Alcohol-related causes kill 88,000 people—more than from opioids—each year in the United States, according to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But when it comes to alcohol and health risks, it can seem like no one is talking about it.
“It’s such a painful spiral of shame and self-loathing and hiding,” Lisa Smith, a lawyer and author, said. “You’re living this awful double life.”
Smith knows a lot about alcoholism because she was in the throes of it for more than a decade. By 2004, she had also started using cocaine and then hit rock bottom.
“Finally there was one morning I woke up thought I was having a heart attack, I thought I had actually killed myself or had overdosed,” she said. “And in that moment, I decided I wanted to live.”
Smith has been sober for almost 16 years and wrote a book pulling back the curtain on her struggle with drinking.
From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased by 35 percent, according to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The increase was steeper for women.
“The rise among alcohol problems for women, and subsequent illness and death has risen to really, really worrisome proportions,” said Eliana Leve, the director of New York services for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
More women are seeking treatment for alcoholism than men at Hazelden in New York, Leve said. She believes there’s more stigma for female alcoholics, which can be a barrier to seeking help.
“It is a disease, you’re not a bad person,” she said of combatting the stigma. “It is an illness, a chronic illness.”
Smith said she hopes the latest statistics will serve as a wakeup call.
“We have to stop treating what’s actually a drug as if it’s not,” Smith said.
The bottom line about alcohol-related deaths is that they’re preventable. The authors of the University of Washington study said their analysis shatters the myth that one to two drinks a day is good for your health.