In a report released last Friday (November 4), the CDC detailed how alcohol-related deaths among middle-aged U.S. adults have been steadily increasing for nearly 20 years. But between 2019 and 2020 — when COVID-19 descended upon the country and upended the lives of nearly every American — the alcohol-related mortality rate shot up more than 26 percent. The increase was even steeper among women ages 35 to 44, whose mortality rate spiked by a staggering 42 percent. Liver disease and mental and behavioral health disorders were the leading causes of death noted.
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Since 2000, the CDC has observed steady upticks in alcohol deaths annually but never at a rate higher than 7 percent.
Speaking to NBC News, Dr. Kristopher Kast, clinical director of the Addiction Consult Service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the new CDC data “unmasks the fact that we have a vulnerable population that was also living through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At this point, it is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s mental health. Between isolating pandemic-related shutdowns, widespread loss, and an anxiety-inducing sense of uncertainty, 2020 was a particularly challenging time. Parents and their children were also hit very hard. And for anybody who was already struggling with their mental health, the stress likely compounded.
Sadly, the CDC’s bleak findings are in line with other reports on alcohol consumption during the pandemic. A JAMA study published in March of this year found that alcohol-related deaths between 2019 and 2020 spiked by about 25 percent. That report also noted a sharper increase among women.
“We’re not surprised. It’s unfortunate, but we sort of expected to see something like this,” Aaron White, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the study’s lead author, told CNN at the time.
“It’s not uncommon for people to drink more when they’re under more duress, and obviously, the pandemic brought a lot of added stress to people’s lives,” he added. “In addition to that, it reduced a lot of the normal outlets people have for coping with stress, [like] social support and access to gyms.”
According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for about 140,000 deaths each year.
The good news? It’s been two years since 2020. We now know much more about COVID-19, including how it does and does not spread, and have effective tools to protect ourselves and our loved ones against the virus.
If you’ve been struggling with your relationship to alcohol during the pandemic, know that you are not alone. Now is a great time to make a change, whether that looks like reconnecting with friends for community support, trying out sobriety or sober-curiosity, or seeking professional help.
Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to inspire positive attitudes about food and bodies:
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