Alcohol Is the Cause of One in Five Young Adult Deaths


The announcement made headlines when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their 2021 mortality report that indicated American deaths connected to drug abuse had eclipsed 100,000 for the first time since recording began.

What wasn’t discussed was another equally harmful crisis. This critical public health emergency claims approximately 140,000 lives per year but is rarely treated with the same public and media interest as drug addiction.

We are speaking of alcohol addiction, a nationwide behavioral health emergency that has been claiming over 100,000 lives annually for years, a crisis that has begun causing deaths in younger users. One study reports that alcohol is to blame for about 20% of young adult deaths in the United States today.

Alcohol Addiction Is A Devastating National Health Crisis

Alcohol addiction is a critical health problem that can easily end in death. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that excessive alcohol consumption leads to at least 140,000 fatalities yearly, about 13% of deaths among Americans under 65. Even more concerning, alcohol was cited as a cause of death for 20% of adults between the ages of 20 to 49.

That distinction, the fact that alcohol is a cause of death for more younger adults than older adults, is a reversal from the norm. Traditionally, the likelihood of alcohol-related fatality increased with age, with alcohol-related health problems being more likely to arrive later in life. Now, however, it seems Americans in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are being the most harmed by alcohol.

The researchers who oversaw the recent study indicated that policymakers should utilize public health efforts to inform the public about alcohol’s harm. Further, the sale of alcohol should be limited in volume and frequency, and alcohol taxes should be utilized, much like tobacco taxes.

Alcohol Is Not Harmless Just Because It’s Legal

Alcoholism sleep problem

Alcohol addiction is a devastating crisis affecting millions of Americans, made worse by the fact that more young people fall prey to alcohol addiction. Further, the legal nature of the substance and the relative social acceptance of the substance within society make alcohol addiction unique and different from other drug habits. Whereas drugs are broadly perceived as harmful, alcohol is not generally included in that category, though it should be.

The result? Alcohol addiction, by the numbers, actually exceeds all other drugs combined in terms of the number of Americans who struggle with addiction. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 23 million Americans struggle with a substance abuse problem (drugs and alcohol). A report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that of the 23 million addicted, at least 14 million are alcohol addicts. In contrast, all other drug users combined comprise the remaining 9 million.

Those figures paint a grim picture. While most Americans recognize the physical danger, legal risk, and life-threatening harm in drug use, very few understand that alcohol is just as harmful, in some ways more so. Now that emerging reports show the sheer loss of life attributable to alcohol and that those who lose their lives are much younger than in previous generations of alcohol users, perhaps the media and public health experts will focus more intently on solving this problem.

It’s essential that they do so, because alcohol is not harmless just because it’s legal.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Is Available

Young man is talking to addiction counselor

The NIH report cited above indicated that, in addition to 23 million Americans struggling with addiction (10% of U.S. adults), about 75% report not receiving any treatment. Speaking on this point, National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow said, “The prevalence and complexity of drug use disorders revealed in this study coupled with the lack of treatment speak to the urgent need for health care professionals to be trained in proper techniques to identify, assess, diagnose, and treat substance use disorders among patients in their practice.” Truly, there is a desperate need for addiction treatment in the U.S. for drug addiction and alcohol addiction.

Thankfully, alcohol addiction treatment is available and should be accessed when needed. If you know someone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, please reach out to a qualified residential alcohol rehab today. Please do not wait for them to join the roughly 140,000 Americans who lose their lives to alcohol each year.


  • CDC. “Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  • JAMA. “Estimated Deaths Attributable to Excessive Alcohol Use Among U.S. Adults Aged 20 to 64 Years, 2015 to 2019.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2022.
  • USNews. “Alcohol to Blame for 1 in 5 Young Adult Deaths in U.S.” U.S. News, 2022.
  • NIH. “10 percent of U.S. adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives.” National Institutes of Health, 2015.
  • SAMHSA. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017.



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.