Why Alcohol-Related Deaths Spiked During The Pandemic

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022

Alcohol-related deaths have increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for this spike include the effects of lockdowns, high unemployment rates, and more.

Pandemic Alcohol-Related Deaths Spike

In surveys conducted since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 17 percent of respondents said they had engaged in “heavy drinking” in the past 30 days. This is a 14 percent increase in the heavy drinking rate before the pandemic.

Heavy drinking is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks a day for men, and four or more drinks a day for women.

Over time, heavy drinking can pose an array of health risks including liver disease, motor vehicle crashes, alcohol poisoning, drug overdose deaths, and more.

Underlying Causes Of Alcohol Abuse During The Pandemic

Alcohol sales went up with the implementation of stay-at-home orders in the U.S. to prevent COVID-19 transmission, with an annual increase in sales of as much as 262 percent on online marketplaces.

During the first year of the pandemic, the rate of alcohol-related deaths of 16-64 year-olds went up by 25 percent to 74,400 people. This outpaced the fatality rate of people who died from COVID-19.

In nationwide surveys conducted in the United States, a major contributing cause of this higher rate of alcohol consumption is due to stress from job loss during the pandemic.

Additional polls conducted on adults across age groups have pointed to the correlation between binge drinking and negative mental and physical states.

While the figures are striking, it is not an uncommon phenomenon. Traumatic world events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina also resulted in a sharp uptick in drinking rates among Americans.

How The COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Treatment For Alcohol Use

Over half of the people surveyed since the beginning of the pandemic who engaged in heavy drinking stated they were “very interested” in getting help for substance use disorder.

One of the largest obstacles people have faced in getting help is the lingering social distancing rules, along with the inability to find open beds at treatment centers.

Due to these issues, many people who drink alcohol have opted to wait to attend alcohol use disorder treatment. People currently in recovery have also reported that the pandemic was a large factor in their relapse.

Dangers Of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse

The use of alcohol in large quantities can cause several serious health issues and related harms such as risk-taking behavior, agitation, alcohol-attributable heart disease, and more.

Excessive alcohol use may increase the risk of ailments such as:

Alcohol-related diseases can be treated and oftentimes cured with the assistance of a health care provider at a substance abuse treatment program.

What Will It Take To Improve Rates Of Alcohol Abuse Post-Pandemic?

If excessive drinking rates persist, estimates point to a 19 to 35 percent increase in alcohol-related mortality by the year 2040.

While many people have expressed concern about their own drinking habits and want to get help, the underlying issues that contributed to the problem are still being addressed.

As the pandemic wanes, the job market has markedly improved. Many people who got laid off have been able to rejoin the workforce.

Stress from unemployment may be one factor for the uptick in drinking, but once drinking becomes an integral part of your life it can be hard to stop.

To address this ongoing problem, some people have taken it upon themselves to start online support groups, committing to “drying-out periods” of several weeks or months, or even starting their own “sober” bars that sell non-alcoholic beer.

If you or someone you know is drinking heavily, a rehab center may be the best option for providing the focused services needed to address the underlying causes of drinking and eventually lead an alcohol-free life.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction

While alcohol-related mortality has gone up in recent years, help is still available in the form of evidence-based treatment services.

Addiction treatment programs may include:

Services such as medically monitored detox and MAT will wean a person off alcohol while also managing withdrawal symptoms. After detox, many people transition to the next stage of recovery.

This may include residential treatment or outpatient care. Counseling and support groups for alcohol use disorder will help you understand your unhealthy relationship with alcohol and get on track to long-term sobriety.

Find Rehabilitation Services For Substance Use Disorder

For more information on the dangers of alcohol use, call our helpline today. Our team can answer your questions and assist you in finding a treatment program in your area.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022
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