KUSA - A study by the University of Colorado Boulder involving 40,000 people indicates that social and psychological problems caused by drinking generally trump physical drinking behaviors when it comes to mortality.
For example, people that had an intervention by a doctor, family or friend had a 67 percent greater risk of death over the 18-year study period. People that cut down on social or sports activities because of alcohol use had a 46 percent higher risk of death over the same time period.
In contrast, drinking and driving and other risky alcohol-related behaviors did not result in a significant increase in mortality rates, said sociology professor and lead study author, Richard Rogers.
The study also showed social risks of drinking, like losing a spouse or job, were equally or more strongly linked to mortality than symptoms of alcohol abuse like withdrawal jitters or getting physically ill.
Data was collected between 1988 and 2006 and studied the mortality associated with 41 specific drinking problems, including drinking more than intended, unsuccessfully trying to cut back, driving after drinking too much, losing ties with family and friends, missing work with hangovers, drinking more to get the same effect, depression and arrests.
Some of the findings were: 23 percent of drinkers and the time of the study started drinking without intending to, 20 percent drank longer than expected and 25 percent experienced a strong urge to drink. For those that experienced a strong urge to drink, 19 percent were light drinkers (less than one drink a day), 40 percent were moderate and 57 percent were heavy.
Researchers found that current drinkers who found it difficult to stop once they started had a 15 percent high risk of death, those who said they went on a drinking bender during a 12-month period had a 54 percent higher death rate and those who black out during the previous year prior to the assessment had a 22 percent higher death rate during the study.
People that reported to Alcoholics Anonymous had a 45 percent higher risk of death, according to the study. However, researchers say AA members could have been recently diagnose alcoholics or were more likely to have health, social or legal problems, including required AA attendance. Some AA members could have had an increased death rate due to smoking or other substance abuse problems.
Participants in the study were 21 years or older.
"What this study really shows is that researchers and policymakers need to look at the nuanced complexities tied to alcohol consumption," said Rogers. "Alcohol consumption does not have a clear dose-response relationship like smoking, for instance. We have seen that alcohol does have a benefit at low levels in some cases, but it also can create social problems for some individuals who are only light to moderate drinkers."
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