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Alcohol Is a Leading Cause of Death

a person sits in a dark room holding their hands together possibly struggling with Alcohol Addiction

According to a recent study, any alcohol—even a drink a day—may be more dangerous than experts previously thought. Researchers found drinking is a leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 15 to 49-year-olds worldwide. Nearly one in 10 deaths in this age group can apparently be traced back to alcohol-related causes. Ultimately, the study suggests that even a single daily drink may be putting you at risk.

Alcohol addiction, which forms after steady drinking, is even more harmful to your health. At Northpoint Seattle, our outpatient program to treat alcohol addiction can help you or a loved one learn to live without drinking. Get started on the road to recovery today by calling 888.483.6031 or contacting us online.

Shocking Results About Alcohol Abuse

The authors of the study found that the global health burden of alcohol abuse was far more severe than most experts had thought. Among other serious medical conditions, alcohol is known to increase the risk of six types of cancer, in particular: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast. According to this study, nearly one-quarter of cancer deaths could be traced back to drinking habits.

The study also points out that the risks associated with drinking increase more quickly than most people might expect. According to the study’s lead author, “Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.” For instance, a single drink a day increases alcohol-related health risks in young people by only 0.5%. However, that risk jumps to 7% for two drinks daily and up to 37% for those who consume five drinks daily.

A Few More Interesting Takeaways

While the health outcomes and the baseline safe drinking measures were the most notable outcomes of this study, the analysis also brought to light several other interesting takeaways as well. There are two in particular worth mentioning. First, men and women have very different relationships with alcohol and very different health outcomes. Second, this study helped shine a light on how extensive drinking is in other countries around the world.

Different Outcomes Among Men and Women

Addiction experts have long known that gender is an undeniable risk factor for drug dependence. It’s no surprise that the two sexes interact with alcohol differently. What’s interesting about this study is how drastic these differences are as well as how health outcomes can vary wildly between men and women. Here are some results from the study to better demonstrate the disparity.

  • Among all age groups, 2.2% of female deaths and 6.8% of male deaths were due to alcohol-related causes.
  • Youth and adult males were far more at risk than females. Of 15 to 49-year-olds, 3.8% of female deaths came from alcohol. Among males, 12.2% of deaths were caused by alcohol.
  • Disability-adjusted life-years or DALYs (a measure of disability due to disease or injury) were different among the sexes too. Men aged 15 to 49 had 8.9% of DALYs attributable to alcohol, while women only had 2.3%.
  • Around 19% of alcohol-attributable deaths in males over 49 were caused by cancers. But for women of the same age, more than 27% of alcohol deaths came from cancer.

Drinking Around the World: How Do Different Countries Stack up?

One of the most interesting things about this study comes from just how far-reaching the data is. Researchers pulled numbers from hundreds of studies conducted worldwide to analyze the health risks of drinking. Below are a few statistics from 2016 collected by the study to provide global perspectives.

The highest alcohol-attributable death rates per 100,000 people between 15-49:

  • Lesotho – 145.3
  • Russia – 118.4
  • Central African Republic – 108.8
  • Ukraine – 92.2
  • Burundi – 81.1
  • Lithuania – 76.1
  • Belarus – 71.2
  • Mongolia – 67.6
  • Latvia – 65.5
  • Kazakhstan – 62.2

The lowest alcohol-attributable death rates per 100,000 people between 15-49:

  • Kuwait – 0.3
  • Iran – 0.4
  • Palestine – 0.4
  • Libya – 0.7
  • Saudi Arabia – 0.7
  • Yemen – 0.9
  • Jordan – 1.3
  • Maldives – 1.4
  • Singapore – 1.6
  • Syria – 1.7

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

It’s important to remember just how heavy drinking impacts the body. Even though alcohol isn’t an illegal street drug like heroin or cocaine, it can have a disastrous effect on specific organs in the body and an individual’s overall health.

The Liver

One of the body’s main filtration systems, the liver, removes toxins and breaks down harmful chemicals in the blood. However, it can only handle a certain amount of work at a time, which can often be overloaded by alcohol.

When that happens, the harmful chemicals and some of the toxic byproducts of the breakdown can end up damaging the liver itself. As a result, it can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring called cirrhosis, which makes it less effective over time. About one in 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop cirrhosis.

The Heart

Alcohol can lead to several cardiovascular conditions, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (enlargement and weakening of the heart)
  • Congestive heart failure

Part of what makes alcohol so deadly when it comes to the heart is that it is a vasodilator. That means that it causes blood vessels to relax and expand. While this might not sound all that bad initially, the newly-relaxed blood vessels flow through the skin and tissues at a higher rate. As a result, the heart has to beat harder and faster just to get the blood delivered to where it needs to go.

The Brain

Special brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are tweaked and inhibited by alcohol, causing them not to work like they normally do. While this can create some desirable effects at first, over time, alcohol consumption can lead to permanent damage to what’s arguably the body’s most essential organ. There are two conditions of the brain in particular that are unique to people with alcohol addiction:

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome – Also known as wet brain, is a devastating disease caused by a thiamine deficiency. People with wet brain experience bleeding in the brain, causing seriously impacted vision, coordination, and balance. Eventually, the disease can result in chronic pain and debilitating memory loss.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy – This disease is actually brain damage caused by a failing liver. As this organ becomes less able to break down alcohol, the chemical’s potent toxicity can cause permanent damage to the brain. The results are changes in sleep patterns, altered mood, psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression, decreased attention span, coordination problems, and even coma or death.

The Kidneys

Another of the body’s most effective filters, the kidneys, help regulate fluids while removing waste and toxins from the bloodstream. There are three major ways that alcohol consumption impacts these important organs:

  • Dehydration – When the body is dehydrated, it can make it significantly harder for kidneys (which help regulate hydration) to do their job properly.
  • Increased blood pressure – Hypertension can ultimately cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken, or harden—making it more difficult to get blood to these important organs.
  • Damaged liver cells – As the liver breaks down, the kidneys have to work harder to filter the blood since the liver isn’t sharing as much of the burden.

The Stomach

One of the first organs that alcohol interacts with, the stomach, can undergo some wide-ranging problems caused by too much drinking, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding
  • Ulcers
  • Tumors

The Esophagus & Mouth

Even one episode of heavy drinking can impact the health of the esophagus and mouth. For the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter can end up being damaged, which can increase the likelihood of acid reflux. Unchecked drinking can also up the risk of developing serious diseases of the esophagus, like nutcracker esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, and Mallory-Weiss syndrome.

The dangers of over-drinking can be just as frightening when it comes to the mouth. Tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay, and even oral cancers can all come about as a result of consuming too much alcohol.

The Risk of Alcohol Addiction

Heavy or problematic drinking is an enormous risk factor for developing an alcohol use disorder. In many cases, the more someone drinks, the more likely they will develop a full-fledged addiction. As many as 15.1 million American adults met the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.

Addiction, for example, can truly devastate social and familial relationships. So often, the lies, deception, and disregard for loved ones that follows substance abuse can tear families apart. Even relationships that do hold together can often result in toxic dynamics. Combined with financial instability, lack of control, potential legal problems, and many other problems associated with a substance use disorder, developing an addiction can often be life-shattering.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Seattle

If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to understand that help is available. At Northpoint Seattle, we offer a wide range of evidence-based treatment options that are designed to meet the unique needs of our patients. Our compassionate and experienced team will work with you to create a treatment plan that includes the services that will be most beneficial for you. Call 888.483.6031 or contact us online to get started today.