When we talk about alcohol poisoning we aren’t referring to death from the effects of long-term drinking, we’re referring to death from the amount of alcohol in the body at one time.
The CDC, which released its findings on binge drinking earlier this week, says simply, “Alcohol poisoning is caused by drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time.”
Many of the responses to the CDC report showed little surprise that more than three-fourths of the dead were men. But you might assume that the majority would be young men — college guys playing drinking games or just being too inexperienced to know their body’s limits. That was, in fact, the expectation of the CDC according to Ileana Arias, CDC’s deputy principal director who was quoted in NBC News as saying, “We were surprised that the majority … of poisoning groups was not in that (college-aged) group. People tend to think that because they are not in the category that’s at high risk for binge drinking, they’re not then at danger for suffering the harms, including deaths.”
According to the CDC’s report, in the years from 2010 to 2012 about 76 percent of people dying from alcohol poisoning are men, and 76 percent of the total number of dead were between the ages of 35 and 64. Men, in the prime of their lives, drinking themselves to death in one sitting. Most of these men were not alcohol dependent, they weren’t dealing with an addiction, they simply drank more than their body could handle.
There are many relevant factors, and we shouldn’t ignore any of them. Certainly overall health plays a role, because it determines how much alcohol the body can process without shutting down. The CDC report also indicates some correlation between state and local laws governing the price and availability of alcohol and the prevalence of binge drinking.
But the CDC’s report brought to mind another article I had read recently on Salon. “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!” included this passage:
Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than othertypes offriendships.
Followed by this explanation of how that relates to men’s health:
Having a friend to whom you can disclose your feelings a major determinant of well-being. People with friends are healthier. They’re less likely to get common colds, to develop fatal coronary disease, to develop physical impairments or reductions in brain functioning as they age. People with friends are more likely to survive the death of a spouse without any permanent loss of vitality. Medical doctor Dean Ornish explains:
I am not aware of any other factor — not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery — that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and [chance of] premature death.
Depending on which research you consult, people with good friends have a 22-60% lower chance of dying over a 10-year period.
Drinking alone, or going home alone after binge drinking, was one of the factors listed as more likely to result in death for alcohol poisoning. Most people, when they experience the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, may not recognize the severity of their condition or may be unable to get help. Then there is the perception that a “real man” can handle his drink, which might lead any man to wave off offers of help from anyone except a close, trusted friend.
If lack of intimate friends is a significant factor in a man’s likelihood of dying from binge drinking it’s just one more reason to overcome stereotypes about how men are “supposed” to bond, about what men are “supposed” to need from their friends, about how men are “supposed” to talk about their feelings, or how men are “supposed” to handle a few drinks.
We know we have plenty of reasons to challenge stereotypes about men already, but I don’t think it hurts to add this one to the list.
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Photo: Flickr/Samantha Cohen