TPeople who suffer from alcohol addiction are more likely to feel anxious, bored, or lonely during a pandemic. A new study was published in JAMA Network OpenThe number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States among adults aged 25 or older increased by 25% in 2020 and 22% 2021, respectively, as compared with average annual deaths between 2012 and 2019.
The study was led by Dr. YeeHui Yeo (an internal medicine doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) in Los Angeles. It relied upon a large database kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, which records nearly all U.S. deaths and causes. Between 2012 and 2019, approximately 11 to 15 deaths annually in the United States were due to alcohol-use disorder (AUD) among adult citizens over 25. However, this number rose to 19 per 100,000 in 2020 and 20 in 2021.
However, not all affected groups experienced the same effects. Both men and women experienced an increase in alcohol-related death by 25% in 2020. The most important factor was age. Far and away, the hardest-hit age group was the youngest measured—25 to 44 year olds—among whom deaths rose by 40% in 2020 and 33% in 2021. Deaths in the age range 45-64 were up 22% and 17% respectively. For those 65 years and over, there was an increase of 17% and 22%.
The researchers found that the other reasons for the increase in deaths were stress, isolation, and the urge to drink alcohol. Lockdowns caused a drop in visits to the doctor across the country, which further exacerbated health issues for those suffering from all sorts of disorders, including AUD. Despite the fact that some people did go online, many therapy groups for substance dependence weren’t available or less accessible during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Alcoholics Anonymous and rehab centers, in which it is common to have shared rooms, were closed down during the pandemic,” said Yeo in an email to TIME. “Even when they reopened, the capacity was reduced. Additionally, individuals with AUD may have avoided going to detoxification centers due to the fear of contracting COVID-19.”
The real numbers could be even worse than the ones in the study, as alcohol use disorder (AUD) is frequently overlooked for its role in death due to a faster-acting cause like stroke or heart attack. “We know that alcohol use disorder is often under-reported,” Yeo said in a statement that accompanied the release of the study, “so actual mortality rates related to alcohol may be even higher.”
Yeo predicts these numbers will fall in the future. COVID-19 vaccinations, the pandemic-era expansion of Medicaid benefits, and the reopening of society—including homeless shelters, rehab centers, and social support groups—should all help to ease the number of alcohol-related deaths, he says. For a time, however, the death rate may be higher than average because of lagging indicators that alcohol abuse is occurring.
“There may,” Yeo told TIME, “be a rising tide of AUD-related complications such as liver disease, mental health issues and cardiovascular disease during the post-pandemic era.”
Read More From Time