The number of alcohol-related deaths has grown rapidly in recent decades, according to a new analysis of death certificates. The research, published Wednesday in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The yearly total of alcohol-related deaths for people ages 16 and over more than doubled, from 35,914 in 1999 to 72,558 in 2017. There were almost 1 million such deaths overall in that time.
While middle-age men accounted for the majority of those deaths, women — especially white women — are catching up, the study found. That's concerning in part because women's bodies tend to be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.
"Women are at greater risk than men at comparable levels of alcohol exposure for alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, alcohol-related liver disease and acute liver failure due to excessive drinking," the study authors wrote.
"Because women reach higher blood alcohol levels than men of comparable weights after consuming the same amount of alcohol, their body tissues are exposed to more alcohol and acetaldehyde, a toxic metabolite of alcohol, after each drink," the authors continued.
Government guidelines recommend that women have no more than one alcoholic drink a day and that men have no more than two.
The study also found that the overall rates of alcohol-related deaths were more than four times higher among middle-age and older adults than among people in their 20s and early 30s.
What's more, there was an increase in alcohol-related emergency room visits among people over age 65, largely due to injuries caused by falling. Alcohol impairs balance on its own, of course, but it can also interact with medications, worsening the problem.
A separate report published last summer found that 1 in 10 seniors engaged in binge drinking.
The vast majority of alcohol-related deaths among teenagers in the new report involved acute alcohol consumption. The rate of such deaths held steady for young men during the study's time period but increased among young women.