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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 4, 2023

Take a guess – what compound kills more people every year than opioids? 

By Mark Mattiko, CG-1111, and AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG Writer 

Almost every day in the media, we hear about deaths due to opioids and fentanyl. But another compound kills more people every year than opioids: that compound is alcohol. 

When we think of the consequences of our drinking, most think of the short-term effects – “lt’ll help me relax tonight,” or “If I drink too much, I’m not going to feel good in the morning.” But research tells us that the long-term effects of continued alcohol consumption are even more scary. Even if you don’t have an immediate consequence (such as a driving under the influence – or DUI – arrest), your body knows what you consume. And your body is keeping track. 

Life expectancy 

It’s a healthy, mature question to think about how long our life will last. We can begin by looking at how long our parents and grandparents lived. We can look at the life expectancy for others in our country, culture, or ethnic group. Our everyday choices – what we eat, how much we sleep, who we socialize with – also weave into this mosaic of “life expectancy.” 

Some of these things, you can’t change. But some you can. You can stop negative long-term health effects, including alcohol-induced cancer, in their tracks simply by reducing or eliminating alcohol from your diet. 


More than 380 people die every day from excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

The CDC also reports that deaths from excessive drinking shortened the lives of those who died by an average of 26 years for a total of nearly 3.6 million years of potential life lost. The demographic accounting for these shortened lives predominantly involved men over the age of 35. These premature deaths were mostly due to health effects from drinking too much over time (various types of cancer, liver disease, stroke, and heart disease), but also include: 

  • Deaths from drinking too much in a short time, such as motor vehicle crashes 
  • Poisonings involving substances in addition to alcohol, and  
  • Suicides accounted for more than half of the years of potential life lost. 

Alcohol consumption causes cancer 

When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde (a-suh-TAL’-duh-hide). Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls a cell’s normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancerous tumor. 

The CDC reports that all alcoholic drinks, including red and white wine, beer and liquor, are linked with cancer. The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk. Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting six kinds of cancer:

  • Mouth and throat, 
  • Voice box (larynx), 
  • Esophagus, 
  • Colon and rectum, 
  • Liver, and 
  • Breast (in women). 

The point of providing this information is THIS IS ALL PREVENTABLE! Throughout the month of April, the Office of Work Life, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program Manager will be bringing you more information in subsequent MyCG articles.