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COVID-19 Pandemic Increases Alcohol-Related Deaths


During Alcohol Awareness Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages efforts to improve education, access to treatment, and support networks to address alcohol misuse. Efforts can reduce alcohol-related harm. Deaths from alcohol-related causes have had a significant increase over the past 2 decades in the US, with a notable rise from 2019 to 2020, coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings call for a concerted policy and public health response to address the escalating issue of alcohol-related mortality.

A study by the CDC found that the average annual number of deaths from excessive alcohol use surged by 29.3%, from 137,927 from 2016 to 2017 to 178,307 during 2020–2021. Correspondingly, the age-standardized rate of alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 population increased from 38.1 to 47.6. This overall increase was observed in both genders, with male deaths from excessive alcohol use increasing by 26.8%, from 94,362 per year to 119,606, and female deaths increasing by 34.7%, from 43,565 per year to 58,701.

“From 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, the average annual number of US deaths from excessive alcohol use increased by more than 40,000 (29%), from approximately 138,000 per year (2016–2017) to 178,000 per year (2020–2021),” according to the CDC. “This increase translates to an average of approximately 488 deaths each day from excessive drinking during 2020–2021.”1

Main Takeaways

  1. Over the past 2 decades, and especially from 2019 to 2020, the US has seen a marked rise in deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use.
  2. The increase in alcohol-related deaths has affected both men and women, but the surge has been particularly pronounced among women.
  3. The data, especially poignant during Alcohol Awareness Month, underscores the critical need for comprehensive policy and public health strategies to address the escalating crisis of alcohol-related mortality.

The limitations begin with population-attributable fractions calculated using data from individuals currently consuming alcohol. Since individuals who previously consumed alcohol might also die from alcohol-related causes, this approach could underestimate alcohol-attributable deaths. Second, conditions such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, where excessive alcohol use is a risk factor, were not included due to the lack of relative risk estimates for the US population. This omission contributes to an undercount of deaths in this report.

Previous reporting by Contagion discusses the impact of COVID-19 on hospitalizations for alcohol-associated hepatitis.

“Alcohol consumption is a common coping mechanism for psychological distress as confirmed by a significant increase of alcoholic beverages sales during the peak of the pandemic in the US. Little is known about the impact of COVID-19 infection among hospitalized alcohol-associated hepatitis patients.”2

Total hospitalization cases decreased from approximately 35.8 million in 2015 to 35.4 million in 2019, and again to 32.4 million in 2020—an 8.7% decline from 2019 – 2020. Total hospitalization cases for alcohol-associated hepatitis totaled 110,135 (0.31% of all hospitalizations) in 2015, increasing to 136,620 (0.39%) in 2019. The total increased significantly in 2020, to 157,885 (0.49%; P <.0001)—a 15.6% increase from 2019 – 2020.

In observing Alcohol Awareness Month, this recent US data reveals a concerning rise in alcohol-related deaths especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC’s findings underscore the need for public health action to address this crisis.

References

  1. Esser M, Sherk A, Liu Y, et. al. Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use — United States, 2016–2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Published February 29, 2024. Accessed April 4, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/73/wr/mm7308a1.htm?s_cid=mm7308a1_w
  2. Kunzmann K. Hospitalizations for Alcohol-Associated Hepatitis Saw Increases During Pandemic. Contagion. Published September 2, 2023. Accessed April 4, 2024. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/hospitalizations-for-alcohol-associated-hepatitis-saw-increases-during-pandemic



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