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Blame It On The Alcohol?

In reality, alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. When alcohol use data is mapped alongside other substance use, some interesting patterns emerge.

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The national drug crisis is not specific to a single substance or location.

While opioids and other “hard” substances capture headlines, it’s easy to forget that alcohol is a substance, too—and using it can have severe health consequences. New graphics based on CDC data from 2013-2017 show per capita death rates in different states from drugs and alcohol, tracking the percentage change from both causes for each year as well as the overall death rate.

The national drug crisis is not specific to a single substance or location. Rather than blame America’s drug crisis on opioids alone, there are other factors at play, including race, class, access to services, cultural differences, and geographic location. “Substance use disorder” refers to a mental health disorder that can manifest as addiction to a particular substance or substances, including alcohol, opioids, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, or any other harmful substance. That’s why it’s imperative that we include alcohol in the conversation about addiction

Based on 2013-2017 data from the CDC, it appears that New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon have the most alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. New Mexico had the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, with 31.56 deaths per 100,000 people. It’s easy to lose sight of the impact alcohol has on Americans: after all, alcohol is easy to get and legalized. It’s also a significant part of American culture, which includes alcohol in almost every social function, rite of passage, or daily experience. From a glass of wine at a baby shower or after work, to binge drinking “celebrations,” alcohol use has been normalized. The health consequences of this attitude toward alcohol causes many people to struggle to identify alcohol use as unhealthy or problematic; alcohol addiction may be pushed aside as “less dangerous” than addiction to other substances, and therefore harder to address.

In reality, alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. When alcohol use data is mapped alongside other substance use, some interesting patterns emerge. For example, most states battling the opioid epidemic are northern and eastern states like West Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Western states have the biggest problems with alcohol.

When both drugs and alcohol are taken into consideration, the number deaths per capita increases drastically. In some cases, the rate of death quadruples. West Virginia moves into a category by itself, with more than 70 deaths per 100,000 people. New Mexico and Ohio are not far behind. Other areas, with comparatively low rates of alcohol related deaths, are bumped into a much higher risk bracket. For example, Virginia has a death rate of 8.22 per 100,000 people due to alcohol. Adding other substances increases that rate to 26.61, more than triple the rate of alcohol use deaths alone.

Both Texas and Mississippi fall into the lowest category of per capita deaths for drugs and alcohol, with less than 20 per 100,000 people. Death due to overdose is not a metric for mental illness or rates of substance use disorder, though it does point out areas that are hardest hit by the drug epidemic.

Alcohol has a part to play in the national health crisis and must be part of the conversation about helping America face addiction. Learn more through our Alcohol Awareness Month coming in April 2019. 

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