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How Alcohol Addiction Impacts Life Expectancy

man in black shirt considering alcohol addiction and life expectancy

While alcohol may be legal for people of a certain age, our Mississippi alcohol 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.

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. 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. 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. 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 the Life Expectancy of Those with Alcohol Use Disorder

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
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Suicide
  • Compromised immune system
  • Advanced aging

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 six people from alcohol poisoning. On average, one-third of fatal falls also involve alcohol. 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 and Cardiovascular Health

Long-term and heavy alcohol use 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
  • Strokes

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.

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.

Alcohol and Cancer

An alcoholic’s life expectancy may also be shortened by a variety of cancers as well. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol abuse accounts for 4% of all cancer deaths and about 6% of all cancers in the United States. Alcohol abuse has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, breast, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, and colon.

Suicide

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.

Alcohol and 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 greater risk of contracting lung diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than moderate drinkers or people who don’t drink at all.

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 abuse, 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. Other evidence suggests that after age 40, one or two drinks a day leads to a shorter life expectancy by an average of six months.

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.

Reach Out to Vertava Health Mississippi

At Vertava Health Mississippi, 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 at 844.951.1931 to get started or get more information for a loved one.