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Published On: Wed, Oct 17th, 2012

Alcohol is worse than smoking at shortening life expectancy

New research from Germany suggests that people who are alcohol-dependent, particularly women, may be cutting their lives even shorter than smokers.

photo “Tbone” by AB via wikimedia commons

In the study, researchers found death rates were 4.6-fold higher among alcohol-dependent women and 1.9-fold higher among alcohol-dependent men, compared with the general population.

“This paper confirms the well-known association between alcoholism and premature death,” said Dr. James Garbutt, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. “It also supports the evidence that women are more likely to have more severe health problems from alcohol than men — ‘sicker quicker.’ “

The report was published online October 16 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

“None of the deceased alcoholics [we studied] reached the average age of 82 for women and 77 for men,” said Ulrich John, an epidemiologist at the University of Greifswald who led the study.

The mean age at death for the alcohol-dependent group in the study was 60 for women and 58 for men.

Researchers collected data on more than 4,000 men and women who were part of a German registry and followed for 14 years — 153 were identified as alcohol-dependent.

“First, we found that annualized death rates were 4.6-fold higher for females and 1.9-fold higher for males compared to the age- and gender-specific general population,” John said in a statement.

“Second, we found that the mean age at death was 60 for females and 58 for males, both of which are about 20 years lower than the mean age at death among the general population,” he added. “None of those deceased had reached the age of life expectancy.”

“Third, 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,” John said.

Drinking appears to contribute more to early death than other risk factors, such as smoking, he noted.

Smoking-related deaths are often due to cancers, which usually occur later in life than deaths from alcohol abuse, he noted. In addition, drinking can contribute to other risk factors such as smoking and obesity, John said.

“The finding that treatment was not protective is of interest, though the reasons are not clear,” Garbutt said. “A caveat is that the study is small, so strong conclusions are not possible.”

Bruce Goldman, director of substance abuse services at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said that “alcohol dependence is a chronic and sometimes fatal disease. There is evidence that the impact of alcohol can be more devastating in women than men.”

People who are alcohol-dependent need to seek help, Goldman said: “Get help, or you may be literally drinking away years of your life.”

About the Author

- Stephen is a contributor and writer on The Dispatch. Stephen is the founder and editor for the Steven Spielberg Fan Club website and contributes to pop culture stories on The Dispatch, especially upcoming movie news. Beginning in 2016, Stephen took the role of Managing Editor for the Tampa Dispatch.

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