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U.S. Pandemic Causes Massive Increase in Alcohol Related Deaths

Alcohol bottles
U.S. Pandemic Causes Massive Increase in Alcohol Related Deaths. Credit: Erik Jaeger / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

There was a massive increase of 26% in alcohol-related deaths during the first year of the COVID 19 pandemic in the United States. A new study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention on Friday found at least one in eight deaths among Americans aged 20 to 64 could be linked to alcohol.

According to the CDC, from 2000 through 2018, age-adjusted alcohol-related deaths rose yearly, but never at a rate higher than 7%. Yet when the pandemic hit, many people heavily increased their drinking.

A trend has evidently been brewing for nearly two decades in which excessive drinking is killing middle-aged adults ages 55 through 64. Still, it ramped up to an alarming pace when the coronavirus pandemic began.

Highest rate ever

The clinical director of the Addiction Consult Service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Kristopher Kast, said that the new research “unmasks the fact that we have a vulnerable population that was also living through the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Head of the study, Merianne Spencer, head of the study, also told The Associated Press that this tremendous increase represents marks the highest rate in at least 40 years, with about 13 deaths per 100,000 Americans.

Alcohol related deaths
Alcohol related deaths. Credit: CDC / Public Domain

Women accounted for the biggest one-year jump in death rates. Overall, alcohol deaths among the female sex rose by 27% from 2019 to 2020.

The increase was sharper among those aged 35 to 44, as the numbers went from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 to 10.2 per 100,000 in 2020. That represents an increase of almost 42%.

The second largest was among women ages 25 to 34, with a rise of 34%. The overall rates were low, however: 2.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, up to 3.9 per 100,000 in 2020.

Women, especially mothers, most affected

The facts mirror a distressing issue affecting women, specifically mothers who took on extra child care responsibilities at home when schools went into lockdown.

The CDC reported that even though depression was the most contributing factor in the first year of the pandemic, there may have been a number of other reasons for the spike, with 52,000 deaths classified as “alcohol-induced”, up from 39,000 in 2019.

alcohol related deaths
Dietary guidelines for Americans on Alcohol. Credit: CDC / Public Domain

Some of these include deaths from alcohol-caused liver failure, alcohol poisoning, and complications from alcohol withdrawal.

Marissa Esser, the head of the CDC’s alcoholism division, revealed to AP that additional deaths may have been due to people with alcohol-related illnesses being unable to receive medical care during the pandemic.

Other causes of alcohol-related death

In the new report, liver disease, drunk driving, mental and behavioral health disorders, such as withdrawal were also major causes of these alcohol-related deaths.

Kast said that additional causes were acute pancreatitis, an inflammatory pancreas condition which occurs with sudden changes in drinking, especially in people with other, underlying health problems.

alcohol related deaths
Alcohol related deaths. Credit: CDC / Public Domain

The overall rates of alcohol-related pancreatitis deaths were quite low, from 0.1 per 100,000 people in 2019 to 0.2 per 100,000 in 2020. Nonetheless, they do represent a doubling in a single year.

“With that increased rate” of drinking, Kast said, “we saw this increase in mortality.”

Excessive drinking also leads to premature deaths which result from drinking too much in a short time, causing alcohol poisoning in addition to others substances as well as suicides.

The costs to the nation

Excessive drinking is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States in addition to being very costly. The most recent year of data available is in 2010, when the nation paid $249 billion dollars.

The real costs of alcohol use
The real costs of alcohol use. Credit: CDC / Public Domain

Some of the preventive measures for the problem include choosing to drink only on certain days and by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women,

Of course, choosing not to drink is the best solution. This is especially true for expectant mothers, those younger than 21 year,  individuals who have certain medical conditions, or those certain medicines that can interact with alcohol.

Preventive measures

People recovering from an alcohol use disorder or those who are unable to control the amount they drink should also keep a check on their drinking, and learn more about the benefits of drinking less alcohol.

There are support effective community strategies they to whom they can reach out  to prevent excessive alcohol use, such as those recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force which provide counseling.

States can also reduce the availability and accessibility of alcohol and increase its price. This, for example, could including regulating the number and concentration of alcohol outlets, limiting days and hours of alcohol sales, and avoiding further privatization of alcohol sales.


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