clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Alcohol poisoning kills six people each day. Here's what that costs the US.

Six people die every day of alcohol poisoning— a total of 2,221 people per year — a new report from the CDC finds.

Alcohol poisoning happens when a person drinks too much alcohol in a short amount of time. The amount of alcohol in the bloodstream exceeds the body's ability to process it. That makes blood alcohol levels skyrocket and can lead to coma and death. And the CDC report shows that the problem disproportionately impacts men, American Indians, and costs the country billions each year in health care costs. Here's why the government thinks it's such a big problem.

Alcohol poisoning deaths

Who’s drinking excessively?

Most alcohol poisoning deaths happen among the middle-aged, between 35 and 64. Men are far more likely to die of alcohol poisoning than women. Nearly 70 percent of alcohol poisoning related deaths were among non-Hispanic whites.

American Indians and Alaskan natives had the highest number of alcohol poisoning deaths per million people of any race, in the CDC report. This group also has a higher intensity of binge drinking rates than other races. However, American Indians and Alaskan natives often live in geographically isolated areas, which ups the chance they won’t be discovered before death or they won’t have access to emergency medical help.

What leads to alcohol poisoning?

The majority of people who die from alcohol poisoning aren’t killed by alcoholism, or necessarily alcoholics. On average, about 30 percent of deaths from alcohol poisoning list alcohol dependence as a contributing cause of death.

More commonly, alcohol poisoning happens to binge drinkers. Binge drinking is drinking a lot in a short amount of time (four drinks for women and five for men). But binge drinkers commonly consume much more, on average eight drinks per binge. This puts a person's blood alcohol level well over the legal limit for driving. Binge drinkers are generally frequent drinkers, too. A recent study found that two-thirds of those people reported binge drinking 10 or more times per month.

How big of a problem is it?

In 2006, excessive drinking is thought to have cost the US $223.5 billion The CDC calculated those costs by looking at health care and criminal justice expenses, costs of motor vehicle crashes and losses in workplace productivity.

The data doesn’t take into account the mental and emotional tolls on the excessive drinkers or those around them. Excessive alcohol use is a major risk factor for domestic violence and sexual assault. Even without those factors, the cost of excessive alcohol use is up there with the expenses for smoking, which comes in at over $289 billion each year.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.