Published January 15, 2014
Alcohol consumption is the direct cause of nearly 80,000 deaths in the Americas each year, according to a new study.
Published in the journal Addiction, the study analyzed yearly mortality rates from 16 countries in North and Latin America. The researchers focused on deaths that were specifically attributed to alcohol, meaning death would not have occurred without some form of alcohol consumption.
“[Our purpose was] to obtain more detailed information about alcohol mortality from countries in the region,” study co-author Dr. Maristela Monteiro, senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse for the Pan American Health Organization, told FoxNews.com. “There are statistics from all these countries, but very few regions have specific alcohol mortality data, meaning [the information] we used usually is not reported or not collected.”
After combing through each country’s death statistics, Monteiro and her co-author Dr. Vilma Gawryszewski found that, between 2007 and 2009, alcohol was a ‘necessary’ cause of death for an average of 79,456 cases each year in North and South America. The researchers found that the biggest causes of these deaths included liver disease and alcohol poisoning.
“One important thing we knew from the medical literature but we also found in our data is that alcohol consumption is a cause of premature mortality,” Gawryszewski said. “The highest rates are among people in early age [dying before] the life expectancy in their countries.”
The countries with the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths were mostly in Central America, including El Salvador (27.4 out of 100,000 deaths each year), Guatemala (22.3 out of 100,000) and Nicaragua (21.3 out of 100,000).
Overall, men accounted for 84 percent of alcohol-necessary deaths, though the male-to-female ratio varied from country to country. In El Salvador, the risk of a man dying from an alcohol-necessary cause was 27.8 times higher than that of a woman, while in the United States and Canada, the risk was 3.2 times higher.
There were also differences in age groups for alcohol mortality between countries. In Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica and the U.S., the highest mortality rates occurred in individuals between 50 and 69 years of age. In Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, the highest mortality rates were seen in individuals between 40 and 49 years of age.
While these statistics may seem concerning on their own, Monteiro and Gawryszewski maintain their findings reveal that the overconsumption of alcohol is an even bigger issue than previously thought.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Monteiro said. “Of course there are many more alcohol-related deaths from injuries, traffic accidents, violence, and also chronic conditions – where alcohol has a role but is not the only cause. But the data does not cover that. We’re only getting the most severe cases.”
With this in mind, the researchers argue that more needs to be done to control the amount of alcohol individuals consume in North and South America.
“We know how to reduce mortality – with population-based policies, controlling availability and increasing price,” Monteiro said. “We need to prevent people from getting to that stage where you have alcohol dependence or you die.”