Alcoholism may be twice as deadly for women as for men, according to a new study to be published in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The 14-year study from Germany found that women with alcohol addiction were five times more likely to die during those 14 years than women in the general population—which was about double that of men in the general population.
The study also found that alcoholics who sought intervention through specialized medical treatments or detoxification programs were no more likely to survive than those who did not.
“The treatment system is not really suited yet to increase survival time,” said Ulrich John, an epidemiologist at the University of Greifswald Medical School who authored the new study, which started with a general population of 4,070 people in northern Germany.
Participants in the study were interviewed by researchers who asked about their alcohol use. Based on the participant’s answers, and the criteria for alcoholism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 153 were found to be alcoholics. The researchers then followed up with 149 of the alcoholics 14 years later.
The researchers found that nearly a fifth of the 149 alcoholics had died during the 14 years: seven of the 30 women, and 21 of the 119 men. For the women, this translated to an annual death rate of 1.67 percent; among women in the general population, the annual death rate was 0.36 percent. For the alcoholic men, the annual death rate was 1.26 percent, while the annual death rate for men in the general population was 0.66 percent.
Women tend to develop more of the health risks associated with alcoholism, but the reasons for this are not clear. “Females, in a more short time span, develop diseases such as liver cirrhosis,” John said.
John also said the findings don’t mean that treatments do not improve the survival of alcoholics. People who “suffer from lots of diseases from their alcohol abuse — many more of them are getting into detoxification treatments,” which he said could explain why those in detox programs had a higher mortality rate.
Approximately 11 percent of alcoholics seek help in treatment or detoxification programs, said Susan Foster, of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
“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,” Foster said.
“Treatment must address all manifestations of the disease — only providing treatment for addiction involving alcohol will, by definition, limit the efficacy of treatment results.”
John said his future research will focus on computer-based screening tests for alcoholism problems, and subsequent counseling, in an effort to reach the entire population.