Heavy drinking still kills many more people than opioid overdoses
THE White House has plans to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. This concern is justified: in their legal and illegal forms, opioids kill an American every 16 minutes. Yet a focus on opioids has eclipsed the damage caused by an even deadlier, more common substance. Between 2006 and 2010, an average of 106,765 Americans died each year from alcohol-related causes such as liver disease, alcohol poisoning and drunk driving—more than twice the number of overdoses from all drugs and more than triple the number of opioid overdoses in 2015. Although Americans quaff less alcohol per person than the pub-loving British and Irish or the beer-fond Germans, they are drinking far more heavily than they used to.
On August 9th, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University published a study in JAMA Psychiatry that compared American drinking habits in 2001-02 with those in 2012-13. It found that the share of Americans who are considered “high-risk” tipplers—women who, in any given week, have at least four drinks in a single day, or men who have five drinks—increased by nearly 30% in the period studied.