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Alcohol Poisoning Deaths

Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Kills Six People Each Day

Alcohol poisoning deaths are caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This can result in very high levels of alcohol in the body, which can shutdown critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature - resulting in death.

Despite the risks, more than 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consume an average of eight drinks per binge. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion. The more you drink, the greater your risk of death.

Key findings of this Vital Signs report include: 

  • There are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year – an average of 6 alcohol poisoning deaths every day.
  • Three in four alcohol poisoning deaths involve adults ages 35-64, and most deaths occur among men.
  • While the majority of deaths are among non-Hispanic whites, American Indians/Alaska Natives have the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people.
  • Deaths rates from alcohol poisoning vary widely across states, from 5.3 alcohol poisoning deaths per million residents in Alabama to 46.5 deaths per million residents in Alaska.

States and communities can take steps to reduce alcohol poisoning deaths by preventing binge drinking, including:

  • Supporting proven programs and policies to decrease binge drinking. States with stronger alcohol policies have less binge drinking.
  • Partnering with police, community groups, health departments, and doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to reduce binge drinking and related harms.
  • Monitoring the role of alcohol in injuries and deaths.

CDC scientists analyzed deaths from alcohol poisoning among people aged 15 years and older, using multiple cause-of-death data from the National Vital Statistics System for 2010-2012. Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) was identified as a contributing factor in 30 percent of these deaths, and other drugs were noted to have been a factor in about 3 percent of the deaths. While this study reveals that alcohol poisoning deaths are a bigger problem than previously thought, it is still likely to be an underestimate.

Vital Signs is a CDC report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators. These are cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, healthcare-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, and food safety.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

Vital Signs Links

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Ileana Arias, PhD

"Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, Ph.D. “We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning."

Ileana Arias, PhD - Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Bob Brewer, MD, MSPH

Bob Brewer, MD, MSPH


Bob Brewer, MD, MSPH

"This study shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people,” said CDC Alcohol Program Lead and report coauthor Robert Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H. “It also emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to reducing binge drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling in healthcare settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it."

Bob Brewer, MD, MSPH - Epidemiologist - Lead, Alcohol Program, Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion