Alcohol Deaths Soared During the Pandemic, Especially for Young People

While sheltering from the virus a record number of Americans drank themselves to death or died from alcohol-related causes
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While nearly a million people have died from COVID in the United States, a record number of Americans were also killed by the heavy drinking that accompanied the isolation and fear the pandemic brought with it in its first year.

According to a study published Friday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. were up 25 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, the New York Times reports.

Researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, used information from death certificates, including all deaths in which alcohol was listed as an underlying or contributing cause, to arrive at the alarming statistic.

While it’s no secret that many Americans imbibed heavily to cope with lockdowns, layoffs, loss of loved ones and other hardships associated with COVID-19 and its variants, the new report found that alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, rose to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 2019—an overall jump of 25 percent in just one year.

In comparison, the average annual increase in alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2019 was 3.6 percent per year. Death rates had been creeping up slightly in recent years, but increased just 5 percent between 2018 and 2019.

In another eye-catching stat, researchers found that more adults below the age of 65 died from alcohol-related causes than they did from COVID in 2020. That year, 74,408 Americans ages 16 to 64 died of alcohol-related causes, while 74,075 people under 65 died of COVID.

The hardest-hit demographic in 2020 were young adults ages 25 to 44, whose alcohol-death tally shot up 40 percent over the previous year, the new report states.

The hardest-hit demographic in 2020 were young adults ages 25 to 44, whose alcohol-death tally shot up 40 percent over the previous year, the new report states.

Overall, the 25 percent rate of increase for alcohol-related deaths in 2020 outpaced the rate of increase of deaths from all causes, which was 16.6 percent.

According to the study, a significant number of those who died from alcohol had been seeking treatment before the virus struck.

“The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” Aaron White, the report’s first author and a senior scientific adviser at the alcohol abuse institute, told the Times.

“Stress is the primary factor in relapse, and there is no question there was a big increase in self-reported stress, and big increases in anxiety and depression, and planet-wide uncertainty about what was coming next,” White said. “That’s a lot of pressure on people who are trying to maintain recovery.”

No one was immune to the liquor pandemic, the report found. Men, women, as well as every ethnic and racial group saw a spike in booze-associated deaths. And while deaths among men and women increased at about the same rate, the absolute number of deaths among men was much higher.

Available data for 2021 indicates that alcohol-related deaths remained elevated, Dr. White said. However, he added that it is hard to predict if the trend will continue because alcohol consumption and deaths generally drop in February after the holidays and then shoot up again.

“Maybe they’ll go back down,” White told the Times, “but this could be the new norm.”


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