The number of Americans who died due to alcohol-related causes skyrocketed in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a new study.

Alcohol-related deaths rose roughly 25% from 2019 to 2020, according to a March 18 study conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.


“Deaths involving alcohol reflect hidden tolls of the pandemic,” the study’s authors noted. “Increased drinking to cope with pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies, and disrupted treatment access are all possible contributing factors.”

The largest increases in alcohol-related deaths were found in people aged 25 to 44, according to the study. Alcohol-related deaths rose from 13.7 to 17.5 per 100,000 in women, a roughly 27% increase, and 42.1 to 52.6 per 100,000 in men.

Deaths caused by alcohol-related liver disease rose roughly 22%, while deaths with an underlying cause of alcohol-related mental and behavioral disorders soared by over 35% and opioid overdose deaths with alcohol as a contributing cause jumped 40.8%, the study found.

Alcohol-related deaths rose slightly prior to COVID-19, climbing about 2.2% annually from 1999 to 2017, but the 25% surge during the first year of the pandemic outpaced the total increase in all-cause mortality of 16.6%, according to the study’s authors.

Researchers noted that the results of the study may be impacted by inaccurate death certificates, which they said frequently underreport the involvement of alcohol.

“Whether alcohol-related deaths will decline as the pandemic wanes, and whether policy changes could help reduce such deaths, warrants consideration,” the researchers concluded.

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