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How alcohol can shorten your life span by up to 28 years

Published Feb 4th, 2021 4:37PM EST
effects of alcoholism
Image: BRAD/Adobe

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  • When drinking alcohol goes from being an occasional treat to an everyday habit, the risks of a person developing an alcohol use disorder grows dramatically. 
  • A new study of individuals diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder reveals a dramatic decrease in average life expectancy. 
  • Individuals that received the diagnosis lived, on average 24 to 28 years less than the general population.

We all know that becoming dependent on alcohol is dangerous. Having a glass of wine or a couple of beers from time to time is obviously fine, and potentially even healthy according to science, but once if it becomes difficult to stop drinking on a regular basis, a person may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, known more commonly as alcoholism.

People who drink large quantities of alcohol daily are especially at risk of becoming dependent on it, and a new study reveals just how dramatically it can affect a person’s life expectancy. The work, which included data on over 107,000 Europeans, reveals that individuals diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder may be shaving decades off of their lives.

The research included information on all individuals in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden who were hospitalized due to an alcohol use disorder starting in 1987 all the way through 2006. That’s a huge sample size, and while the data was limited to individuals from just three countries, the results could be considered representative of the expected results for the general population of many other countries.

People hospitalized with alcohol use disorder have an average life expectancy of 47–53 years (men) and 50–58 years (women) and die 24–28 years earlier than people in the general population,” the researchers write. 

After crunching the numbers, the researchers determined that the individuals who were hospitalized for alcohol use disorder, on average, saw a 24-28 year decrease in overall life expectancy. Needless to say, that’s an incredibly significant reduction in lifespan, and thanks to a wealth of research on the effects of alcohol on the human body, we know what risk factors increase for those who drink in large quantities.

It’s not just your liver that suffers when you drink habitually, but also your heart and cardiovascular system as a whole. Irregular heartbeat, stroke, and other potentially serious complications have been linked to alcoholism, but seeing just how many years the disorder can take off someone’s life is striking.

If you or someone you love has an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to get the right kind of help from a professional. Quitting a heavy drinking habit without adequate support can be dangerous and even deadly, depending on the person’s specific circumstances. It’s not something that you can just kick and then deal with the side effects on your own like you might be able to when quitting smoking or some other addictive habit.