Alcohol-related deaths rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic
Alcohol-related deaths rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alcohol-related deaths rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tthe pandemic and its attendant anxiety, boredom and loneliness have not been good for people struggling with alcohol consumption. According to a new study published in JAMA Network Openincreased alcohol-related deaths among U.S. adults aged 25 and up 25% in 2020 and 22% in 2021 compared to average annual deaths from 2012 to 2019.

Led by Dr. Yee Hui Yeo, an internal medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the study relied on a massive database maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which records nearly all deaths in the United States and their causes. From 2012 to 2019, about 11 to 15 annual U.S. deaths per. 100,000 among adults who were at least 25 years old, caused by alcohol abuse (AUD). But over the course of 2020, that number rose to an average of 19 deaths per year. 100,000; in 2021 it was 20.

Not all groups were affected equally. Men and women were similar in alcohol-related mortality, with both showing an increase of 25% in 2020. Age was a much more significant factor. Far and away, the hardest hit age group was the youngest measured – 25 to 44 years old – among whom deaths increased by 40% in 2020 and 33% in 2021. In the age group 45-64 years, deaths increased by 22% and 17%, respectively; for those 65 and older, the increased mortality was 17% and 22%.

Isolation, stress, and the accompanying urge to self-medicate with alcohol were not the only reasons why researchers believe death rates rose. Across the country, doctor visits fell under lockdowns, exacerbating health problems for people suffering from all sorts of conditions, including AUD. Therapy groups to help treat drug addiction were unavailable (or less accessible) during COVID-19 lockdowns, although some moved online.

“Alcoholics Anonymous and Rehabilitation Centers, where it is common to have shared rooms, were closed during the pandemic,” Yeo said in an email to TIME. ‘Even when they reopened, capacity was reduced. In addition, people with AUD may have avoided going to detoxification centers because of the fear of getting COVID-19. “

The actual numbers may be worse than what the study shows, as AUD is often overlooked as a contributing factor when there is a more immediate cause of death such as heart attack or stroke. “We know that alcohol abuse is often underreported,” Yeo said in one announcement that came with the publication of the study, “so that the actual mortality related to alcohol may be even higher.”

Going forward, Yeo expects these numbers to fall. COVID-19 vaccinations, the pandemic-time expansion of Medicaid benefits and the reopening of society – including homeless shelters, rehab centers and social support groups – should all help alleviate the number of alcohol-related deaths, he says. But lame indicators of alcohol abuse can still keep death rates above average for a while.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at [email protected].

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