According to a recent report from federal health officials, about six people die every day from alcohol poisoning in the United States, mostly involving middle age men, challenging beliefs that it was primarily a problem that affected college students and younger adults..
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs report, published on January 6, indicates more than 38 million American adults admit to binge drinking an average of four times per month. During those binge drinking sessions adults consume an average of 8 drinks.
The high number of binge drinkers led to more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths each year from 2010 to 2012, resulting in an average of six deaths every day, according to the health agency.
The report categorized a woman as a binge drinker if she consumed more than four alcoholic drinks, and men more than five drinks, on one occasion.
Although most would expect that the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning deaths would be found among teens and young adults, the report indicates that more than three-quarters of the deaths involved adults ages 35 to 64, with men having the highest death rate among adults ages 45 to 54.
Alcohol poisoning deaths are caused when people drink large amounts of alcohol in short periods of time, resulting in very high blood alcohol levels. This shuts down critical areas of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate and body temperature, often causing death.
Most of the studies which have focused on binge drinking looked at young adults and college age drinkers. However, the new report reveals binge drinking and alcohol poisoning among older adults is a bigger problem than previously thought.
The majority of people suffering alcohol poisoning were white non-Hispanics; but the report did note a large amount of poisonings among American Indians/Alaska Natives. This demographic had the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people.
Alcohol poisonings accounted for 46.5 deaths per million in Alaska compared to the lowest rate in Alabama, with 5 deaths per million. Overall, the Great Plains states and the West had high numbers of deaths, along with Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The Vital Signs report is issued the first Tuesday of the month as part of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This is the first report in 10 years to compile data on alcohol poisonings for the American population overall.
The report uses data from the National Vital Statistics System from 2010 to 2012. Alcoholism was identified as a contributing factor in 30 percent of deaths, however the report says in 90 percent of adults measured in the data, alcoholism is not a factor. Other drugs were a contributing factor in three percent of the deaths.
Health officials recommend certain steps to reduce deaths from alcohol poisoning, including support programs proven to decrease binge drinking. States with stricter policies have less binge drinking, researchers found.
They also recommend partnering with police, health departments, community groups and other healthcare providers to reduce binge drinking and monitoring the role of alcohol in injuries and deaths.