Champagne and cocktails to their regular customers. Even some Starbucks locations offer alcoholic beverages that deliver a different kind of buzz than their coffee drinks.
Consider how common it is for people to openly announce their plans to binge-drink at special events like weddings, graduations, tailgate parties, and 21st birthdays. Society doesn’t have the same openness for illicit drugs, mainly because they are illegal and most people consider them outside the mainstream. Our culture has so thoroughly accepted drinking that people don’t realize they have a problem until they are physically dependent on or addicted to alcohol. Learn how to identify the signs of alcoholism in yourself or someone you care about.
Find the Alcoholism Treatment Program That’s Right For You
If you are drinking too much, too often, or rely on alcohol to enjoy yourself, consider reaching out for help. At Ocean Hills Recovery, we create a perfect-fit alcoholism treatment program for your individual needs. Our knowledgeable and caring staff provides a supportive environment where you’ll uncover the underlying reasons why you’re drinking in excess.
From there, we’ll teach you how to manage – and enjoy – a life free from alcohol and drugs. Contact us to learn more about our treatment philosophies. We’re committed to your recovery, no matter where you are in your journey.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.