The Shorter Life Expectancy of Alcoholics

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that affects nearly 14.1 million Americans. Like many diseases, AUD is progressive, passing through early, middle and late stages as the individual with alcohol addiction continues to drink more frequently. The last stage is end-stage alcoholism, which can significantly shorten a person's life expectancy.

It's important to know that no matter what stage, recovery is possible. Learn more about the life expectancy of someone with an alcohol use disorder and how to stop the disease's progression.

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How Long Do People With Alcoholism Live?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use shortens people's lives by 26 years. AUD is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.

One study found that individuals who drank more than 350 grams per week had lower life expectancies by four to five years at age 40 compared to those who drank less than 100 grams per week. Researchers attributed recorded deaths to cardiovascular problems caused by excessive drinking, and further analysis showed that people who binge drank or consumed spirits and beer had the highest risk for mortality.

The stages of alcoholism that can lead to premature death include:

  • Stage 1: In early-stage alcoholism, a person who drinks excessively doesn't realize they have a problem. They may drink to reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety or boredom.
  • Stage 2: Middle-stage alcoholism occurs when the person develops a high tolerance to alcohol and needs it to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Stage 3: Late-stage or end-stage alcoholism is a full-blown addiction that most often requires medical detox to start recovery. This is the stage where a person spends most of their time drinking.

Alcohol's Effects on Aging

The life expectancy of heavy drinkers continually declines as we age. That's because alcohol consumption can worsen existing health problems, harm physical and mental health and dangerously interact with medications.

As we grow older, health problems and prescribed medicines might require us to drink less or avoid alcohol altogether. Some older people also experience alcohol's effects more strongly without increasing the amount they drink, making them more prone to accidents like falls, fractures or car crashes.

Alcohol can also make it seem as though you're aging faster by causing:

  • Dehydration and wrinkles
  • Eye problems
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Lack of healthy habits

Older people may have an unhealthy reliance on alcohol later in life due to life changes, like the death of a loved one or failing health. These changes can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness or boredom, which can cause older adults to drink too much.

alcohol and cardiovascular health

Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health

Heavy drinking is linked to several poor health outcomes, including heart conditions. Alcohol use disorder can cause high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. It can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle.

A 2022 study found that heavy alcohol consumption increased a person's risk for cardiovascular disease. Excessive alcohol use might indirectly cause heart failure or worsen heart function by contributing to obesity. Mixed drinks and cocktails are exceptionally high in sugar and calories, so when the drinks add up, they can be highly unhealthy for the body.

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Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease

Alcohol-induced liver disease refers to liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. When you drink more alcohol than the liver can process, it can become severely damaged.

Many heavy drinkers progress through these common types of liver disease over time:

  • Fatty liver: Fatty liver is the buildup of fat inside the liver cells. This is the most common alcohol-induced liver disease, causing an enlarged liver.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: Alcoholic hepatitis refers to the acute inflammation of the liver. It causes the death of liver cells, often followed by permanent scarring.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: This disease destroys normal liver tissue, often leaving scar tissue in place of working tissue.

Alcohol-induced liver disease can cause symptoms like nausea, weight loss, loss of appetite and confusion. Often, these symptoms only present themselves after the liver is already damaged. While alcohol-induced liver disease is common, you can prevent it by significantly reducing alcohol intake or stopping it altogether.

Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

Heavy drinking can also cause pancreatitis, a condition characterized by pancreas inflammation and damaged cells. There are two main types of pancreatitis — acute and chronic. While alcohol is not the only cause of pancreatitis, heavy drinking can cause both chronic and acute pancreatitis.

When the condition occurs, it can be life-threatening and painful. Symptoms often start with pain in the upper abdomen that can spread to the back, leading to:

  • Swollen and tender abdomen
  • Back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever

Repeated cases of acute pancreatitis can cause irreversible damage and lead to chronic pancreatitis. The best way to prevent pancreatitis is to avoid excessive alcohol use.

Alcohol and the Immune System

Alcohol makes it more difficult for the immune system to defend the body from harmful germs. The healthier a person's immune system, the quicker it can clear viruses and recover from diseases.

Once you take a sip of alcohol, your body prioritizes breaking down the alcohol over other bodily functions. When the immune system becomes damaged by heavy drinking, it can weaken functions like the lung immune response, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases like pneumonia. With a weakened immune system, an alcoholic's life span drastically declines.

Alcohol can also impair sleep quality, and studies show the less sleep a person gets, the higher their risk of getting sick. A lack of sleep can also impact how long it takes for someone to recover from sickness.

Alcohol and Cancer

Alcohol is one of the most preventable risk factors for cancer. A person has a higher risk of alcohol-related cancers the more they drink. Alcohol-associated cancers include:

  • Digestive tract
  • Voice box
  • Breast
  • Liver

All alcoholic drinks, including wine, beer and liquor, are linked to cancer. For each of these cancers, the more alcohol you consume, the higher your risk. However, drinking even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk for some cancers, such as breast cancer.

Researchers believe alcohol might increase the risk of cancer by:

  • Metabolizing ethanol into acetaldehyde, which is toxic and likely a carcinogen.
  • Creating reactive oxygen molecules that can damage DNA, fats and proteins.
  • Increasing estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer.
  • Reducing the ability to absorb nutrients related to cancer prevention.

Alcohol and Suicide

There's a link between alcohol misuse and the risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts and death by suicide. A 2021 study found men with a history of alcohol charges have more than twice the risk of suicide.

Many people use alcohol to self-medicate mental health issues like anxiety and depression. They may struggle with a mood or personality disorder or even attempt to cope with trauma by turning to alcohol. Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder, which can worsen mental health issues.

Alcohol can also lower a person's inhibitions and make them more likely to act on suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one experiences changes in mood or suicidal thoughts, it's essential to seek help immediately.

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Extend Your Life

Alcohol addiction is a severe disease that can significantly impact a person's health. The average life span of an alcoholic goes down with each drink, increasing the risk for heart and liver problems, cancer and suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, Diamond House Detox can help.

At Diamond House Detox, we offer alcohol addiction holistic treatment services to aid you in recovery. Appreciate medication adjustment services and individualized treatment tailored to your needs. Our compassionate and highly trained team of professionals can help you recover from addiction and restore your health.

To learn more about our treatment programs, call (800) 205-6107 or complete our online inquiry form.



Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet