Dying From Alcoholism: Is It Possible?

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Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism can lead to death from poisoning or alcohol-related diseases.
  • Alcohol poisoning causes death by depressing brain function and respiratory failure.
  • Chronic alcoholism increases the risk of cancer, liver disease, and pancreatitis.
  • Alcohol-related dangerous activities include car accidents, suicide, and violence.
  • Prevent death from alcoholism by quitting, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and cancer screening.

Alcohol use disorder has many health conditions. But can it also cause death?

Most alcohol-related deaths are often the result of chronic illnesses that develop over the years.

However, sometimes, an acute condition like severe alcoholic hepatitis, pancreatitis, or poisoning from drinking alcohol mixed with other substances or in large quantities can cause death.

Here’s a closer look at the chances of dying from alcoholism and how likely it is.

How Can Someone Die From Alcoholism?

Alcohol can cause death in two ways.

It may directly cause death due to alcohol poisoning from excessive alcohol consumption or lead to an alcohol-related disease that eventually leads to death.

Alcohol Poisoning

This condition occurs when someone drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short period (also called binge drinking).

This causes toxic levels of ethanol (the main constituent of alcohol) to build up in the body, which depresses brain function.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It acts on chloride ion channels in the brain, depressing nerve conduction between brain cells.

Drugs like benzodiazepines and barbiturates also bind to the same chloride ion channels in the brain to produce their sedating effects.

This makes mixing these drugs with alcohol incredibly dangerous and even fatal.

Alcohol poisoning causes death by shutting down important brain centers, which result in:

  • Respiratory depression: High blood alcohol levels cause the brain’s respiratory center to shut down. When this center no longer functions, the body is deprived of oxygen. This leads to cell death
  • Aspiration: Alcohol also causes the body to lose control over its muscles. This leads to aspiration, which is when the body can not prevent food or vomit from going down the airway. People who aspirate are unable to breathe and die
  • Arrhythmias: In some cases, excess alcohol affects the electrical activity of the heart. This causes the heart to contract in an abnormal manner, which disrupts blood flow to the brain and body, leading to death  

How Is Alcohol Poisoning Diagnosed?

The first clue to alcohol toxicity is the appearance of symptoms after a bout of excessive drinking.

These include confusion, vomiting, and headache. In extreme cases, irregular, slow breathing and loss of consciousness may occur.

A more definitive way to diagnose alcohol toxicity is by checking the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).

This can be estimated using a breathalyzer (where a person blows into a device), blood tests, or urine tests.

Although a BAC of 0.08% is considered unsafe for driving in most states, there is no exact value for alcohol toxicity (but it must be high for the diagnosis to be made).

How Is Alcohol Poisoning Treated?

There is no antidote to excessive drinking. The treatment is aimed at supporting the body while it gets rid of the alcohol. It involves:

  • Fluid administration: Patients need fluid support to maintain blood pressure and correct any electrolyte disturbances caused by excess alcohol in the body. Health care providers administer fluids via an intravenous line as it is fast, and most patients are too drowsy to drink by mouth
  • Vital monitoring: Monitoring the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate and pattern is crucial during alcohol poisoning treatment
  • Aspiration prevention: Patients with alcohol poisoning are too disoriented to maintain control over their muscles. They are also usually vomiting, which predisposes them to choke on their vomit. This makes properly positioning the patient and restricting oral diet important during alcohol poisoning management

Indirect Alcohol Deaths

An indirect alcohol-related death occurs due to fatal health conditions that develop due to drinking or the risky behavior that alcohol-dependent people often engage in.

Alcohol-Related Diseases

There are multiple alcohol-related diseases that lead to death. Examples include:

Cancer

Heavy drinking is a big risk factor for many types of cancers, including esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, laryngeal cancer, and liver cancer.

Colorectal cancer and breast cancer are among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide

Liver disease

Alcohol damages liver cells and leads to cirrhosis, where the liver shrinks and loses its function irreversibly.

This leads to a wide range of health complications such as massive bleeding, immune system dysfunction, electrolyte imbalance, malnutrition, and buildup of toxic compounds in the body

Pancreatitis

Alcohol is a major risk factor for the inflammation of the pancreas.

Pancreatitis leads to diabetes and malabsorption, which have their own set of complications (including premature death)

Alcohol-Related Dangerous Activities

Dangerous activities when under the influence of alcohol are highly likely to lead to death. They include:

  • Car Accidents: Around 21 people die every day in the United States due to an intoxicated driver. In 2018, 10,511 deaths in the United States were related to drunken driving
  • Suicide: Alcohol is a risk factor for suicide. According to a meta-analysis, alcohol addiction is linked to a 94% increase in suicide risk, especially for people with mental health issues.
  • Violence: According to a United States study using data from 1950-2002, the risk of homicide was related to the frequency of drinking, being more in “wet” states (states that had high drinking patterns) 

Who Is More Likely to Die From Alcohol Abuse?

According to a Norwegian study, the following people are more likely to be injured due to alcohol intoxication:

  • Younger people
  • People who are unmarried or live without partners
  • People who visit drinking establishments, like bars and nightclubs, more often

The risk of bodily harm is also related to the frequency of drinking as well as the number of times one becomes intoxicated.

How to Prevent Death From Alcoholism?

There are three ways to prevent death from alcoholism:

  1. Stop drinking: This one is a no-brainer. If you want to avoid health complications from alcoholism—especially from alcohol poisoning—it’s best to seek alcohol addiction therapy to avoid severe alcohol withdrawal that can happen when you quit cold turkey.
  2. Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Even if you continue to drink, incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle, such as exercise and a healthy diet. This may prevent a range of alcohol-related conditions
  3. Get screened for cancer: Both breast and colorectal cancer can be screened for and treated at an early stage to prevent death. If you frequently drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about cancer screening

Prevent Alcohol Use Disorder Complications With Curednation…

If you or someone you love struggles with excessive alcohol use, reach out to our addiction specialists today.

At Curednation, we offer telemedicine addiction treatment services so you can recover where you feel the safest—home.

Book an appointment today and take the first step to preventing health complications from alcohol.

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