Researchers Say The Pandemic Has Led To Higher Rates Of Alcohol Deaths In Young Americans

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that in 2019, nearly 70% of adults had consumed alcohol within the last year. While this may seem like an already high pre-pandemic percentage, a new scientific study published in JAMA Network shows that alcohol consumption has increased even more since the onset of COVID-19.

Specifically, researchers looked at the number of alcohol-related deaths that occurred in those over the age of 16 between 2019 and 2020 with provisional data obtained for the first six months of 2021 (via JAMA Network). A roughly 25% increase in alcohol-related deaths was observed from 2019 into 2020, predominantly for people between theirĀ mid-20s to mid-40s. And 2021 saw a 21% increase above pre-pandemic levels (via ABC News).

Hospital data seems to reinforce these findings, with 50% more alcohol-related admissions having occurred in 2021, reports ABC News. These numbers spiked higher amid quarantine lockdowns. Now, experts are forced to take a hard look at the pandemic-specific causes that likely contributed to greater numbers of alcohol deaths across the country.

Triggers leading alcohol use

Psychiatrist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Anusha Chandrakanthan, spoke with ABC News about how heightened emotions during the pandemic were likely a driving force behind increased alcohol consumption. "Social isolation, along with fear of the unknown, have always been major triggers for our patients," she pointed out.

Not only that, but Dr. Sara Polley, medical director of the national addiction treatment organization Hazelden Betty Ford, tells ABC News that the increased accessibility of alcohol during quarantine through home-delivery food services was another potential factor.

Whether or not these numbers will begin to decline as we emerge from the pandemic is yet to be seen. Furthermore, because the cause of death is ultimately determined at the medical examiner's discretion, some experts believe that rates of alcohol deaths during the pandemic may be even higher than those reported (per ABC News). Chief of epidemiology and biometry at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Aaron White, elaborates via ABC News, "We know for certain that deaths due to alcohol are undercounted. So, the question is, what's the true number? And really, we have no idea."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).