How Alcohol Addiction Shortens Life Expectancy

bottom view of people clinking with alcohol bottles and glasses

Everyone knows that drinking too much alcohol is bad for your health. In fact, alcohol consumption contributes to around 140,000 deaths every year in America.

According to the National Association on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death after tobacco, poor diet and physical inactivity, and illegal drugs. One recent study found that around 13 percent of deaths per year in the US among adults aged 20–64 were attributable to excessive use of alcohol.

In the age range 20–49 years, alcohol-attributable deaths accounted for even more: 20.3 percent of total deaths a year. This is one in five deaths over a 12-month period, which is nearly 45,000 people.

So it is clear that not only can excessive alcohol use cause death, but it also significantly reduces a person’s quality of life and dramatically shortens their life expectancy.

What is the life expectancy of an alcoholic?

There are many aspects that can affect the life expectancy of an alcoholic. These include how much alcohol is drunk, how frequently and for how many years it has been an addiction.

Other factors can also play a part. For example, some people might, to an extent, “balance” their alcohol addiction with regularly doing exercise and eating healthily. 

Others may add to their risk by smoking, poor sleep habits, and physical inactivity.

A study conducted between 1987–2006 investigated the impact of alcohol use disorder (AUD) on life expectancy. It revealed a significant decrease of 24–28 years in the life expectancy of those diagnosed with AUD compared to those without the disorder.

This study further highlighted that people with AUD experienced higher mortality rates across all causes of death, medical conditions, diseases, and suicide. It concluded that people hospitalized due to adverse health effects caused by alcoholism had an average life expectancy of only 47–53 years for men and 50–58 years for women.

What are the major health consequences of alcohol addiction?

Excessive alcohol use can contribute to or cause early deaths due to a variety of consequences, including accidents, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. Deaths due to solely alcohol-attributable causes – such as alcoholic liver disease – have increased in the past decade.

End-stage alcoholism can lead to major health conditions, including neurological and mood disorders, jaundice, anemia, alcohol-induced dementia, malnutrition, alcoholic hepatitis, pancreatitis, heart failure, and cirrhosis.

Also known as late-stage alcoholism, or advanced alcohol use disorder, end-stage alcoholism is the most severe phase of alcohol addiction. It occurs when chronic and excessive alcohol use causes significant psychological, physical, and social consequences.

Someone with an addiction to alcohol will move through the stages of the disease as they continue to drink – and to drink ever-increasing quantities. The last stage is end-stage alcoholism, which is when alcohol has entirely taken over their lives.

At this stage, people may have developed severe physical and mental health issues due to their alcohol consumption. In addition, this stage is connected to unhealthy relationships, social issues, work problems, financial difficulties, and an overall loss of quality of life.

The major health consequences of alcohol addiction that are seen include:

Liver disease

Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to liver diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. As the liver plays a vital role in detoxification and overall healthy body functions, these can significantly reduce life expectancy.


Prolonged alcohol abuse has been linked to various cancers including liver, breast, colorectal, esophageal, and oral cancers. The development of these cancers can lead to a decreased quality of life and a much shorter lifespan. 

Cardiovascular issues

Alcoholism is connected with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart failure, hypertension, arrhythmias, and stroke. These conditions can lead to a significant reduction in life expectancy and an early death.

Respiratory conditions

Sick man wearing an oxygen mask

Alcohol abuse can contribute to respiratory problems including pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). These will usually negatively impact lung function, quality of life and overall health, and in many people mean a shorter life expectancy.

Accidents and injuries

Drinking alcohol even moderately let alone excessively impairs reaction times, judgment and coordination, which increases the risk of accidents and subsequent injuries or death. It also means people typically behave more recklessly, which can also lead to a higher likelihood of having an accident. Alcohol-related accidents, including taking a fall and car crashes, can clearly cause severe wounds, trauma and tragically, in many cases, premature death.

Mental health disorders

Alcoholism often coexists with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. These conditions can exacerbate each other, leading to a higher risk of suicide and reduced life expectancy. Since 1956, alcoholism itself has been recognized as an illness by the American Medical Association (AMA).

Social and economic problems

depressed woman looking at a glass of alcohol in her hand

Alcohol addiction also has profound social and economic consequences that can often contribute to a shorter life expectancy. For instance, alcoholism frequently strains relationships with partners, family, friends and colleagues. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, loss of support systems, reduced opportunities for personal growth, and decreased general well-being.

In addition, alcohol abuse can impair work performance, leading to a greater likelihood of accidents, being sacked, financial instability, and reduced access to healthcare and resources that support a healthier lifestyle. 

How to quit alcohol safely

Anybody who is drinking alcohol excessively needs to quit. Alcoholism is a progressive illness – but even quitting alcohol can be dangerous without the guidance of a medical professional.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include delirium tremens (DTs), a psychotic condition that can be life-threatening. DTs is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that usually occurs within 48–72 hours after the last drink.

Symptoms include hallucinations, tremors, profuse sweating, severe agitation, confusion, fever, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and seizures. If left untreated, DTs can lead to serious complications such as heart rhythm abnormalities, respiratory problems, and organ failure, which can be fatal.

If someone experiences DTs, it is vitally important to seek immediate medical attention. In fact, quitting alcohol – even if not experiencing DTs – always needs the guidance of a medical professional or someone with experience in beating alcohol addiction.

This could be a counselor, therapist, or coach, ideally who has specific knowledge and experience in treating people with addictions. It can also be done through Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Recovery from alcohol addiction is possible, and millions of people have successfully quit. With the help of someone with experience in addiction and quitting alcohol, the craving can be stopped and a normal healthy life can resume.

Many alcoholics in recovery from their addiction have gone on to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society, with healthy relationships and social networks. They can recover so well that they go on to enjoy an active, healthy, good quality of life and return to a normal lifespan.

Tikvah Lake Recovery

people hugging smiling man with alcohol addiction during group therapy

If you or someone you care about needs help with alcohol addiction, contact our caring team of experts at Tikvah Lake who have extensive experience in helping people with various addictions. This includes substance addictions and behavior/process addictions, as well as other emotional and mental health issues.

Many people who need to quit an addiction find it especially useful to step away from their regular lives and go somewhere safe, private, and peaceful, such as a recovery center. This removes them from the stresses and triggers of everyday life, as well as the temptations that can come from familiar places, people, and routines – and gives them the chance to focus fully on their recovery.

Here at Tikvah Lake, we have created a luxurious and tranquil oasis that provides the stability and constant care needed to support your journey to lasting recovery. As a family-run center, anyone who chooses to stay with us is greeted and treated as a valuable member of the family.

Reach out to us today for a free, confidential conversation about our programs and how we can help and support you or your loved one.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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