NEW YORK — The death rate directly attributable to alcohol rose nearly 30% in the United States in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new government data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously said that the total number of such deaths increased in 2020 and 2021. Two CDC reports this week provided more details on the groups with the highest death rates and the states that record the largest numbers.
“Alcohol is often overlooked” as a public health issue, said Marissa Esser, who directs the CDC’s alcohol program. “But it’s a leading preventable cause of death.”
A report released on Friday focused on more than a dozen types of “alcohol-induced” deaths that were blamed entirely on alcohol consumption. Examples include liver or pancreatic failure caused by alcohol, alcohol intoxication, withdrawal, and certain other illnesses. There were more than 52,000 such deaths last year, compared to 39,000 in 2019.
The rate of such deaths had increased in the two decades preceding the pandemic, by 7% or less each year.
In 2020, they increased by 26%, to about 13 deaths per 100,000 Americans. This is the highest rate recorded for at least 40 years, said the study’s lead author, Merianne Spencer.
These deaths are 2.5 times more common in men than in women, but increased for both in 2020, according to the study. The rate continued to be highest among people aged 55 to 64, but rose dramatically for some other groups, including jumping 42% among women aged 35 to 44.
The second report, published earlier this week in JAMA Network Open, looked at a wider range of deaths that may be alcohol-related, such as traffic accidents, suicides, falls and cancers.
Alcohol consumption in the United States was increasing before 2020
More than 140,000 of this broader category of alcohol-related deaths occur each year, based on data from 2015 to 2019, the researchers said. CDC researchers say about 82,000 of those deaths are due to long-term heavy drinking and 58,000 to causes related to acute poisoning.
The study found that up to 1 in 8 deaths among American adults aged 20 to 64 were alcohol-related deaths. New Mexico was the state with the highest percentage of alcohol-related deaths, 22%. Mississippi had the lowest, 9%
Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with chronic dangers such as liver cancer, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Alcohol consumption by pregnant women can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths or birth defects. And health officials say alcohol is a factor in up to a third of serious falls in older people.
It is also a risk to others due to drunk driving or alcohol fueled violence. Surveys suggest that more than half of the alcohol sold in the United States is consumed during binge drinking episodes.
Even before the pandemic, Alcohol consumption in the United States was on the rise, and Americans were drinking more than when Prohibition was enacted. But deaths may have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for several reasons, including people with alcohol-related illnesses may have had a harder time getting medical care, Esser said.
She added that the research underscores the need to examine measures to reduce alcohol consumption, including raising taxes on alcohol and adopting measures that limit where people can buy beer, wine and spirits.
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