When it comes to alcohol-related mortality, it still doesn’t look good for Latin and North American men, who account for pretty much all of the nearly 80,000 deaths that occur in their countries each year, a new review from a World Health Organization (WHO) branch has found.
Published in the journal Addiction, the study by the Pan American Health Organization shows that, in 16 North and Latin American countries, male victims make up 84 percent of the national average of 79,456 alcohol-related deaths. Liver disease appears to be the primary killer in most countries. That said, the authors are quick to point out that the figures only include deaths in which alcohol is a “necessary cause” — or, deaths that wouldn’t have occurred had the victim not been drinking.
"The mortality rates found in this study reveal the tip of the iceberg of a broader problem,” Drs. Vilma Gawryszewski and Maristela Monteiro said in a press release. “There is a wide range of diseases and conditions linked to alcohol use, including tuberculosis, heart disease, stroke, epilepsy, falls, suicides, transport-related injuries, and interpersonal violence, among others. Our study simply shows how many deaths are wholly attributable to alcohol consumption.
“The number of deaths for which alcohol consumption is a significant contributing factor is likely to be much higher," they added.
Guys Being Guys
The most sobering statistics came from Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, where alcohol was the necessary cause of about 24 per 100,000 deaths annually. In El Salvador, men were 27.8 times more likely to die in alcohol-related deaths compared to women. For Canada, the U.S., and other nations on the opposite end of the scale, this figure was as low as 3.2.
Still, that means that even where the risk is the lowest, men are more than three times as likely to die from an entirely preventable cause compared to women. This naturally raises the question: Why are men more vulnerable to alcohol death? According to Monteiro, the answer is something of a no-brainer.
“Men still drink more often (prevalence) and in higher amounts (quantity and frequency) than women and therefore fully attributable causes of death are expected to be higher in men than women,” she wrote in an email to Medical Daily. “Women may be biologically more vulnerable to equivalent amounts of alcohol drank by men, but the total number of drinkers/heavy drinkers, in most places, are still men.”
Men, it would appear, are more vulnerable to alcohol death due to the simple fact that they drink more alcohol. But why is this? Why do men consistently outdo women when it comes to making rash decisions, exercising poor judgment, and miscalculating their own tolerance of wine and liquor?
Hubris Is Not Dead
The question is intriguing, because it goes to the core of a cultural and literary canon marked by the hubris of pompous alpha males, who more often than not engage in vain escapades and political power moves that typically get them killed in terrible, terrible ways. While putting together a general theory of this phenomenon may be reserved for philosophers and gender researchers, some aspects have already been probed in a scientific capacity. One example is a 1996 study from the Boston University School of Public Health in which researchers attempt to understand why men are still three times as likely to drown as women.
“Men had elevated risks for exposure, risk taking, and alcohol use,” the researchers said of their results. “It was concluded that several factors contribute to their relatively high drowning rates, including a possible interaction between overestimation of abilities and heavy alcohol use” [my emphasis].
In the end, an explanation of the gender disparity runs the risk of begging the question: Men fail to identify their liqour threshold because they are particularly bad at identifying personal thresholds. And while the research team backs this claim with a range of key statistics, the most telling figure is perhaps revealed in the study’s table on aquatic training and skill. Although the average male takes considerably fewer swimming lessons than the average female, he is significantly more likely to view himself as an excellent swimmer. Hubris, it seems, isn’t as easy to kill as its victims.
Source: Gawryszewski VP, Monteiro MG. Mortality from diseases, conditions and injuries where alcohol is a necessary cause in the Americas, 2007-09. Addiction. 2014.