Addressing America’s Preventable Causes of Death

American people
Photo by c3nsored/

One of the priorities of public health organizations and American communities, in general, should be to preserve life for as many Americans as possible. Loss of life is a tragedy under any circumstance, hence the need to protect life as much as possible.

With that in mind, it's shocking and concerning to find that drugs and alcohol have become serious contenders for the leading causes of preventable death in America. Before the turn of the century, though drug and alcohol deaths did occur, they did not happen nearly as often as they do today. But now, Americans are more likely to die from opiate overdoses than they are to die in car accidents.

Those facts say a lot about the sheer prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in America and how critical it is to address these problems immediately.

A Look at Alcohol—The Third Leading Cause of Preventable Death in the United States

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind tobacco and poor diet/lack of physical activity. About 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year.

Alcohol addiction does not just hurt the addicts themselves. Also according to the NIAAA, about 10,000 people die in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle accidents each year. Many of those deaths are innocent motorists and their passengers. And while that sad fact is not by any means a reason to condemn alcohol addicts, it is a reminder of how critical it is that addicts get help and get off of alcohol for life.

One of the particularly concerning aspects of alcohol addiction in America is that, though about 15 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol addiction and millions more misuse alcohol several times each year (but perhaps don't meet the criteria for addiction), alcohol is still widely accepted and commonplace. More people die from alcohol than all drugs combined, yet alcohol is legal, accessible, and its consumption is considered very normal.

Not only is a change in how Americans view alcohol consumption in order, but the 15 million Americans who are addicted will absolutely need to get help. Only by helping those addicted will we be able to drop alcohol from being the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Drugs—A Critical Source of Death in America

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that drug-related deaths have more than tripled since 2000. That not only makes drug overdoses one of the leading causes of accidental, preventable, and unintentional death in America, it also makes drugs one of the fastest-growing causes of death in the nation. According to NIDA, one in four deaths are attributable to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

The Advisory Board indicated that, since 1999, drug overdoses have become one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. In fact, according to their findings, the odds that Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose (1 in 96) are greater than from a car crash (1 in 103).

Child with pill
                             Photo by borgogniels/

Another factor to consider is unintentional poisonings. That is yet another type of drug-related death that is not always given due attention. 

Unintentional poisoning refers to the fact that drugs kill a certain number of Americans every year who not only did not intend to die from taking drugs but who did not even know what they were taking or that it would have that effect on them. 

An example of this type of accidental death is when a child takes a parent's prescription thinking it is candy and then overdoses on it. 

The total number of unintentional poisonings also includes poisonings from other sources (such as cleaning products). Johns Hopkins Medicine estimates that about 33,000 Americans die every year from unintentional poisonings.

The Difference Between Accidental Deaths and Preventable Deaths

Some of the terminologies of how deaths are measured can become confusing. For example, a drug overdose can be an accidental death, but it can also be a preventable death.

  • Accidental death: An accidental death merely refers to any death that was not intentional. Falling off of a roof and dying from one's injuries would be an accidental death. Many drug overdoses are considered accidental deaths because the addict did not intend to overdose and die. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses are among the leading causes of accidental death, with more people dying from drug overdoses than from falls or even from motor vehicle accidents.
  • Preventable death: A preventable death merely refers to a death that did not have to happen. It essentially refers to any death that is not brought on by natural causes. It is a death that could have been avoided through significant public health and primary prevention interventions. An overdose death is also a preventable death because it is entirely unnecessary and could have been avoided had the drug user been helped via addiction treatment.

Drug-related deaths are particularly tragic because they are usually accidental and preventable. The critical point is that there is absolutely no reason for them to happen. Even though tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year, every single one of those deaths is absolutely avoidable.

Addiction Treatment—The Key to Preventing Drug and Alcohol-Related Deaths in America

An addiction to drugs or alcohol does not have to be a death sentence. If you have a family member or loved one who is using drugs or alcohol, please do not let them become a statistic.

Call Narconon today to take the first step towards getting your loved one the help that they need. Without a doubt, getting them into treatment will be the best approach for preventing a drug or alcohol-related death.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.