Alcohol poisoning kills six people in the United States each day, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The deaths add up to more than 2,200 each year in the country, with most occurring among middle-age adults, ages 35 to 64. Most people who die from alcohol poisoning are white men, but American Indians and Native Alaskans have the highest rate of alcohol poisoning, according to the report.
"Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S." Ileana Arias, the CDC's principal deputy director, said in a statement. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]
Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time can result in very high levels of alcohol in the body. This can lead to the shutdown of critical areas in the brain that control breathing, heart rate and body temperature, and a person may die. Signs of alcohol poisoning include slow breathing, seizures and low body temperature.
The researchers noted that alcohol poisoning is only one of the outcomes of drinking excessively, and that binge drinking can also cause health problems. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for women, or five or more drinks for men.
Such excessive drinking is linked with liver and heart disease, and contributes to 80,000 deaths yearly, including deaths due to injuries, in the United States. More than 38 million U.S. adults, or 1 in 6 people, report binge drinking on average four times a month, consuming on average eight alcoholic drinks in one setting each time, according to the report.
"We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning," Arias said.
For the report, the CDC researchers analyzed deaths from alcohol poisoning among people ages 15 and older, using data from the National Vital Statistics System for 2010 to 2012. The findings, however, may be an underestimation of the true rate of alcohol poisoning, the researchers said.
Alcohol poisoning death rates varied widely across states, from 46.5 deaths per 1 million residents in Alaska to 5.3 per million residents in Alabama.
Previous reports have found alarming rates of extreme binge drinking among high schoolers and college students, but the new report "shows that alcohol poisoning deaths are not just a problem among young people," said report co-author Dr. Robert Brewer, who leads the CDC's alcohol program.
Most people who died of alcohol poisoning during the study period were not alcoholics: only 30 percent of those who died had alcohol dependence.
The researchers identified drugs other than alcohol as a contributing factor in only 3 percent of the cases of death from alcohol poisoning.