New research indicates that alcohol not only has a much greater effect on the health of women as compared to men, but also shortens the lifespan to a greater degree than smoking cigarettes.
The study, published in the 16 October 2012 edition of the online journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, was led by Ulrich John, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine at University Medicine Greifswald, and involved the collected data of over 4,000 men and women who were part of a German registry during a 14 year period. Of the participants, 153 were identified as alcohol-dependent.
According to Dr. James Garbutt, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, “This paper confirms the well-known association between alcoholism and premature death. It also supports the evidence that women are more likely to have more severe health problems from alcohol than men — ‘sicker quicker.’ ”
Dr. Garbutt, whose area of expertise is the psychopharmacology of alcoholism and mood and anxiety disorders, was not involved in the study.
The researchers found that death rates for alcohol-dependent women were more than 4.5 times greater than those found in the general population. By comparison, the death rates for alcohol-dependent men were only 1.9 times greater than the general population.
The average age of death for alcohol-dependent individuals was 60 for women and 58 for men, both of which are nearly 20 years lower than the average age of death among the general population. None of those studied who were alcohol-dependent had reached the age of life expectancy at the time of death.
Additionally, treatment for alcohol dependency seemed to make no difference in the results, although the reasons are not yet clear.
“Having participated in inpatient alcohol-dependent treatment was not related with longer survival compared to not having taken part in treatment, meaning that it did not seem to have a sufficient protective effect against premature death,” said Dr. John.
Compared with other risk factors, including smoking and obesity, alcohol abuse contributed to early death to a greater degree. Where smoking-related deaths are usually caused by cancers that develop later in life, alcohol-related deaths are more likely to be attributed to diseases such as osteoporosis, pancreatitis and cirrhosis, which afflict people at an earlier age. Alcohol abuse can also trigger other risk factors, including smoking and obesity, increasing the odds of premature death.
A 2011 World Health Organization study found that nearly four percent of deaths worldwide are caused by alcoholism, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence. Binge drinking is becoming an increasing problem in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine and is spreading to other developing nations as well.
- Reinberg, Steven. “Alcoholism Shortens Life More Than Smoking: Study.” 16 October 2012. Web. 18 October 2012.
- “Diseases Caused by Alcohol Abuse.” eHow. na. Web. 18 October 2012.
“Alcohol-Related Deaths Kill More Than AIDS, TB Or Violence, WHO Reports.” Reuters. 11 February 2011. Web. 18 October 2012.