Alcohol-related deaths spiked in first year of COVID-19 pandemic, study shows

A new study suggests that alcohol-related deaths increased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Researchers published their findings Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Scientists gathered mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics involving people over 16 years old from 2019 and 2020. They also obtained data in the first half of 2021 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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Their findings showed that alcohol-related deaths increased between 2019 and 2020 from 78,927 deaths to 99, 017 deaths. They said deaths from other causes had smaller increases. 

Researchers noted that alcohol-related deaths accounted for 2.8% of all deaths in 2019 and 3.0% in 2020. The number and rate of alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25% between 2019 and 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They said there were increases for all age groups with the largest increase occurring for people between 35 to 44 years old, with a nearly 40% increase, and 25 to 34 years old, with a 37% increase. They also saw larger increases among men compared to women. 

"Deaths involving alcohol reflect hidden tolls of the pandemic," the study’s authors said. "Increased drinking to cope with pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies, and disrupted treatment access are all possible contributing factors."

Researchers said they don’t know if alcohol-related deaths will decline as the pandemic wanes and whether public policy changes are needed. 

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Some states have also noticed an increase in alcohol-related deaths as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.

Alcohol-related deaths in Wisconsin rose almost 25% in 2020, according to a report released in January.

Data compiled by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum shows 1,077 Wisconsin residents died of alcohol-related causes in 2020, up from 865 in 2019. The data was compiled from U.S. residents’ death certificates.

Other states reported an increase in alcohol sales. Sales at municipal liquor stores in Minnesota soared in 2020 for a record-breaking year. Sales at the state’s 213 "munis" jumped 10% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released in October by State Auditor Julie Blaha. In recent years, a typical sales increase has been in the range of 1 to 3%.

According to the International Wines and Spirits Record, Americans consumed 2% more alcohol in 2020 than in 2019. It was the biggest year-over-year increase since 2002.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.