Alcohol-Related Deaths Increased Amid a Spike in Pandemic Drinking

U.S. Alcohol Consumption Soars During COVID-19 Pandemic | Time

Excellent Washington Post article by and reported on federal data showing U.S. consumption of alcohol accelerated during the COVID-19 Pandemic as Americans grappled with stress and isolation.

Mississippi saw a 159 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths, the nation’s biggest leap, along with a 10 percent rise in apparent consumption. In Delaware, consumption increased the most, by 25 percent, while alcohol-related deaths rose 73 percent.

George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said the traumas of the pandemic brought the increase. The fear of covid-19 infection, job losses, social isolation added to everyday stresses that were already spurring people to drink.

Experts point to a variety of factors for the increase, among them stagnant alcohol taxes that make drinking cheap relative to inflation, increased marketing to women and social despairs that have led to crises of mental health and addiction in the United States.

The NIAAA Report.

According to NIAAA data, apparent consumption of alcohol, measured as gallons of ethanol sold per capita, increased by 6.6 percent between 2018 and 2021 across the United States.  Overall consumption reached an average of about 2.8 gallons per person annually — roughly 597 drinks per year — for Americans over 21.

That’s the highest consumption level since 1988.

The drinking patterns reported by the NIAAA varied significantly by state. In nine states — including Florida, Tennessee and New Jersey — alcohol consumption increased by at least 10 percent.

The NIAAA data suggests that increased alcohol consumption may be more pronounced than previously believed. The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults of drinking age reported drinking the same or less than they did before the pandemic. Researchers say this type of survey data can mask risky behavior or changes in drinking habits because respondents often underreport their alcohol use.

Alcohol-related Deaths Increased in Every State.

As alcohol use was surging, so were alcohol-related deaths. Between 2018 and 2021, deaths caused by alcohol increased in every state, according to CDC mortality data. Some states that had some of the biggest increases in consumption also had some of the largest spikes in alcohol-related death rates. In Mississippi, the rate of deaths caused by alcohol more than doubled in a four-year span, rising from 7 deaths per 100,000 residents to about 18 deaths per 100,000 in 2021.

“The costs of alcohol abuse and dependence are phenomenal,” said Jefferson Parker, a professor of psychiatry who co-directs a new addiction treatment program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which last fall received a $6 million federal grant to help treat alcohol use disorder, along with opioid addiction.

New Mexico had more than 51 deaths per 100,000 residents, the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the country, and an increase of almost 50 percent from its rate in 2018. Death rates related to alcohol also nearly doubled in Montana, South Dakota and Delaware during that time.

Who Was Drinking?

Younger drinkers saw the biggest increase in the rate of alcohol-related deaths, which spiked by nearly 80 percent among 25-to-44-year-olds, a Washington Post analysis of CDC data found. For every 100,000 people within that age range, 12 people died of alcohol-related issues in 2021, the analysis found.

Older age groups didn’t see rises that dramatic but already had high rates. People between the ages of 55 and 64 had the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, at 42 per 100,000. Those findings add to similarly grim statistics. A CDC study published last fall estimated that between 2015 and 2019, excessive alcohol use was to blame for 1 in 8 deaths of Americans between the ages of 20 and 64.

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