A Reality: Every 10 Seconds Someone Dies from Booze
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A Reality: Every 10 Seconds Someone Dies from Booze


This article was originally published on May 16, 2014.

Pop quiz: what kills more people each year than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined? (Hint: it’s not the bird flu.)

Lethal Liquid

Alcohol kills one person every ten seconds, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Each year one in 20 people will die because they (or someone in close proximity) hit the sauce a little too hard. That’s 5% of the entire population. The data were gathered from 2012 statistics, but presumably things haven’t improved much since then.

What does it take for a fatality to count as alcohol-related? Along with the no-brainers like acute alcohol poisoning and withdrawal, the WHO tally included drunk driving, alcohol-induced violence and abuse, cirrhosis of the liver, some cancers and other diseases. The biggest killers—accounting for about a third of the deaths—were heart disease and diabetes linked to alcohol abuse. This leads one to wonder, if you’re consuming a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, two donuts, instant ramen, a Frappuccino, a whole pizza and a half-liter of vodka per day, is your diabetes really the vodka’s fault? (On a side note, does anyone else miss college?) Car crashes and other booze-fueled accidents comprised another 17% percent.

So yeah, booze is poison. Combined with last week’s news that any amount of alcohol can increase cancer risk, sobriety is looking pretty good.

WHO’s It Killing?

The WHO (I swear I keep picturing Pete Townshend) also noted some interesting facts about who’s doing the drinking. Drinkers over age 15 consume an average of 17 liters of pure alcohol per year, which seems low although the “pure” thing throws off my mental math. Just 16% of drinkers indulge in binge drinking, which the CDC defines as four drinks for women and five for men per occasion—or, as the rest of us call it, drinking. (Coincidentally, a separate study has just found that a single episode of binge drinking can cause harmful bacteria to leak from the gut and cause permanent health repurcussion. Gross). The biggest boozers are Russians and Eastern Europeans (second world problems?), followed by the rest of Europe, North America and Australia. But China and India are moving up the ranks as their wealth increases. Basically, mo’ money, mo’ drinking problems.

Staying Dry…by Choice?

The real shocker to me was that nearly half of all adults have never had a single drink, and 62% hadn’t imbibed within the year. From my perspective (a 20-something in Los Angeles) it seems like anybody who’d turn down a cold IPA is either on a weird diet, old and unhealthy, super religious, or in recovery—sometimes all of the above. But it turns out there are huge swaths of the planet that are entirely dry. For instance, women in low-income countries tend to abstain, not to mention the world’s many devout Muslims. Sobriety, in a global context, is really not that weird. Not everybody’s doing it. We are the world. Or at least half of it. Cheers.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.