Wisconsin deaths induced by alcohol saw their highest single-year increase in more than two decades in 2020. More than 1,000 Wisconsinites died from alcohol-induced causes, according to Wisconsin Policy Forum research. The data only includes deaths that were most directly attributable to alcohol use, like alcohol poisoning and liver disease. It excludes deaths where alcohol may have been a factor, like with vehicle crashes and falls.
The number of deaths in 2020 rose nearly 25% from the previous year, when 865 people died as a result of alcohol use. Rates have been increasing since the millennium. Only 356 alcohol deaths were recorded in 1999.
The increase in 2020 most notably affected middle-aged people, indicating that more deaths due to causes such as liver disease are occurring after several years of heavy drinking. Liver disease is any condition that damages the liver or affects its function. The most common types include hepatitis, cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
“These conditions typically start with inflammation that leads to the replacement of healthy liver cells with fat cells and fibrous tissue,” said Dr. Sabo Tanimu, Marshfield Clinic Health System gastroenterologist. “Persistent inflammation can result in accumulation of collagen and scarring in the liver.”
So are you at risk? Keep in mind that alcohol does affect people differently.
“Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related liver damage than men for the same amount of alcohol use,” Dr. Tanimu said. “This may be due, in part, to a lower proportion of body water in females than males, along with the fact that women oxidize alcohol at a lower capacity than men.”
In addition, diets higher in saturated fat have been shown to promote liver damage. And higher body mass index is also associated with a higher effect of alcohol on the liver.
Over time, more than your liver can be impacted. Long-term effects of regular alcoholic beverage use include hypertension, stroke and chronic brain damage. If you choose to drink, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women. If you’re drinking more than that, you’re likely putting your health at risk.
“Four-to-eight drinks per day for men and two-to-four for women over the course of a decade or more is a general predictor that someone will have a severe case of alcoholic liver disease,” Dr. Tanimu said.
If you’re worried about your drinking or are looking for resources to help you cut back, please consider talking with your primary care provider.