U.S. Has Seen Steady Rise in Role of Alcohol, Drugs in Heart Deaths

By   |  January 10, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 10, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease deaths linked with alcohol or drug use have been steadily increasing in the United States, a new study has found.

Deaths from heart disease in which substance use was cited as contributor rose an average of 4% per year between 1999 and 2019, researchers report.

Further, the death rate accelerated in recent years, rising more than 6% from 2012 to 2019, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

This occurred even though overall deaths from heart disease declined during the same period.

“The study results were generally consistent with what we see in our clinic while caring for patients with cardiovascular disease,” senior author Dr. Dmitry Abramov, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Loma Linda University Health in Loma Linda, Calif., said in a news release.

For the study, researchers reviewed publicly available death certificate data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They analyzed more than 636,000 heart disease deaths associated with substance use that occurred between 1999 and 2019. Overall, that rate rose from 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2019.

Alcohol was most often implicated, playing a role in 65% of the deaths from heart disease, researchers found.

Heavy drinking is associated with high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and obesity, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Other substances involved in fatal heart disease included opioids (13.7%); cocaine (9.8%); stimulants (6.5%); sedatives (4.1%); and cannabis (0.5%).

“Although alcohol and opioids were the substances most associated with cardiovascular deaths, the increases in cardiovascular deaths related to stimulants (predominantly amphetamines) during the study period were particularly prominent,” Abramov said.

“This highlights both the ongoing risk of common substances, including alcohol and opioids, and also demonstrates the need to tackle amphetamines as a substance whose contribution to CVD deaths is growing more rapidly,” he added.

The largest increase in deaths occurred among 25- to 39-year-olds (5.3%), followed by adults age 55 to 69 (4.9%), results show.

In addition, increases in deaths were most prominent among women (4.8%), American Indian or Alaskan individuals (5.4%), and people living in rural areas (5%).

“We were surprised to see significant increases among individuals ages 25 to 39, compared to other age groups and among people in certain racial and ethnic groups, including white adults and American Indian/Alaska Native adults,” Abramov said.

While men had higher rates of deaths related to substance use, women showed larger increases during the study period, he pointed out. 

Identifying high-risk groups will be key to prioritizing preventive measures, Abramov said.

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more on alcohol and heart health.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Jan. 10, 2024