The number of deaths in the United States from alcohol-related causes soared during the coronavirus pandemic, jumping 25% year-over-year in 2020, according to a new study.
Researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published the results of their study into the number of alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic in The Journal of the American Medical Association last week. The New York Times outlined the results on Tuesday:
Numerous reports have suggested that Americans drank more to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Binge drinking increased, as did emergency room visits for alcohol withdrawal. But the new report found that the number of alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, soared, rising to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 the previous year — an increase of 25 percent in the number of deaths in one year.
That compares with an average annual increase of 3.6 percent in alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2019. Deaths started inching up in recent years, but increased only 5 percent between 2018 and 2019.
The new study is another data point in a growing body of evidence showing the significant side effects of COVID-19 and widespread lockdowns meant to combat the virus. Alcohol-related mortality was particularly poignant in 2020 as the data shows a greater relative increase than deaths from all causes. According to the study:
The number of deaths involving alcohol increased between 2019 and 2020 (from 78 927 to 99 017 [relative change, 25.5%]), as did the age-adjusted rate (from 27.3 to 34.4 per 100 000 [relative change, 25.9%]). Comparatively, deaths from all causes had smaller relative increases in number (from 2 823 460 to 3 353 547 [18.8%]) and rate (from 938.3 to 1094.3 per 100 000 [16.6%]). Alcohol-related deaths accounted for 2.8% of all deaths in 2019 and 3.0% in 2020.
The research showed that alcohol-related deaths increased across all age brackets, but the age group most affected was 35 to 44 years old cohort, a group not typically at high risk for COVID-19 without comorbidities.
The study says:
Rates increased for all age groups, with the largest increases occurring for people aged 35 to 44 years (from 22.9 to 32.0 per 100 000 [39.7%]) and 25 to 34 years (from 11.8 to 16.1 per 100 000 [37.0%]). Increases in rates were similar for females (from 13.7 to 17.5 per 100 000 [27.3%]) and males (from 42.1 to 52.6 per 100 000 [25.1%])
Among adults younger than 65, alcohol-related deaths in 2020 outpaced deaths from COVID-19; 74,408 people ages 16 to 64 died that year from alcohol-related causes versus 74,075 people in the same age range died from the coronavirus.
Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the institute and the study’s first author, said that restricted access to alcohol abuse treatment facilities during the pandemic played a major role in the uptick in alcohol related deaths.
“The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” White 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,” he said. “That’s a lot of pressure on people who are trying to maintain recovery.”