The study was published Wednesday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
About half of these deaths are from liver disease or an overdose from alcohol or alcohol mixed with other drugs. Men died at a higher rate than women, but the largest annual increase in deaths was among non-Hispanic white women. Rates of deaths also increased more for people between the ages of 55 and 64. Rates of death were higher among non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska natives.
Americans are drinking more. Per capita consumption is up about 8% since the turn of this century and binge drinking numbers increased about 7.7%. About 70% of the adult population said they drank in 2017, averaging a little over two drinks a day. By US standards, that would put a good number of adults in the “heavy drinker” category.
“When multiple researchers come to the same conclusion using different methods, I can tell you for certain these results are valid,” said Tapper, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan whose area of practice focuses on cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy.
Tapper said he’s thought a lot over the years about why there are so many more alcohol-related deaths and he attributes it to three factors.
First, he said that the increased prevalence of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes make an increase in alcohol consumption much more harmful.
“This is true for people who are 18 years old, just like it is true for people who are 65,” said Tapper.
Second, he said, studies have shown that people are drinking stronger drinks.
“I live in a college town and I see college kids drinking products that are sweeter, easier to drink and have a higher percentage of alcohol,” Tapper said.
The good news, he said, is that alcohol-related deaths are preventable and there are public health options that could reduce these deaths. Higher taxes on liquor can curb drinking. Concert venues could restrict the number of drinks someone could buy at a concert, he suggests, or there could be more stringent blood alcohol levels for drivers.
“I don’t think drinking is a crime, not at all, but there has to be a way to change policy to reduce access to the insane quantity of alcohol available for at risk people,” Tapper said.