News, Culture & Society

Rise in women dying from alcohol: Deaths rose 67% among females in 10 years, study finds 

Alcohol deaths in America have soared in the past 10 years – particularly among women, a new report reveals.

The rate of alcohol-related deaths rocketed 35 percent between 2007 and 2017.

It shot up 67 percent for women alone.

The data from the University of Washington, first reported by USA Today, comes a year after federal data showed a sharp rise in binge-drinking among women and elderly people. 

However, the researchers say that, since so much attention has been consumed by the devastating toll of opioids on the US, the rise in alcohol fatalities has swelled under the radar, out of the spotlight of concern.

Researchers at the University of Washington say so much attention has been consumed by the devastating toll of opioids on the US that the rise in alcohol fatalities has been ignored

‘The story is that no one has noticed this,’ says Max Griswold of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), set up at the University of Washington by Bill and Melinda Gates, told USA Today.

‘It hasn’t really been researched before.’

The IHME data was part of a far-reaching report looking at death rates, causes of death, birth rates, fertility and more on a global scale. 

This study zoomed in on US figures, showing a particularly concerning trend among women. 

As with many sharp shifts in lifestyle habits, it’s difficult to identify one driving factor, but with something as widely acceptable – encouraged, even – as alcohol, it’s more plain.

Once, alcohol was taboo for women. Now, that’s not the case – but biology hasn’t changed, and (generally) alcohol can still pack a bigger punch for a woman’s body than a man’s. 

‘It’s gone from being taboo for women to drink at all to being expected in some settings, professional groups – even to drink to intoxication,’ Deidra Roach, MD, medical project officer of the NIAAA Division of Treatment and Recovery Research, told WebMd.

But, she added: ‘Women are generally smaller than men and have less total body water and more total body fat. Blood alcohol level rises more quickly and stay elevated longer in women, so the harmful effects of alcohol, even if a man and woman drink same amount, will show up sooner in the women.’

Alcohol can cause deaths in many ways. It can cause liver disease, cancer, accidents, life-threatening digestive issues. 

According to the new IHME report, alcohol death rates are highest in Washington, DC, Georgia and Albama. 

The latter two are not wholly surprising – the South has historically high rates of alcohol use and abuse, smoking, obesity, and low rates of health insurance, meaning many do not have doctors advising how to live a healthier lifestyle. Poverty is higher, too, which drives up drinking rates. 

But the sharpest rises in alcohol deaths have been seen in other parts of the country, particularly the North and North West. 

Just last week the task force that advises US doctors on standards strengthened its advice on alcohol screening: they said doctors should screen all patients for unhealthy alcohol consumption, and to counsel those that seem to have a problem.

‘In the United States, 1 in 6 patients reports having discussed alcohol with their physician; rates in Europe are similarly low,’ Angela Bazzi and Dr Richard Saitz, of Boston University School of Public Health, wrote in an editorial for JAMA which accompanied the new guidelines.

They add that there is scores of evidence showing a conversation with a doctor can have a significant impact on a person’s habits.

In terms of how to intervene, the task force recommended scheduling a few counseling sessions, amounting to a total of less than two hours. They said the counseling could be done in person, or even online.

‘The societal context must change,’ Bazzi and Staitz wrote.