While alcohol may be legal for people of a certain age, our Mississippi drug rehab knows that it doesn’t make this substance entirely safe.
Many people are privy to the short-term consequences of drinking too much such as hangovers, drunk driving accidents, drunken injuries, alcohol blackouts, and alcohol poisoning. Fewer, stop to think about the real cost of long-term alcohol abuse including the worrisome relationship between drinking and life expectancy.
How Long Do Alcoholics Live?
Alcohol is a toxin that in excess can cause serious damage to a person’s physical health, especially with prolonged abuse. The result may be a series of ailments and illnesses that can significantly shorten an alcoholic’s life. In fact, alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States.1
The exact figures on the life expectancy of an alcoholic vary and are hard to determine. One study found that people drinking more than 25 drinks a week have a shorter life expectancy by four to five years.2 Another study in Scandinavia concluded that people hospitalized for an alcohol use disorder had a lifespan that was 24 to 28 years fewer than the general population.3
In 2015 the World Health Organization also estimated that alcohol consumption was responsible for 134 million disability-adjusted life-years, a combination of years of lives lost and years lived in less than full health.1 The alcoholic lifespan varies so drastically because not only is it hard to quantify, but also there are several factors at play.
Problems that Shorten an Alcoholic’s Life Expectancy
The average lifespan of an alcoholic tends to be shorter than that of the general public because heavy drinking on a regular and long-term basis can increase the risk of developing several life-threatening diseases and conditions.
The potential problems and medical conditions that can impact an alcoholic’s life expectancy include:
- fatal accidents
- cardiovascular problems like strokes
- liver disease
- compromised immune system
- advanced aging
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Fatal Accidents from Alcohol
Fatal accidents from drinking may be a result of drunk driving, overdose, or injuries while impaired like serious falls. Every day 29 people die from drunk driving incidents and approximately 6 people from alcohol poisoning.4,5 On average, one-third of fatal falls also involve alcohol.6
While these fatal accidents can occur after just one episode of heavy drinking, people with alcohol use disorders are more likely to put themselves in these dangerous situations more often because of their regular drinking.
Alcohol & Cardiovascular Health
Long-term and heavy alcohol abuse can lead to a variety of cardiovascular diseases and problems that may be fatal. In particular, heavy drinking has been associated with hypertension, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and strokes.7 Some research even suggests that people who have two or more drinks a day are 35% more at risk of having a stroke than someone who has less than half a drink a day.8
Alcoholic Liver Disease
A common reason for health problems and deaths from alcoholism is liver disease. Ten to fifteen percent of alcoholics will develop cirrhosis, a later stage of liver disease that is not reversible. At this point, the alcoholism survival rates are about 60% for those who stop drinking and only 35% for those who don’t.9
Acute pancreatitis is a disease brought on by chronic and prolonged alcohol abuse. The mortality rate for mild cases is only 2.22%, but severe cases, which tend to be much less common, have a mortality rate as high as 45.63%.10
Alcohol & Cancer
An alcoholic’s life expectancy may also be shortened by a variety of cancers as well. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use accounts for 4% of all cancer deaths and about 6% of all cancers in the United States. Alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, breast, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, and colon.11
Alcohol addiction has also been associated with an increased risk of suicide. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a higher risk of depression and other mood changes that are linked to suicidal behavior. By some estimations, 10% of suicide cases involve alcohol abuse and 51% alcohol dependence.12
Alcohol & The Immune System
Long-term alcohol abuse can also decrease life expectancy due to a weakened immune system. Too much alcohol can make it harder for the immune system to fight infections and disease. For example, chronic drinkers are at a greatest risk of contracting lung diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than moderate drinkers or people who don’t drink at all.13
Alcohol’s Effects on Aging
The alcohol mortality rate can also be impacted indirectly by alcohol’s effects on aging. Health conditions can worsen with alcohol use, and some medical conditions may be harder to treat after years of heavy drinking. Some drinking problems may even get overlooked and be mistakenly associated with old age. Although you may not be experiencing any severe health effects from drinking, seeking alcohol addiction treatment could still extend your life.
The Effects of Moderate Drinking on Life Expectancy
While several studies emphasize the negative health effects of alcoholism and heavy drinking, there is some conflicting evidence when it comes to moderate alcohol use and life expectancy.
One study suggests that regularly having one drink a day actually decreases mortality by lowering a person’s risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, and stroke.7 Other evidence suggests that after age 40, 1 or 2 drinks a day leads to a shorter life expectancy by an average of six months.14 This study calls into question what qualifies as moderate drinking.
Because research on the effects of moderate alcohol consumption is mixed, it is important not to rely on one study or use these numbers as an excuse for your drinking habits. Moderate drinking could still lead to health problems including eventually the development of an alcohol use disorder.
Extend Your Life
The alcoholic life expectancy can sound morbid, but you can get help. Some of these problems and conditions are treatable or reversible, but the key is to stop drinking sooner rather than later.
At Vertava Health Mississippi, formerly Turning Point Treatment, we understand that overcoming your addiction to alcohol is challenging, and not something anyone should do alone. Our medical alcohol detox helps you safely wean your body off alcohol while our other treatment programs help you learn to stay off alcohol for good. Contact us today to get started or get more information for a loved one.