Excessive drinking major cause of death

How does alcohol affect the health of New Yorkers? A new report from Health Department suggests the toll is large and, by some measures, growing.

Excessive drinking kills approximately 1,500 NYC adults each year, according to the new report, “Health Consequences of Alcohol Use in New York City.” Alcohol also contributes to a tenth of all hospitalizations in the city – nearly 100,000 each year – and prompts 78,000 visits to hospital emergency departments, with a rate that more than doubled between 2003 and 2009.

While nearly half of adult New Yorkers do not drink at all, the new report (available online at nyc.gov) suggests that excessive drinking is common among those who do consume alcohol. When questioned in behavioral surveys, 42 percent of the city’s adult drinkers say they have engaged in “binge” drinking (defined as five or more drinks on one occasion) during the previous month, and 11 percent define themselves as heavy drinkers – a category that includes men who average more than two drinks a day and women who average more than one.

Binge drinking and heavy regular drinking can lead to a wide range of serious health problems. Excessive drinking causes injuries by impairing judgment and coordination. It damages various organs, leading to heart disease, cancer, stroke and dementia. And it is linked to depression, suicide, homicide, domestic violence and sexually transmitted diseases.

Alcohol causes some 79,000 deaths in the United States each year – a toll that makes excessive drinking the nation’s third leading behavior-related cause of death. Among the estimated 1,537 New York City adults who suffered alcohol-attributable deaths in 2008, chronic liver disease was the leading direct cause, accounting for one death in five (22 percent). Alcohol also contributes to approximately 46 percent of homicides, 30 percent of deaths from accidents and poisoning, and 28 percent of motor vehicle-related deaths in New York City each year.

“Excessive drinking can lead to injuries, violence, and fatal accidents in the short term, and heart disease, liver disease, cancer and other chronic conditions in the long term,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City health commissioner. “Alcohol misuse can also disrupt one’s well-being by jeopardizing work, finances and relationships. Cutting down or quitting is possible. If you want help, talk to your doctor or call 311 and ask for Lifenet, a confidential, toll-free phone help line.”

Adults accounted for 74,000 of city’s 78,000 alcohol-related emergency-room (ED) visits in 2009, but the report shows that visits have increased in both underage and adult drinkers. Alcohol-related ED visits also vary by neighborhood – with the highest proportion occurring in the Manhattan neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, SoHo, Gramercy and Murray Hill, as well as North and West Queens and Greenpoint and Southern Brooklyn.

The report also finds that underage drinking is common in the city. More than one in four New Yorkers under 21 report recent alcohol use. More than half of these young drinkers report binge drinking during the previous month, and 10% report heavy drinking.

Besides analyzing New Yorkers’ use of alcohol, the Health Department report emphasizes opportunities for health care providers, policymakers and the alcohol industry to curb alcohol-related illness and death.

~Health care providers should screen all patients for alcohol problems. Both primary care physicians and specialists should provide brief interventions to reduce harmful alcohol use.

~Emergency medical care settings should screen patients for alcohol misuse and offer brief counseling interventions.

~Policymakers and regulators should discourage child-friendly labeling and packaging of alcoholic beverages.

~Lawmakers should enforce laws prohibiting sales of alcohol to youth and people who are intoxicated.

~The alcohol industry should reduce the amount of advertising that appears in media with large youth audiences. The industry should also comply with the voluntary commitment not to place billboard alcohol advertising within 500 feet of schools.

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