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Alcoholism Is "Twice as Deadly" for Women

A study of the long-term consequences of alcoholism reveals a much higher mortality rate for women than for men.

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By May Wilkerson

10/17/12

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Mortality rates among active alcoholics, as compared to the general population, and the results are dire, a new study reveals—especially for women, who are found to be twice as likely as men to die from alcoholism. German researchers identified 149 alcoholics, according to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and then followed up 14 years later. They found that nearly a fifth of the alcoholics had died—21 of the 119 men, and seven of the 30 women. This translates to an alcoholic mortality rate of 1.26% for men, double the rate of the general population. For the alcoholic women, the rate was 1.67%, or nearly five times higher than the general population. For reasons still unknown, women tend to be more susceptible to alcohol-related diseases, which likely explains the disparity. "Females, in a more short time span, develop diseases such as liver cirrhosis," says study author Ulrich John, an epidemiologist at the University of Greifswald Medical School.

The study also found that death rates among alcoholics who sought specialized treatment—such as addiction counseling and therapy—were the same as for those who did not seek treatment. And the alcoholics who entered a detox actually had a lower survival rate. However, experts say this doesn't indicate that treatment and detox programs don't work, rather that these programs tend to attract the "sickest" alcoholics, those suffering from the worst drinking-related physical and mental health issues. "Those with advanced disease are usually the ones who cycle in and out of detox programs or end up in treatment programs, many of which do not provide evidence-based care," says Susan Foster, director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. She emphasizes that "treatment must address all manifestations of the disease" instead of simply focusing on alcohol intake and abstinence.

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