Living Alone Increases Risk of Death for Alcoholics

Living with a spouse, other family member or friend has many hidden benefits. Besides the reasons often given for living with a loved one, such as companionship or cost savings, those who live with someone else also ensure that there is someone around who can keep a tab on physical and mental health.

A new study provides evidence that living with a loved one may be especially important for those who struggle with alcohol dependence. The research, published in PLoS Medicine, suggests that living alone is associated with a higher risk of death related to alcohol consumption.

In the past, the idea that living alone might provide an additional risk to those who are alcohol dependent has not been accepted by the general population of healthcare professionals, those who impact policy related to alcohol-related treatment, or the general public.

However, researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, led by Kimmo Herttua, found that there was a significantly higher number of alcohol-related deaths among those by themselves when compared to those living with others following a 2004 reduction in alcohol prices. The price reduction’s impact on the death rates of those living alone suggests that those living with others were less vulnerable to the impact of alcohol being more available.

The researchers examined data on deaths in Finland recorded between 2000 and 2007, obtaining information on approximately 80 percent of all deaths. They determined that about 18,200 deaths were impacted by alcohol. The causes were, specifically, liver disease, alcohol poisoning, and other alcohol-related situations such as vehicular accidents, injury and cardiovascular complications due to alcohol consumption. About two-thirds of the deaths related to alcohol occurred in individuals who lived alone.

The researchers also found that for those living alone, especially older adults aged 50 to 69 years, the alcohol price reduction was linked to a significant jump in alcohol-related deaths. For the years 2000 to 2003, males living alone were 3.7 times more likely to die as a result of liver disease than their married or cohabitating counterparts. After the price reduction, however, the rate increased to 4.7 times as likely to die of liver disease as their married or cohabitating counterparts. There were similar patterns exhibited among women, though their death rates were lower than those for men.

The authors explain that the results show that living alone is a risk for increased likelihood of death from alcohol-related complications, when the individual has a history of alcohol disorders. These results were consistent despite differences in gender, socioeconomic status and specific cause of death.