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Problem drinking: 3 things to know about how alcohol impacts safety

Alcohol plays a prominent role in our country's social life, and it's a role that comes with significant risks.

One set of risks involves long-term effects on the body from excessive consumption over a long period of time. Such consumption can cause conditions such as liver damage or diabetes.

More immediately, however, alcohol can also have negatively affect safety in multiple ways. Even a moderate amount can contribute to serious accidents, injuries and deaths from car wrecks, falls and other unwanted occurrences.

Here are three important things to know about how alcohol consumption affects safety.

Fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers number more than 10,000 every year in the U.S.

Crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers take more than 10,000 lives every year in America. In 2016, the number was 10,497.

This number is down by about a third from what it was in the 1980s. Since then, Tennessee and other states have lowered the blood-alcohol threshold for drunk driving to .08.

But 10,000 deaths a year is still a huge number. Nationally, that's nearly 29 people per day.

Alcohol consumption doesn't have to be at the drunk-driving level to be a factor in causing wrecks.

Research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can raise the risk of accidents and injuries in a big way.

It isn't only motor vehicle wrecks, either. According to data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcohol consumption is involved in half of all drownings.

Alcohol is also one of the causal factors in about 30 percent of deaths from suicide.

Alcohol is a factor in many falls and senior citizens are especially vulnerable.

Alcohol is also involved in many falls because it negatively affects a person's coordination. Indeed, the NIH puts the percentage of falls in which alcohol is a factor at 60 percent.

As we've discussed before, fall prevention for elderly people is especially important. With thinner bones, seniors can easily fracture an arm or hip and experience a cascading of problems after a bad fall.

Seniors are also more likely than younger people to be on medication, and the interaction of meds and alcohol can contribute to balance problems and falls.

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