Deaths From Alcohol—On The Rise For Decades—Soared During Covid Pandemic, CDC Says

Forbes
Published 2 months ago
Close-up of hand holding wine glass, at late dinner

TOPLINE

Deaths directly linked to alcohol rose sharply during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accelerating a decades-long trend and underscoring the far-reaching impact the outbreak has had on society.

KEY FACTS

The U.S. death rate directly linked to alcohol use jumped 26% between 2019 and 2020, according to the new government data. 

Issues wholly attributed to drinking like alcoholic liver disease, alcohol poisoning or alcohol killed more than 49,000 in the first year of the pandemic, the data showed, up from around 39,000 in 2019.

Ultimately, alcohol caused 13 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2020, up from 10.4 per 100,000 in 2019 and the highest rate the CDC has recorded in decades. 

Men aged 55 to 64 died from alcohol use at a rate of nearly 60 per 100,000 people in 2020, the highest out of any group, and overall alcohol-related deaths were two and a half times as common among men than women. 

Death rates from alcohol increased the most among younger people, however, with the largest jumps for men under 45 and women aged 25 to 44. 

Alcohol-related deaths jumped 50% in men under the age of 25 and around 45% for men ages 25 to 44, the report found, with a 34% increase for women aged 25 to 34 and 42% for women aged 35 to 44.

TANGENT

The report only considers deaths directly attributable to excessive alcohol consumption. As such, it provides an incomplete picture of the health impact of alcohol consumption, which has well documented links to a variety of issues including cancer, mental health problems and cardiovascular disease. Another report published this week in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined the broader range of deaths associated with alcohol consumption in the U.S. for the five years prior to the pandemic (2015-2019). The study, conducted by researchers at the CDC and Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, concluded that alcohol use drove an estimated 695,000 deaths each year in adults aged 20 to 64 years. The figure, which accounted for a broad range of issues including cancers, heart disease and injuries resulting from alcohol use, would attribute roughly 1 in 8 deaths to alcohol use during that time. Among younger adults aged 20 to 49 years, this rose to roughly 1 in 5 total deaths.

KEY BACKGROUND

The research underscores the broader health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic beyond the virus itself and highlights the growing problem of excessive alcohol use for younger Americans. Drinking, and the number of alcohol-related deaths, has been steadily rising for decades in the U.S. (deaths rose by at most 7% a year, according to the CDC data) but the pandemic appears to have accelerated the process. An uptick in drinking has been well-documented as a consequence of the numerous social pressures that comes with the pandemic, for example through the shift to working from home, mandatory isolation or the loss of social support networks. 

BIG NUMBER 

3 million. That’s how many deaths each year result from the harmful use of alcohol, according to the World Health Organization. This represents more than 5% of all deaths, the agency said, though this rate is far higher among younger people. Alcohol contributes to a number of other social and health issues beyond death and the WHO said it was responsible for more than 5% of the global burden of disease and injury. 

FURTHER READING

The pandemic may have created a nation of problem drinkers – and many are women (CNN)

By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff