Pandemic Poison

All sexes and age groups experienced a surge in alcohol use disorder mortality rates during the pandemic years.

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“I need a drink.” A phrase often uttered after a hard, stressful day. Imagine how frequently it’s said after two-and-a-half hard, stressful years. The increased sales and consumption of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic are well-documented. Excessive drinking and alcohol use disorder were on the rise prior to 2020. The unprecedented stress of the pandemic and the seemingly relentless cascade of catastrophic world events have caused a bubbling public health crisis to spill over.

Dr. Yee Yeo and team analyzed CDC data on alcohol use disorder from 2012-2019 to calculate the projected rates of alcohol-related mortality for 2020 and 2021. The solid black lines in the 2020 and 2021 bars mark the projected amounts alcohol-related deaths based on historical data. The green area above the lines represents the actual number of recorded excess deaths attributed to alcohol use disorder not related to COVID-19. The dark area at the top of the bars represents the deaths related to COVID-19 complications. The actual death toll attributable to alcohol use disorder in 2020 was 25% higher than what was estimated for the year, and actual deaths in 2021 were 22% higher than the projection.

All sexes and age groups experienced a surge in alcohol use disorder mortality rates during the pandemic years. However, the youngest age group (25-44) had the largest spike in mortality, 41% over the 2020 projected estimate.

The authors suggest that the pandemic induced social isolation and reduced alcoholism treatment resources, which likely contributed to more alcohol misuse and excess alcohol use disorder deaths. Alcohol was used during the pandemic as a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms. Drinking larger amounts and drinking more frequently increase the likelihood of developing a disorder.

Alcohol-related deaths continued to rise every year over the past decade and the pandemic has only brought the problem to new heights.

Databyte via Yee Hui Yeo, Xinyuan He, Peng-Sheng Ting, et al. Evaluation of Trends in Alcohol Use Disorder–Related Mortality in the US Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Network Open, 2022.