Can Alcoholism Kill?

Alcoholism causes a variety of life-threatening health risks. Learn more about the many potential dangers that alcohol abuse and addiction can create.

There are many different ways that alcohol abuse and addiction can lead to death. Alcohol itself is a toxic substance that can cause a lethal overdose, and long-term use can lead to many different life-threatening diseases. 

Alcohol also impairs both judgment and ability simultaneously, significantly increasing the risk of fatal accidents. The danger doesn’t end when someone with alcoholism quits drinking, as alcohol causes some of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms of any substance. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can even lead to death. For these reasons, it’s important to find professional treatment when recovering from an alcohol addiction.

Table of Contents

Alcohol-Related Deaths

Alcohol-related death statistics illustrate just how dangerous this substance can be. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

  • Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.
  • Alcohol contributes to 18.5% of ER visits, and the number of alcohol-related ER visits increases by 210,000 each year.
  • Over 22% of fatal prescription drug overdoses involved alcohol.
  • An estimated 95,000 Americans die each year from alcohol-related causes.
  • Around 28% of driving fatalities are alcohol-related.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that alcohol results in over 1,700 deaths and over 50,000 years of life lost each year in New Jersey alone.

How Alcohol Can Kill You

There are three primary ways that alcohol can kill you. Death can be directly related to a single episode of alcohol use, either by alcohol poisoning or by an accident caused by intoxication. Alcohol can also kill you over the long term by creating a wide variety of health problems. Finally, alcohol can be fatal when you stop using it because it can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you use too much alcohol in a single episode of drinking. Alcohol affects you by acting on GABA receptors in the brain. At low doses, this causes you to feel “buzzed.” At higher doses, however, it can affect critical functions of the body that are necessary to sustain life. When too much alcohol is used, it can lead to seizures, coma and eventual death.

Drunk driving accidents kill 29 people each day, but drunk driving is not the only type of alcohol-related accident. Alcohol is also a factor in:

  • 30% of suicides
  • 40% of burns
  • 40% of crashes
  • 50% of homicides
  • 50% of drownings
  • 60% of falls

Accidents that occur when someone is intoxicated can easily lead to serious injury or death.

Your liver plays an essential role in many important biological functions, including: 

  • Helping your blood to clot
  • Removing toxins from your blood
  • Keeping enough water in your blood
  • Creating energy for your cells
  • Helping with digestion

Heavy alcohol use causes liver damage, potentially leading to inflammation of the liver (hepatitis). This inflammation can cause permanent, progressive scarring called cirrhosis. Eventually, alcohol use can lead to permanent liver damage that cannot be cured and will be fatal.

Alcohol has several potentially negative impacts on heart health. While the ways that alcohol affects the heart are quite complex, it can ultimately lead to:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Arterial disease
  • Cardiomyopathy

These are very serious medical conditions that can each be fatal on their own. When alcohol is used, it affects multiple organs and creates additional stress that can worsen these diseases.

Alcohol is a known carcinogen — a substance that induces the development of cancer. Some of the most common types of cancer caused by alcoholism include:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

These cancers are the ones that are most known to be caused by alcohol. However, there is accumulating evidence that alcohol increases the risk of several other types of cancers.

Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most dangerous types of withdrawal someone can go through. About 10% of patients withdrawing from alcohol will experience complications, and some of these complications can have up to a 25% fatality rate. 

During alcohol withdrawal, the GABA receptors that are used to being chronically suppressed become overactive, creating a risk of seizures, psychosis and an alcohol-specific condition called delirium tremens.

Related: Is Alcohol a Drug?



  • Can an alcoholic die suddenly? Alcoholism can cause you to suddenly die through alcohol poisoning or an alcohol-related accident. Some of the heart complications that alcohol causes can also cause death to suddenly occur.
  • How long can you survive as an alcoholic? The effects that alcohol has on someone’s lifespan are unpredictable and highly specific to each individual. However, studies show that the lifespan of someone with alcohol use disorder is a staggering 24 to 28 years shorter than average.

Find Help for Alcohol Addiction

Because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, those who are more at risk for severe symptoms should seek professional help when quitting alcohol. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help you overcome withdrawal and begin the recovery journey. Contact us today to learn more about treatment programs that can work well for your situation.

Get Help

If you or someone you love is facing an alcohol use disorder, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. We offer medical detox and comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to suit your needs.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.