The country has been fixated on the opioid epidemic that's taken so many lives in the last few years. We have crisis teams, national attention, and even opioid task forces to address the growing (and obviously very serious) problem. But while our attention has been on prescription pills and illegal drugs, another deadly crisis has been slowly building. Alcohol-related deaths have increased at an alarming rate, especially among middle-aged people and women.
The increases among women is especially shocking, as women have traditionally been lighter drinkers than men. But the way women use alcohol has changed so much over the last decade. It's become socially acceptable to be a moderate-to-heavy drinker. In fact, it's almost unacceptable to not drink. However, the statistics highlight a very, very serious problem, one we hope people start talking about a lot more.
Between 2007 and 2017, alcohol-related deaths rose by a whopping 35%, according to a new analysis by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The death rate overall rose by 24% in that same time period. Alcohol-related deaths in men rose by 29%, but in women, they rose by a staggering 67%. In people between the ages of 45 and 64, alcohol-related deaths rose by 25%. But in a bit of good news, alcohol-related deaths among teens actually dropped by about 16%.
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Geographically, the District of Columbia had the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the country. Georgia and Alabama came in second and third. Interestingly enough, according to a 2014 report published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Alabama ranked third in the country for having the strongest alcohol control policies. States with stricter alcohol policies, including how and where it can be sold and higher taxes on alcohol purchases, typically have lower rates of binge drinking. But other health challenges in southern states can contribute to the rate of alcohol-related deaths. States in the south usually rank toward the bottom when it comes to overall health.
So what's to blame for the rise in alcohol-related deaths, particularly in women? Just for context, opioids kill about 72,000 people a year. About 88,000 people die from alcohol use every single year. But, it still remains one of the socially acceptable vices, despite the dangers of drinking too much alcohol. It's also legal, which makes people feel better about using (and even abusing) the substance.
Among women, gender stereotypes may be contributing to the rise in women becoming addicted to alcohol, and dying from alcohol-related illnesses. Author and podcast co-host Stefanie Wilder-Taylor says, "Moms just aren't going to call home and say they're stopping for a couple drinks after work with friends or going to the gym to unwind." Instead, they have their wine or cocktails at home while they make dinner, tend to the kids, and unwind from the day. This can easily lead to a pattern of excessive drinking.
It's something we definitely need to be more aware of, and talk about more openly.
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