Without question, cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and the world, but lo and behold, a new study has found that heavy drinkers are at more risk of death than those who smoke.
The German study, which followed 149 alcohol-dependent adults for 14 years, produced some fascinating, if not morbid, findings.
For instance, researchers not only discovered that heavy drinking will generally kill more quickly than smoking, women are at much greater risk of death than men.
In addition, they found that alcoholics tend to die about 20 years sooner, on average, than the general public.
Also, those who are dependent upon alcohol generally live shorter lives than do smokers, and that alcohol-dependent women suffer death at a rate 4.6 times higher than average.
Treatment may be the best intervention
As for men with alcohol problems, their death rate was nearly double the level of those who were not dependent, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported, citing the study.
Results of the study, which were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is important and even groundbreaking for its examination of alcohol dependency over a long period of time. Earlier research focused on the dangers of alcohol abuse but those findings were based primarily on clinical trials.
“Clinical data have revealed a higher proportion of individuals who have died than among the general population of the same age,” said Prof. Ulrich John, of University Medicine Greifswald, who led the study. “Gender-specific data are rare, even among clinical samples. Furthermore, these studies have two main limitations.”
Continuing, John said, “first, we know that only a minority of AD individuals receive treatment of this disorder, but we lack knowledge about how this selection occurs. Second, we have no evidence about potential effects of specialized alcoholism treatment on mortality among people who had been diagnosed as AD.”
“We would like to know whether treatment might enhance survival time,” he added. “For ethical reasons, no controlled trials are possible. Thus, longitudinal descriptive data as in this study are helpful.”
John’s research team examined a random sample of 4,070 respondents aged 18-64, of which 153 were later identified as being alcohol dependent. Of those, 149 respondents – 119 men and 30 women – were then followed over a span of 14 years.
“First, we found that annualized death rates were 4.6-fold higher for females and 1.9-fold higher for males compared to the age- and gender-specific general population,” John said. “Second, we found that the mean age at death was 60 for females and 58 for males, both of which are about 20 years lower than the mean age at death among the general population.”
“None of those deceased had reached the age of life expectancy,” he added.
“Third, having participated in inpatient AD treatment was not related with longer survival compared to not having taken part in treatment, meaning that it did not seem to have a sufficient protective effect against premature death,” John said.
Other data backs up German study
The professor said that the study results appeared to show that drinking could cause early death more frequently that did smoking.
“Smoking-related death cases are more due to cancers which seem to occur later in life than many alcohol-attributable causes of death do,” said John. “Furthermore, drinking can also contribute to other risky behaviors such as smoking, becoming overweight and obesity.”
Finally, he concluded the obvious: “Alcohol is a dangerous product and should be consumed only within guidelines.”
John’s results are in line with those of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. in 2005, which found that alcohol abuse kills about 75,000 Americans each year and shortens the lives of this group by at least 30 years.