Alcohol-Related Deaths Rose Significantly During Beginning of Pandemic

Hand holding wine glassHand holding wine glass
Getty Images

According to recent reports, alcohol-related deaths have increased significantly since the years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Death rates connected to alcohol rose significantly during the first year of the pandemic, according to new data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously reported an increase in the overall number of alcohol-related deaths in 2020 and 2021, and two new reports this week showed a 30 percent increase.

Further details on which groups have the highest death rates and which states are seeing the largest numbers were also included in the reports.

"Alcohol is often overlooked" as a public health problem, said Marissa Esser, who leads the CDC's alcohol program. 

"But it is a leading preventable cause of death."

According to Esser, alcohol-related deaths may have increased during the beginning of the pandemic due to trouble accessing medical care.

One of the reports, released on Friday, focused on more than a dozen kinds of "alcohol-induced" deaths. These were completely attributed to drinking, including examples such as alcohol-caused liver or pancreas failure, alcohol poisoning, withdrawal and certain other diseases. 

According to the report, the rate of these deaths had been increasing in the two decades before the pandemic, by 7% or less each year, but over 52,000 such deaths occurred last year, an increase from 39,000 in 2019.

In 2020, they rose 26%, to about 13 deaths per 100,000 U.S. residents, making it the highest rate recorded in at least 40 years, according to the study's lead author, Merianne Spencer.

The rate of death continued to be highest for people ages 55 to 64, but rose dramatically for certain other groups, according to the data.

This included a 42% increase among women ages 35 to 44.

The second report, published earlier this week in JAMA Network Open, looked at a wider range of deaths. 

These included deaths that could be linked to drinking, such as motor vehicle accidents, suicides, falls, and cancers, according to the study.

Based on data from 2015 to 2019, over 140,000 of those alcohol-related deaths occur annually, and as many as 1 in 8 deaths among U.S. adults ages 20 to 64 were alcohol-related, according to the study.

According to the data, New Mexico had the highest percentage of alcohol-related deaths at 22 percent, with Mississippi having the lowest at 9 percent.

According to Esser, future research points should look into steps to reduce alcohol consumption, including increasing alcohol taxes and enacting measures that limit where people can buy beer, wine, and liquor.

Related Stories