White Americans are shortening their life expectancy with alcoholism, drug abuse

A report from CTV News says that white Americans are cutting their lives short with alcoholism and drug abuse. That doesn’t mean they’re having a great time – on the contrary, one expert says that the problem stems from the “depths of despair”.

The report says that the average lifespan of white Americans is being reduced by half a year on average. This might not sound like much, but if you consider that the population life expectancy average includes those who never smoke, drink or use drugs, the magnitude of the problem becomes more apparent.

Other race groups experience less premature deaths from these causes

Premature deaths affecting life-expectancy for whites are related to drug or alcohol overdose, suicide, and diseases caused by chronic alcoholism. As a result of these fatalities, white life expectancy isn’t rising as well as it is in other race groups.

The figures come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an organization that is tasked with monitoring health data across the nation and that formulates proposals and conducts research into ways in which Americans can enjoy better health. Princeton University researcher Anne Case says that things are moving in the wrong direction. Whereas we should expect to see increases in life expectancy matching that of other race groups, white Americans aren’t keeping pace with the trend.

Alcohol has greatest impact on life expectancy

Researchers found that life expectancy across all groups is increasing thanks to medical advances that reduce heart disease fatalities and a reduction in the number of people who die as a result of cancer, stroke or motor accidents. Mitigating this positive effect, alcohol and drugs shortened lives, with alcohol topping the charts as a reason for premature death.

However, this isn’t a reason for drug addicts to assume their habit is ‘healthier’. Alcohol made the greatest contribution to reduced life expectancy for the simple reason that more people use it. But suicide had the second greatest impact on life expectancy among whites, while Alzheimer’s disease took third place, the study found.

Other significant elements that reduced life expectancy included falls and chronic liver disease – often caused by excessive alcohol use or the hepatitis C virus which is common among those using injected drugs.

Middle-aged whites are the most affected group

Premature deaths seem to affect middle-aged whites more than they do other groups, the report found. Academics theorize that this may be as a result of white Americans having greater access to prescription painkillers coupled with the lower levels of suicide-averting familial and community support found among white communities.

The CDC says that the overall death rate in the US increased during 2015, and although they don’t have the figures to prove it, researchers believe that a disproportionate amount of middle-aged whites have contributed to the figure.

Why alcohol kills so many

There are no less than 54 reasons why alcohol can kill, and the list doesn’t make for encouraging reading. But there are definitely certain items that top the list including:

  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Liver disease
  • Other alcohol induced health problems such as oesophageal cancer
  • Toxic combinations of alcohol and prescription or recreational drugs
  • Unintentional injuries as a result of impaired coordination and judgement

As if this wasn’t scary enough, a UK report on a German study showed that heavy drinking kills more quickly than tobacco use does and that women are at greater risk than men. The study found that the death rate among women who were alcoholics was 4.6% higher than that of the general population. Men fared a little better, but were still twice as likely to die prematurely if they were alcoholics. The study found that heavy drinking could be expected to shave 20 years off one’s lifespan.

Staying sober to make the most of your life

The CDC’s report, coupled with the disturbing German finding should be enough to make any heavy driver think twice about their habit. But what if it’s impossible to overcome the compulsion to drink? Alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive, and many people need inpatient treatment before they can overcome it.

However, admitting that there is a problem that needs to be treated and taking the necessary time out to attend rehabilitation often makes people delay seeking help, or not seek help at all. But when you compare three months out of your life compared to 20 years shaved off of your life, there is a new perspective.

Living your life to the full means avoiding heavy drinking, especially if this done frequently and on a regular basis. The German academics who authored one of the studies mentioned in this article hope to do research into the effect alcohol rehabilitation treatment has on those with alcohol dependence syndromes, and although the outcome appears to be predictable, knowing just how many years of lifespan can be saved through quitting drinking will be of interest.

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