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Alcohol-related deaths increased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to researchers.
In a study published earlier this month, authors from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that the number and rate of deaths increased approximately 25% between 2019 and 2020 – from 78,927 to 99,017.
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In addition, alcohol-related deaths accounted for 2.8% of all deaths in 2019 and 3% in 2020.
Although the alcohol deaths rose for everybody, people ages 25 to 44 experienced the greatest increases in alcohol-related deaths in 2020.
The rates of deaths increased before the pandemic, but less rapidly.
The rate increase for alcohol-related deaths in 2020 outpaced the increase in all-cause mortality, which was 16.6%.
The institute – a division of the National Institutes of Health – used U.S. mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics to compare the numbers and rates of alcohol-related and all-cause deaths among all individuals 16 years or older in 2019 and 2020.
Provisional data for the first half of 2021 were also obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research.
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Deaths were identified as alcohol-related if an alcohol-induced cause was listed as an underlying or contributing cause.
In 2020, 2,042 death certificates listed alcohol and COVID-19 as causes.
Opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol as a contributing cause increased by more than 40% and there was a 59.2% increase in which alcohol contributed to overdoses specifically on synthetic opioids other than methadone.
The authors said that possible reasons these deaths increased include pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies and disrupted treatment access.
Limitations to the study include inaccurate death certificates and unclear causal relationships among listed causes of deaths.
“Whether alcohol-related deaths will decline as the pandemic wanes, and whether policy changes could help reduce such deaths, warrants consideration,” the authors wrote.
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Dr. Aaron White, the study’s first author and a scientific adviser at the institute, said that available data for 2021 indicates that alcohol-related deaths remained elevated.
“Maybe they’ll go back down,” he told The New York Times on Tuesday, “but this could be the new norm.”
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