Learning library
Help with alcohol use
Can Alcoholism Be Fatal? Understanding the Risks

Can Alcoholism Be Fatal? Understanding the Risks

Alcohol misuse can cause serious damage to the body, which leads some people to ask, "Can you die from alcoholism?" Learn the answer here.

Alcoholism is a common term used to describe alcohol misuse, but when people talk about alcoholism, what they are actually referring to is an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder can cause significant damage to the body. Given this fact, some people may even ask, “Can you die from alcoholism?” Learn the answer, as well as information about the dangers of alcohol use disorder, below. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol misuse, you may benefit from medication assisted treatment for alcohol use, which can help you to safely stop drinking and reduce your risk of alcohol-related health problems. 

Alcohol-Related Death 

It is common for people to wonder, “Can you die from drinking?” The answer is that alcohol misuse can lead to death in some cases. In fact,recent research in the United States shows that alcohol is responsible for 2.6% of deaths in the country.

Dying from alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder is usually the result of complications arising from alcohol addiction. An alcohol use disorder is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction, and it is diagnosed when a person continues to drink, despite serious consequences, such as health problems, interpersonal conflict, or inability to fulfill duties at work or home. 

A person with an alcohol use disorder will continue drinking even in the face of consequences, because brain changes from chronic alcohol misuse lead to compulsive drinking. A person may desire to stop drinking, but they are unable to cut back on alcohol. This can lead to chronic, heavy alcohol misuse, which can ultimately cause health problems, and in some cases, death. 

Rate of Alcohol-Related Deaths In The US

Recent data from the US show that there were 944,880 deaths from alcohol in the United States between 1999 and 2017. In 2017, 2.6% of the almost 2.8 million deaths in the country involved alcohol, which equates to approximately 72,600 deaths. 

In most cases, deaths from alcohol misuse are a result of chronic, heavy drinking, rather than acute causes. Furthermore, as of 2017, 25.5 per 100,000 deaths in the United States were a result of alcohol-related causes.

Chronic liver disease is a common reason for dying from alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, rates of death from liver disease are on the rise. The graph below depicts the increase in deaths from liver disease over the past three years. Many of these deaths are linked to alcohol misuse. 

Liver Disease Deaths Per Year in Thousands, United States

Who May Be At Risk?

Anyone who misuses alcohol chronically may be at risk of alcohol-related death, but some people are at higher risk than others. For instance,research shows that men are more likely than women to die from alcohol-related causes, and nearly three-fourths of alcohol-related deaths occur in men. The American Indian/Native Alaskan population is also more likely than other groups to die from alcohol use disorder. Finally, people aged 55 to 64 are more likely than other age groups to die from reasons related to alcohol misuse. 

Book appointment

Next day availability for medications, therapy, and coaching, book your appointment now.

Book appointment

Causes of Alcohol-Related Deaths

People may wonder, “How does alcoholism kill you?” The answer is that there are numerous reasons that alcohol can lead to death. Contributing factors to alcohol-related death are listed below. 

Alcohol Poisoning

According to the CDC, an average of 6 people die each day in the United States from alcohol poisoning. This equates to around 2,200 deaths from alcohol poisoning each year. Alcohol poisoning occurs when people drink excessive amounts in a short period of time, and it is most likely to affect middle-aged adults. 


The CDC reports that drinking too much overtime can lead to health problems, including cancer, which can lead to death from alcohol misuse. 

Heart Failure

Chronic, excessive alcohol use can take a toll on the cardiovascular system. Drinking too much is associated with high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and irregular heart rhythms, all of which can eventually lead to heart failure if untreated. 

Liver Damage

According to recent data, 60.1% of alcohol-related deaths in men and 69.1% of deaths in women can be attributed to alcohol liver disease. Liver damage is a main contributing factor to deaths from alcohol misuse.

End-Stage Alcoholism 

Researchers have defined “end stage alcoholism” as the most severe stage of alcohol use disorder, when a person prioritizes alcohol over everything else in life, including work and family. A person in this stage spends most of their day drinking and is likely to have a variety of health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and other alcohol-related ailments. Left untreated, end stage alcoholism leads to death. 

Car Accidents

Research has found that alcohol misuse is linked to deaths from injuries, including those from motor vehicle crashes. In fact, just under half of deaths from motor vehicle crashes are attributed to alcohol. 


Deaths from violence can also be attributed to alcohol misuse. One recent study found that 29% of homicide deaths were due to alcohol. 

Untreated Withdrawal 

People who have been drinking heavily over a long period of time are likely to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can be severe. 

The most serious cases of alcohol withdrawal can lead to a condition called delirium tremens, which is associated with extreme disorientation and altered heart rhythms. When left untreated, delirium tremens can lead to death from seizures, heart failure, electrolyte imbalance, sepsis, or respiratory distress.

How To Prevent Alcohol-Related Deaths And Other Health Complications 

Drinking excessively can lead to an alcohol use disorder, which places a person at risk of numerous health problems related to alcohol misuse. To prevent alcohol-related deaths and health issues, it is important to keep drinking levels within a safe limit. 

For those who choose to consume alcohol, drinking in moderation is recommended to reduce the risk of health problems. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

For women, consuming more than 7 drinks per week is considered heavy alcohol use. For men, heavy alcohol use occurs with more than 14 drinks per week. Binge drinking, defined as 5 or more drinks in one sitting for a male and 4 or more drinks in one sitting for a female, is also considered dangerous and can increase the risk of alcohol -related problems.

If you drink more than the recommended limits, cutting back your alcohol use reduces your risk of addiction and health consequences. When you’ve tried to stop drinking but have been unsuccessful, you may have an alcohol use disorder. In this case, reaching out for treatment can help you to stop drinking. Medications like naltrexone can be prescribed by a doctor to reduce drinking and prevent alcohol-related health complications. Medication-assisted treatment in combination with behavioral treatments, like counseling, is beneficial for treating alcohol use disorders. 

Book with Confidant

Book with a vetted Confidant Health provider

Book appointment

Alcoholism FAQs

If you’re asking the question, “Can you die from alcoholism?” the following information is also helpful. 

How Long Do Alcoholics Live?

Alcohol can cut your life short. According to a study of people who were hospitalized for alcohol use disorder, men with this condition live an average of 47 to 53 years, and women live 50 to 58 years. 

How Long Does It Take An Alcoholic To Die?

Whether alcohol use disorder results in death depends upon a variety of factors, such as the severity of alcohol misuse, a person’s genetics, and whether they seek treatment. Research has found that people who are hospitalized for alcohol use disorder have a life expectancy that is reduced by 24 to 28 years compared to the general population. 

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Dying From Alcoholism?

If someone is dying from alcohol use disorder, it is likely that alcohol has become the top priority in their life. They will spend most of their day drinking, and they will continue to drink, despite having a variety of health problems, such as liver disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. 

How Many People Die From Alcohol?

The number of deaths related to alcohol varies, depending upon whether deaths are defined as those directly attributed to alcohol, or as deaths at least partially attributed to alcohol. A recent study found that in 2017, 72,600 people aged 16 and above died from causes related to alcohol misuse. 

What Are The Stages of Alcoholism?

Dying from alcoholism is more likely to occur in the later stages of alcohol use disorder. Researchers have divided alcohol addiction into four stages, with addiction growing progressively worse during each stage. 

These four stages are as follows:

  • Pre-Alcoholic Stage: During this first stage of alcohol misuse, a person may drink to help them relax or sleep better. They drink more than others, but it may not be obvious yet, because they are not experiencing serious consequences from alcohol misuse. Others may start to notice that the person usually has a drink at social functions. This stage involves turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Early-Stage Alcoholism: This stage is characterized by regular binge drinking and blackouts. A person in this stage may not drink daily, but all of their social occasions and nights out involve alcohol. Repeated heavy drinking leads to a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, as the body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol in the system. 
  • The Middle Alcoholic Stage: At this point, friends and family begin to notice the seriousness of a person’s alcohol misuse. Relationships decline, and performance at work or school may begin to suffer because of alcohol. A person in this stage develops a high tolerance for alcohol and will need increasing amounts to achieve the same effects. They also begin to drink at inappropriate times, such as while at work or before driving. 

In the middle stage, physical signs of alcohol misuse start to become apparent.                        

These signs can include bloating, weight gain, and memory problems. The good news is that health problems that arise at this stage typically are not severe, and they can be reversed with treatment. 

  • End Stage Alcoholism: In this final stage, a person typically drinks all day, and the signs of alcohol addiction are obvious to others. A person may have made several failed attempts to stop drinking. Alcohol has become the top priority, and a person may even lose their job or family because of drinking. Major alcohol-related health problems arise during this stage, and if not treated, alcohol use disorder can lead to death. 

Can Alcohol Cause Death?

Alcohol misuse increases the risk of death from multiple causes. Some of these causes of death, such as alcohol poisoning or liver cirrhosis, are 100% attributable to alcohol, whereas other causes like cancer or high blood pressure are only partly due to alcohol misuse. The bottom line is that excessive alcohol consumption can directly lead to death, and it also increases the risk of serious health problems which can ultimately be fatal.

Can You Die Suddenly Of Alcoholism?

In some cases, people with an alcohol use disorder may die suddenly. One cause of sudden death among people who misuse alcohol is cardiac arrhythmia. Sudden cardiac arrhythmia deaths in people with a history of excessive alcohol use are associated with fatty changes in the liver. It is believed that excessive alcohol consumption and starvation leads to metabolic changes that ultimately cause cardiac arrhythmia. 

Can You Drink Yourself To Death?

Unfortunately, drinking to the point of death is possible, especially with chronic alcohol use. For instance, 20 years of heavy drinking is likely to lead to a variety of health issues, like liver problems, heart abnormalities, and metabolic issues. Without treatment, heavy drinking can cause health to deteriorate, to the point of death.

Recover From Alcohol Misuse With Confidant’s Online Doctors

If you have been unsuccessful with cutting back on drinking, you may have an alcohol use disorder. Medication assisted treatment for alcohol use may help you to stop drinking and reduce your risk of complications from alcohol misuse. At Confidant Health, we can offer online doctor support for medication assisted treatment services, so you can begin recovering from home.

Download our app today, available on both the Apple Store and Google Play Store, to begin recovery today. 

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

Book appointment
Confidant mobile app screens
Get immediate access to the care you need today

Scan the QR code below to download the app.

QR code to download the app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play