Alcohol is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, but it is often overshadowed by tobacco or opiates. And its effects on the health of Americans have grown steadily. Nearly a decade ago, a similar study found that one in 10 deaths among working-age people was due to alcohol consumption, although the researchers changed the methodology so that a perfect comparison between apples and apples is not possible.
Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University epidemiology professor who was not involved in the latest study, said she paints a bleak picture of the problem. “Where the science needs to go,” she said, “what do we do about it?”
She took an optimistic view of the variations in the effects of alcohol that the study found across states. In Mississippi, alcohol accounted for 9.3% of working-age deaths, while in New Mexico it accounted for 21.7%, including one in three deaths of people between the ages of 20 and 34, which Dr. Keyes called it “awful”.
But she said these differences were also indicative of the profound role the surrounding environment has in any individual’s drinking habits. That suggests communities most affected could learn from others where drinking is less dangerous, she said.
According to experts, there are many opportunities to improve access to treatment services. Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use disorders, but their healthcare providers typically don’t advise them to cut down on excessive drinking or offer medications that can lessen cravings.
Dr Esser said policy makers should take action to make their communities safer. “Evidence-based strategies exist and are underused,” she said. The CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends a number of measures, including raising alcohol taxes and regulating the number and concentration of businesses that sell alcohol.
Last year, Congress permanently reduced federal liquor tax rates, and state liquor taxes have generally not kept up with inflation. But in some hard-hit states, defenders have started to push back. In Oregon, there has been a campaign to raise alcohol taxes, and New Mexico lawmakers recently held hearings on the matter.
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