A new study from Princeton University points to an alarming trend. The data presented sheds light on how certain populations are at a higher risk of death driven by drug/alcohol overdoses, suicides, and liver disease. Because these conditions worsen the quality of life by impacting physical and mental health and causing financial difficulties, they have been coined as “deaths of despair” by the study authors. The fact that these deaths are caused by preventable factors is a tragedy that is sadly continuing to rise every year. The authors of the study said, “the rise in deaths from suicide, alcohol, and drug overdose is a national crisis.”
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism took a closer look at what deaths of despair are apart from the study, and how alcohol can worsen the quality of life by leading to myriad problems in an alcoholic’s life that can lead to an early death.
Alcohol can cause deaths of despair by contributing to rates of:
- Fatal alcohol poisoning
- Liver disease
- Mental illness
- Injury-related deaths
- Other diseases that lead to death
Why Alcoholics Are at a Higher Risk for Deaths of Despair
Alcohol abuse is more common among those who are faced with stress or trauma, including job loss, divorce, financial troubles, chronic pain, and mental illness. By attempting to drown their sorrows in alcohol, they go down a slippery slope that can only cause more pain and suffering.
Alcohol is a significant contributor to deaths of despair. That’s because alcohol plays a role in about 20% of all overdose deaths involving opioids, and as most people know, the opioid abuse epidemic is raging on and continues to make headlines on a daily basis. The study found that deaths from alcohol have risen by 37% nationwide, although each state’s data is different. The states that were hit hardest by drug and alcohol overdoses were West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. When alcohol is mixed with opioids, it can suppress the area of the brain that controls breathing, even with a low blood alcohol concentration level (BAC).
Deaths from liver disease are another key contributor to the rise in deaths of despair among alcoholics. In 2017 alone, 41,743 Americans died from diseases of the liver, and about half of them were cause by alcohol-associated liver disease (AALD), particularly cirrhosis. While most people who die from AALD are older adults, the biggest increase in these deaths was among young adults between the ages of 25 and 34.
Although alcohol abuse is not the only driving factor in the rise of deaths of despair, it is important to raise awareness of the health risks associated with alcohol abuse and how attempting to cope with life’s challenges by drinking is dangerous. By educating yourself and others, it could help reduce the number of deaths of despair or ebb the flow of so many people dying from these tragic circumstances.
You can learn more about the health risks associated with alcoholism and evaluate whether you may have an alcohol use disorder by visiting the NIAAA website, Rethinking Drinking. If you are in a crisis and at risk for a death of despair, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741741 to seek immediate help.