Alcohol Killed More Under-65 Americans Than COVID in 2020

Alcohol killed more people than COVID

By Matt Stieb, Intelligencer

A new study led by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveals the staggering impact of early-pandemic isolation on Americans with substance-abuse problems.

Researchers sifted through death certificates to tally deaths in which alcohol was found to be an underlying or contributing cause. They determined that more than 99,000 people suffered alcohol-related deaths in 2020 — a 25.5 percent spike over the previous year. More adults under 65 died from alcohol-related factors (74,408) than from COVID-19 (74,075) in 2020.

Alcohol-related deaths, ranging from alcohol poisoning to liver disease and accidents, have been crawling upward over the past two decades with an average annual increase of 3.6 percent between 1999 and 2019. But the stark jump from 78,927 deaths in 2019 to 99,017 in 2020 confirms studies showing that people drank more to manage pandemic stress. And it reveals the toll of the disrupted treatment programs and fragmented support networks that were a byproduct of pandemic-mitigation measures. “The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” study author Aaron White told the New York Times.

The numbers are consistent with an overall increase in mortality indirectly linked to COVID. In February, the U.S. passed 1 million excess deaths since the pandemic began — a number that includes confirmed COVID fatalities (which are approaching 1 million) as well as an uptick in deaths from causes including heart disease, hypertension, dementia, and substance abuse. Between May 2020 and April 2021, over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.

Steib, M. (2022). Alcohol killed more under-65 Americans than COVID in 2020. New York Magazine. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/alcohol-killed-more-under-65-americans-than-covid-in-2020.html

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