Deaths Due To Alcohol Essay Research Paper

Deaths Due To Alcohol Essay, Research Paper

Excessive alcohol consumption causes more than 100,000 deaths annually in the United States, and

although the number shows little sign of declining, the rate per 100,000 population has trended down

since the early 1980s. Accidents, mostly due to drunken driving, accounted for 24 percent of these

deaths in 1992. Alcohol-related homicide and suicide accounted for 11 and 8 percent respectively.

Certain types of cancer that are partly attributable to alcohol, such as those of the esophagus,

larynx, and oral cavity, contributed another 17 percent. About 9 percent is due to alcohol-related

stroke. One of the most important contributors to alcohol-related deaths is a group of 12 ailments

wholly caused by alcohol, among which alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol dependence

syndrome are the most important. These 12 ailments together accounted for 18 percent of the total

alcohol-related deaths in 1992. Mortality due to the 12 causes rises steeply into late middle age

range and then declines markedly, with those 85 and over being at less than one-sixth the risk of 55

to 64-year olds.

The most reliable

data are for the

12 conditions

wholly attributable

to alcohol. The

map shows these

data for all people

35 and over. The


distribution for

men and women

follows much the

same pattern,

although men are

three times as

likely to die of one

of the 12


ailments. The


distribution for

whites and blacks

follows roughly

the same pattern

but the rates for blacks are two and half times higher. In the late nineteenth century blacks, who

were then far more abstemious than whites, were strong supporters of the temperance movement,

but the movement in the South was taken over by whites bent on disenfranchising black people by

any means possible, such as propagating lurid tales of drink-crazed black men raping white women.

Consequently, blacks became less involved in the temperance movement, a trend that accelerated

early in the twentieth century with the great migration of blacks to the North, where liquor was

freely available even during Prohibition.

The geographical pattern of mortality from the 12 conditions wholly caused by alcohol is partly

explained by the average alcohol consumption among those who drink, which tends to be higher in

the Southeast certain areas of the West and than elsewhere. In New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and

in many counties in the Plains and Mountain states, the rates are high, in part, because of heavy

drinking among Native Americans. Another possible contributor to high rates in the West is lower

family and community support than elsewhere, as suggested by high divorce and suicide rates, low

church membership, and the large number of migrants from other regions. In the South Atlantic

states, black males contribute heavily to the high mortality rates, although white rates there are

above average. One unexplained anomaly is the comparatively low rates in the area stretching from

Kentucky through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, to Louisiana, all states with high alcohol

consumption among those who drink.

There were at least four cycles of high alcohol consumption

in the last 150 years with peaks in the 1840s, in the 1860s,

the first decade of the twentieth century, and again in the

1970-1981 period. Each of these peaks was probably

accompanied by an increase in alcohol-related deaths, as

suggested by the course of liver cirrhosis mortality, which,

since the early twentieth century, has followed more-or-less

the same trend as consumption of beverages alcohol. (Up to

95 percent of liver cirrhosis deaths are attributable to

alcohol.) America is now in a phase of declining alcohol

consumption, so one would expect that the rate of

alcohol-related deaths would continue to decline. Among

westernized countries, America in the early 1990s was

somewhat below average in both alcohol consumption and liver cirrhosis mortality.

Rodger Doyle Copyright 1996

Reproduced from Scientific American, December, 1996.

Reproduction not permitted except with permission.


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