Deaths from alcohol-related problems more than doubled between 1999 and 2017.
The escalating opioid epidemic in the United States has been making a lot of headlines in
recent years, and justifiably so. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates there were
68,557 drug overdose deaths in 2018, representing an 88 percent increase over 2008. An
estimated 69.4 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved opioids, such as heroin and
oxycodone; 46.5 percent involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol.
As a result, the federal government, state governors, and local communities have focused a lot
of effort on reducing the access to narcotic pain medications as overprescription of opioid pain
relievers has been primarily blamed for the crisis.
But America doesn’t just have an opioid epidemic, America has an addiction crisis. Widespread
methamphetamine abuse has re-entered the scene, and premature deaths resulting from
alcohol misuse are just as troubling but aren’t getting anywhere near the same attention as
A new study found that the annual number of Americans who have died from alcohol-related
problems more than doubled between 1999 and 2017. In the analysis, which is published in
“Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research,” the number of alcohol-related deaths per year
among people aged 16 years and older rose from 35,914 to 72,558 and the rate increased from
16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000.
Nearly one million alcohol-related deaths were recorded between 1999-2017. In 2017, 2.6
percent of roughly 2.8 million deaths in the United States involved alcohol. Almost half of
alcohol-related deaths resulted from liver disease or overdoses on alcohol alone or with other
Alcohol misuse is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. According
to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million adults (5.8 percent of people
older than 18) had alcohol use disorder (AUD). But less than 8 percent of adults who had AUD
in the past year received treatment for it.
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in September 2017 also suggested that alcohol misuse in
the US has increased significantly in recent years. The authors compared data from 2001-2002
and 2012-2013 and documented substantial increases in the prevalence of past 12-month
drinking, high-risk drinking, and alcohol use disorder (AUD).
According to that research, AUDs overall shot up by almost 50 percent, from 8.5 percent in
2001-2002 to 12.7 percent only eleven years later. “Alcohol use and specifically high-risk
drinking, which often leads to alcohol use disorder (AUD), are significant contributors to the
burden of disease in the United States and worldwide,” the study’s authors concluded.
AUD and other addictions are complex chronic medical conditions requiring comprehensive and
coordinated care and long-term management. Far too many people with alcohol use disorder do
not receive any treatment at all.
“This would seem to correspond with the increase in the number of young people we’ve seen
with severe alcohol use disorder — a level of severity more typically found in older adults with a
longer addiction history,” says Brooke Keffner, a therapist with Futures Recovery Healthcare.
“These findings should make us ask why so many people feel the need to self-medicate. In
addition to alcohol-related deaths, opioid overdose deaths, depression, anxiety, and suicidality
also skyrocketed in recent years,” says Brooke Keffner, a therapist with Futures Recovery
Healthcare. “We’re in the midst of a national mental health crisis, not just an addiction epidemic.
Statistics like these show us the tip of an iceberg. For every death reported, there are many
more people living in active addiction, often brought on by unaddressed trauma and mental
The reasons people develop mental health conditions are multifaceted and complex. However,
research indicates that trauma and negative life experiences, genetic predisposition, and our
environment are primary factors. Keffner suggests that in addition to the prevalence of these
problems, other aspects of modern life, including our growing dependence on technology and
ubiquitous information consumption, may make us more susceptible to mental health problems.
These factors increase exposure to potentially stressful stimuli and may reduce our stress
“Our devices lead us to expect instant gratification — immediate information, constant access to
people, products delivered the same or next day. When we’re used to getting things quickly and
effortlessly, we can quickly become less tolerant and more frustrated when we believe that
things are taking too long or not going our way. And for most of us, it is normal for some things
not to go our way.”
Keffner also finds patients frequently exposed to negative news and spending more time fixating
on existential issues. “People are increasingly worried about the future because of things like
politics, climate change, economic uncertainty, school violence, college loan debt — the list
Experiencing frequent frustration, becoming easily stressed, and regularly worrying about the
future can make people more prone to developing a mental health condition for which they feel
compelled to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.
“Learning that alcohol-related deaths are doubling should give us pause and motivate us to
seek answers and solutions. But reports like these can also remind us to be compassionate
toward the many people who are living with enough anguish that they misuse substances to
escape their pain. Recognizing that so many of us are experiencing these same stresses can
help dispel the stigma that surrounds mental health and substance use conditions and prevents
people from seeking treatment.”
Futures Recovery Healthcare helps individuals with addiction establish a foothold in recovery
and a plan to sustain lasting health and wellbeing. If you or someone you know is struggling with
substance use and could benefit from our addiction treatment services, please contact Futures
at (866) 401-6007 to begin a conversation. Experienced admissions representatives are
available to discuss your challenges confidentially and determine how we can help.