How can alcohol kill you?
Death by alcohol is preventable. So what are the risks of drinking too much? how can they be avoided? We review here, and invite your questions, comments, or experiences with alcohol fatality at the end.
Excessive alcohol consumption: A leading cause of death
Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol kills more than three million people each year, or one person every ten seconds—more than the total amount of people dying from AIDS, TB, and violence. And in the U.S. a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control states that “excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of premature mortality in the United States,” with 10% of deaths in the US each year attributable to alcohol abuse. Additionally, the study claims excessive alcohol use to be the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the US.
Since alcohol is legal in most countries and is often glamorized in popular culture —through film, advertising, etc. — the dangers represented by the statistics often seem like an abstraction, especially to young people, who consider alcohol use to be a benign form of fun. Consequently, the question, “How can alcohol kill you?” is an important one, crucial to any attempt to shift cultural awareness and promote moderation or, when indicated, abstinence.
8 ways alcohol can kill
Alcohol can kill you directly or indirectly. Here is just a sampling of how:
1. Traffic fatalities – An estimated ten thousand deaths in 2010 were attributable to alcohol consumption (more than 30 percent of all vehicular deaths).
2. Poisoning – Over one thousand people die each year from acute alcohol poisoning.
3. Injuries – Accidental injuries kill over eighteen hundred college students annually.
4. Long term effects of alcohol – Higher likelihood of stroke, cirrhosis, certain cancers, and immune-system problems can be caused by excessive drinking. So, can alcohol abuse kill you? Yes.
5. Overdose – Alcohol, when combined with other drugs (pain medications, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, etc.) can kill by interfering with the autonomic nervous system’s ability to regulate respiration.
6. Cases of severe dependence and withdrawal – When can withdrawal from alcohol kill you? When you develop severe dependence after long term, chronic, or high dose drinking.
7. Accidents involving fire – Over half of deaths involving fire involve alcohol consumption.
8. Homicide – More than half of all homicides have a common element: excessive drinking.
How can alcohol kill you if you don’t even drink?
Alcoholism is acknowledged as a family disease: those who have to live or deal with the alcoholic are also affected. More than half of all incidents of domestic violence involve alcohol. According to US Government statistics, one thousand to sixteen hundred women die each year at the hands of their male partners. Furthermore, an estimated six thousand women commit suicide after enduring years of abuse. To the extent that alcohol is part of this dynamic, alcohol can kill you even if you don’t drink a drop of it. And this doesn’t even take into account the health consequences of stress that are inevitable when living with an alcoholic.
Problem drinking can be treated
Alcohol negatively affects all of the faculties that are critical in keeping people safe: judgment, cognition, coordination, and the ability to suppress tendencies toward excessive risk-taking and aggression. The more you drink, and the more often you drink, the more likely—in terms of statistics—you will generate negative consequences for yourself and others. If your drinking is becoming problematic, and if awareness of the fact that alcohol can kill you doesn’t temper your consumption, then treatment is probably a good idea.
Photo credit: Daniel Go