The number of alcohol-related deaths spiked during the pandemic, suggesting that the Covid death toll may extend beyond the nearly 1 million Americans who died from infections, according to The New York Times.
The number of alcohol-related deaths, including liver disease and accidents, rose 25% between 2019 and 2020, rising from about 79,000 to 99,000, according to a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Between 1999 and 2019, the average annual increase of alcohol-related deaths was about 3.6%. The rate increased about 5% between 2018 and 2019.
Among adults under 65, slightly more people died from alcohol-related causes than from Covid.
Drug overdose deaths also rose during the first year of the pandemic, a 30% increase from 2019. Among young adults between 25 and 44, the rate of drug overdose deaths rose 40%.
Several factors likely exacerbated the number of alcohol-related deaths, including isolation and shutdowns of recovery facilities.
“The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” study author Aaron 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 added. “That’s a lot of pressure on people who are trying to maintain recovery.”
Problem brewing for years:
Drinking deaths among adults have climbed in recent years even as drinking rates among adolescents fell.
“As with many pandemic-related outcomes, this is an exacerbation of issues that were beginning before the pandemic for many people,” Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told the Times. “Drinking has been going up for 10 or 15 years among adults, and the trend accelerated in 2020, as some of the motivations to drink changed: Stress-related drinking increased, and drinking due to boredom increased.”
Total alcohol sales by volume increased by 2.9% in 2020, the biggest increase since 1968.
“We are entering an era in public health where we are talking more about promoting wellness and building resilient people,” White said. “What we are doing now is not sufficient. We need to help people live meaningful purpose-filled lives.”