Why Does Alcohol Cause More Deaths in Some States than in Others?

Man drinking
Photo by OcusFocus/iStockphoto.com

While alcohol is a problem everywhere, it does not affect all states equally. As the drug epidemic has swept across America, so too has alcohol addiction become more severe—and it seems to touch down with particular severity in certain regions.

In response, individual states implement policies in ways they feel will best curb addiction within their borders. But still, the problem grows. What will it take to address alcohol addiction on a state and national scale, and to do so effectively?

States with the Highest Rates of Alcohol Misuse

When alcohol-related deaths are examined, it’s essential to look beyond just the fatalities directly related to alcohol poisoning. From car accidents to cancers, organ failure, heart disease, accidents, mental struggles, and domestic crises, alcohol use is tied to a wide range of deadly incidents and conditions.

While every state struggles with some degree of alcohol misuse, some states experience this crisis more severely than others. A recent report looked at the statistics for each of the worst states including the average number of years people lose off their potential length of life when their deaths are alcohol related. The five states with the highest rate of alcohol-related death are as follows:

  • New Mexico

Losing 52.3 people for every 100,000 residents, New Mexico has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths. That equates to about 1,100 people lost every year to alcohol and the average loss of about 30.5 years of potential life for per person who dies from alcohol in this state.

  • Montana

With a death rate of 37.4 fatalities for every 100,000 residents, Montana is next on the list. About 400 people die from alcohol every year, each one losing about 29.5 years of potential life.

  • Arizona

In third place is Arizona, a state that loses about 2,500 residents to alcohol each year with a death rate of 37 per 100,000. Arizona residents lose about 28.7 years of potential life for each death from alcohol misuse.

  • Oklahoma

Fourth on the list is Oklahoma, which loses about 1,500 residents to alcohol-related causes each year. Alcohol claims Oklahomans about 29.8 years before their time. The state has a death rate of 36.4 deaths for every 100,000 residents.

  • West Virginia

With 725 people lost to alcohol each year and 35.3 deaths for every 100,000 residents, West Virginia holds the fifth position. The net loss of potential life years in West Virginia is the same as Oklahoma’s.

One of the key takeaways from this information is that each state experiences huge numbers of alcohol-related deaths, but that the sheer loss of life that comes with alcohol abuse is also quite severe. For the most part, people who die from alcohol-related causes die decades before their time.

What Do the States with the Worst Alcohol Problems Have in Common?

One should proceed with caution when attempting to identify causative trends, state to state. Remember, alcohol addiction is an entirely personal issue. No two addictions are identical, just like no two people are identical. Alcohol addiction affects everyone differently which is why addiction treatment on an individual level is so critical.

Rural area
Photo by JerryB7/iStockphoto.com

However, one will often find somewhat similar trends in regions that struggle with higher-than-average alcohol misuse. Such areas tend to be rural, often with a degree of poverty or economic hardship. These regions tend to have poor access to quality treatment services for alcohol misuse, and such areas also tend to offer little or no prevention and education programs.

National Statistics – Alcohol Addiction Across America

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 255 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every day. That equates to 2.7 million years of potential life lost. On average, people who die from alcohol-related causes die 29 years before their time. From 2011 to 2015, about 93,296 people died from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol one of the leading causes of preventable death. Furthermore, that death rate means about 27 people are dying from alcohol every year for every 100,000 people living in the United States, a higher death rate than the death rate per capita of all drug deaths combined.

Yes, alcohol abuse is more severe in some states than in others, but alcohol is a problem in all states. Alcohol addiction is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and this problem has only worsened as the years have passed. Where is the solution to alcohol addiction? What strategies and methodologies have been successful in curbing this problem?

What Efforts Have Been Successful in Curbing Alcohol Addiction?

Several policy changes could be made on a state level that would potentially reduce the burden of alcohol misuse. Educational programs could be implemented to raise awareness of just how dangerous excessive drinking is. Alcohol taxes could be increased in an attempt to curb alcohol purchases. (Furthermore, money raised via such taxation could be used to fund alcohol treatment and prevention programs). State, county, and city governments could regulate the number and concentration of places that sell alcohol, and local law enforcement could take a more heavy-handed approach to drunk driving (such as by implementing a zero-tolerance policy on any form of intoxicated driving, not just cracking down on drunk driving at .08 BAC or above).

Any of the above could prove beneficial in reducing alcohol misuse in any given area. But the one approach that will be most successful in freeing a region of alcohol addiction will be making sure that those who are addicted receive the help they need to get off of alcohol. Alcohol addiction will never be adequately addressed until those who are addicted to alcohol receive treatment.

Narconon offers a uniquely effective program to help people overcome addiction and seek life anew. At Narconon, addicts do not have an incurable disease, and no one has to be an addict for life.

Overcoming addiction on a regional level will take many policy changes, criminal justice changes, educational and social programs, prevention, and community awareness. But at the backbone of any effort to overcome addiction you will find the diligent efforts of addicts and their families to seek addiction treatment and get better.

If you know someone struggling with an addiction to alcohol, contact Narconon today, and take the first step towards helping your loved one achieve real and effective, lasting change.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, 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.