When we think of alcohol’s human toll, two causes come to mind: car crashes and cirrhosis. And indeed, twisted metal and scarred livers caused by alcohol consumption kill about 43,000 people in the United States every year.Ten thousand or so
absorb their mortal injuries in milliseconds courtesy of booze-complicit auto accidents; the rest sustain their damage over years, via ethanol’s continued erosion of the liver.
These are big numbers, but only part of the story of alcohol’s health impacts. Alcohol is behind about 88,000 U.S. deaths a year, according to
the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA, part of the National Institutes of Health). So what’s killing the other half?
It turns out that heavy alcohol use shares with smoking an ability to harm the body well beyond the narrow bounds of the liver or lungs. In the case of drinking, the cardiovascular system suffers, too (as it does with smoking). But alcohol also hinders the body’s ability to fight infection and even heal broken bones. And new science, led by new University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers, shows that alcohol’s effects on the immune system are more profound – and potentially dangerous – the older you get.