Death by alcohol can result from both chronic (long-term) and acute (sudden onset) conditions. The most common chronic conditions often listed as the cause (or contributor) of fatalities include alcoholic liver disease, liver cirrhosis, and alcoholic dependence syndrome. Acute conditions/causes resulting from heavy alcohol use include motor vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.
According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), there are at least 54 different ways alcohol kills humans. Here are a few of the most surprising, and terrifying.
Hypothermia is a condition characterized a dangerously low body temperature. While the normal human temperature is around 98.6 degrees, hypothermia may result from a drop below 95 degrees, and in severe cases, down into the 80’s. Hypothermia is generally caused by exposure to cold, but can be exacerbated by other conditions, such as alcohol consumption. How so?
Unfortunately, there is a common myth about alcohol raising the body’s internal temperature and helping to protect against hypothermia. But in fact, the opposite is true. Drinking alcohol may help the person feel warmer, but in reality, it acts to lower the core temperature.
This effect happens because alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it causes capillaries under the skin to expand. More blood near the skin’s surface = feeling of warmth. You might witness this effect on people who get flushed when they drink. However, the blood near the surface cools rapidly, and in effect, lowers the body temperature overall. In addition, alcohol reduces the body’s ability to shiver, which helps keep the body warm.
Finally, if the person is inebriated, judgment and motor skills may be impaired. This fact cannot serve to help an individual at risk of hypothermia, who is likely in a situation where sharp presence of mind and physical stamina are extremely critical. This is just one example of how the multiplied effects of alcohol kills.
Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots which prevent oxygen from getting to vital tissues. They are the most common, and represent about 4 in 5 strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes, though less common (20%) result in more fatalities. These present wit bleeding in around the brain, usually when an artery bursts. A survey featured in Neurology (Sept, 2012) revealed that 25% of those who suffered a intracerebral hemorrhage were categorized as heavy drinkers. Perhaps more revealing was the fact that on average, these strokes occurred around age 60, instead of 74, which was more common for non-drinkers.
According to the CDC, from 2006-2010, there were 27,000 fire injuries that were alcohol-related. The exact reasons are unclear, but the majority were likely due to accidental fires set while intoxicated. These include fires set by cigarettes or other smoking substances.
Fires/burns are the 4th leading cause of accidental fatality in the U,S. It is estimated that alcohol may be involved in up to 50% of these deaths. Another telling statistic claims that the victims typically range in age from 18-40, which is the age group most likely to escape from fires under normal circumstances. Also included in this number are children and other family members who die in fires set by the intoxicated. Accidental fire by use of alcohol kills pets as well.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.