Alcohol Deaths on the Rise – The Silent Killer in Rural America

Rural city, USA
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Alcohol-related deaths are becoming more common in rural America. For rural women, alcohol-related deaths have doubled in the last 12 years. For rural men, such deaths increased by more than 50 percent during the same period.

A few factors are likely contributing to this. Deindustrialization, job loss, lack of access to medical services, growing economic and social challenges, just to name a few. What is the scope of rural alcohol deaths as a result of these factors? And what must be done to prevent more people from dying from alcohol?

Why Do People Turn to Alcohol?

It is impossible to list out precisely why rural America is becoming a hotspot for alcohol addiction and alcohol-related deaths. And that’s because everyone who does turn to substance abuse ultimately has their own unique, underlying struggles and crises that caused them to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. But the issues mentioned earlier: deindustrialization, job loss, lack of access to medical services, growing economic and social challenges are all likely factors shared by many rural Americans who find their quality of life diminishing.

As conditions worsen for underserved, undervalued rural areas, more people are likely to turn to a mind-altering substance to make them feel like they can get through the day. Unfortunately, this is the absolute wrong direction to go in because drinking alcohol to cope with adverse life conditions will only make those conditions much worse.

A Look at the Statistics – The CDC Reports a Spike in Alcohol Mortality in Rural Areas

In October 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a detailed report covering the rates of alcohol-related deaths among adults ages 25 and older in urban and rural areas. The report examined alcohol mortality from the year 2000 to 2018, the most recent year for which there is completed mortality data. The findings were quite concerning.

Examining the first few years of the 21st century, the number of alcohol-induced deaths among adults ages 25 and older stayed mostly stable from 2000 to 2006. However, from 2007 through to the end of 2018, alcohol-related deaths increased by about 43 percent. In 2006, about 11 people were dying from alcohol-related causes for every 100,000. But by 2018, about 15 Americans were dying from alcohol-related causes for every 100,000.

The rate of increase in alcohol-related deaths was far more pronounced in rural areas than in urban areas for both men and women. For example, from 2006 to 2018, alcohol deaths went up by 32 percent in urban areas. But in rural America, alcohol-related deaths jumped by 51 percent during that same time period. For men, alcohol-related deaths in rural areas are now significantly higher than in urban regions. For women in rural areas, alcohol-related deaths more than doubled from 2006 to 2018.

There is no doubt that alcohol addiction is becoming more prominent and more lethal in rural parts of the United States. Now more than ever, it is critical that alcohol addicts receive treatment.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment – The Solution to a Serious Problem Across Rural America

alcohol treatment counseling
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Alcohol addiction does not usually receive the same level of public attention and focus that other addiction issues do, mainly because alcohol is an entirely legal substance and is widely accepted within society. But consider these statistics, as reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Every year, about 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes. That makes alcohol addiction the third-leading cause of preventable death, after tobacco and poor diet/physical activity.

Not everyone who dies from alcohol-related causes are people who struggle with alcohol addiction. About one-third of alcohol vehicle-related fatalities are caused by alcohol-impaired driving, to the tune of about 10,000 deaths each year.

Alcohol misuse costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars every year, with much of those costs being paid for by the taxpayers. These costs manifest in the form of medical expenses, collateral damage, lost workplace productivity, etc.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of alcohol addiction (and part of why there are so many alcohol-related deaths every year) is the sheer number of people who struggle with this addiction crisis. Again according to the NIAAA, about 14 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or 6 percent of the total U.S. adult population.

“Addressing underlying social determinants, treatment access, stigma, and other barriers can help curb deaths related not just to alcohol but to other mental health and substance use disorders as well.”

Robyn Oster, a research associate in health law and policy at the Partnership to End Addiction, commented on the rise of alcohol-related deaths in rural America. “Rural areas lack sufficient treatment capacity, with few treatment providers and facilities, particularly for addiction treatment, to help those with alcohol use disorder. This can prevent people from seeking needed treatment and support. High unemployment or other poor economic conditions could also play a role. Addressing underlying social determinants, treatment access, stigma, and other barriers can help curb deaths related not just to alcohol but to other mental health and substance use disorders as well.”

There is no doubt that there is a dire need for alcohol addiction treatment in rural America and in urban America. Millions of Americans are hooked on a legal substance that is easy to get, and that is universally accepted as “normal” across the nation. Hence the stark need for effective and available treatment.

And there is nothing normal or “okay” about alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction kills more Americans than all of the different types of annual drug-related deaths combined. Alcohol addiction is extremely dangerous and potentially lethal. If you know someone who is addicted to alcohol, please do everything you can to get them into a residential alcohol addiction treatment center.

Narconon has helped thousands of people recover from alcohol addiction and build a happy, productive, substance-free life. If you or someone you care about needs help, please call Narconon today.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, CAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.