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Understanding The Life Expectancy Of An Alcoholic

Published on July 27, 2021
Alcoholic Life Expectancy | Understanding Life Expectancy Of An Alcoholic

A majority of American adults enjoy drinking alcohol, along with the relaxation and positive feelings that alcoholic beverages can provide. 

But for chronic heavy drinkers, the effects of alcohol on the body and mind can be severe, potentially leading to worse overall health, lower quality of life, and shorter life expectancy.

Life Expectancies Of Those With Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

While precise figures are hard to come by, excessive drinking is known to be a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. 

Approximately 291 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each day, with an average of 29 years of life lost per alcohol-related death, according to the CDC.

Another major study in the UK/Europe found that consuming 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week may shorten an individual’s life expectancy by between one and two years, while those who drink more than 18 drinks a week may lose four to five years.

Alcohol-Related Factors That Influence Lifespan

The average life expectancy of those with AUDs is shorter due to the strong association between problematic drinking habits (heavy drinking, binge drinking, and continuous drinking) and a number of life-threatening medical conditions, health problems, and other events.

Liver Disease

Liver disease is silent, invisible, and the number one leading cause of alcohol-attributable deaths in the United States.

The liver, which is responsible for processing ethanol first into acetaldehyde and then into acetic acid, becomes inflamed and injured as a result of heavy alcohol consumption. 

This inflammation, or alcoholic hepatitis, can with time damage liver cells to the point that they begin to die off, becoming replaced with scar tissue. Known as cirrhosis of the liver, this condition is usually irreversible and can develop into organ failure.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing about 1 in 4 deaths. 

As opposed to moderate drinking, heavy alcohol consumption leads to a higher risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

Severe cardiovascular diseases and other conditions linked to AUDs include:

  • hypertension, high blood pressure
  • cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder to pump blood
  • atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rhythms
  • stroke, an interruption to blood supply to a portion of the brain
  • aneurysm (ballooning, weakened sections of arteries)
  • heart failure

Pancreatitis

The pancreas is an organ that helps the body with digestion of food and the regulation of blood sugar. As with the liver, prolonged alcohol abuse can inflame and injure the organ, and while mild cases of alcoholic pancreatitis are not typically fatal, severe cases are extremely dangerous.

Cancer

As a toxic compound and known carcinogen, alcohol is known to significantly increase the likelihood of cancer of the liver, breast, mouth, throat, stomach, colon, and other bodily organs.

According to one major study, approximately 10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to alcohol consumption.

Immune System Dysfunction

Alcohol dependence damages and weakens the immune system, making it harder for the body to deal with infections and increasing both the frequency and intensity of illnesses. 

This means that chronic drinkers are at a greater risk of contracting serious illnesses and suffering worse mortality rates than the general population.

Fatal Accidents

While anyone who overindulges in alcohol may suffer from impaired judgement or coordination, those with AUD are more likely to experience accidents due to both the increased frequency of their intoxication, as well as increasing complacence and risk-tolerance while impaired.

Death or injury may occur as a result of: 

  • vehicle accidents
  • drownings
  • alcohol poisoning
  • drug overdose
  • Falls
  • other accidents

Suicide

Many individuals become reliant on alcohol to help manage the effects of certain mental health disorders. 

However, in the long-term AUDs are known to aggravate these symptoms and may even contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and depression in those who would not have experienced them otherwise.

Accordingly, alcohol addiction is associated with a marked increase in suicidal behavior.

If you or a loved one need help for alcohol use disorder, please connect with us today to learn about our substance abuse treatment options.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.
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