What you need to know
Many people struggled with their mental health during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, behaviors like alcohol consumption increased during that time. However, researchers found that drinking returned to pre-pandemic levels by June 2021.
But because of that increase during the first year, researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wanted to know whether there was a corresponding increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020.
What did the researchers do?
The researchers studied the death certificates of people 16 years of age and older that were obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Alcohol-related deaths were identified by death certificates listing alcohol as an underlying or contributing cause. This classification included death from alcohol-associated liver disease, death with underlying cause of alcohol-related mental and behavioral disorders, and death from opioid overdose with alcohol as a contributing factor.
Researchers compared the number of alcohol-related deaths in 2019 against the number of similar deaths in 2020. The incidence of alcohol-related death was then compared with all other causes of death during that period of time.
The researchers found that death related to alcohol increased in 2020. In total, alcohol-related deaths increased by 25%. Compared with all other causes of death, which increased by 16%, alcohol-related deaths increased at a higher rate.
Why is this research important?
Because of substantial and unexpected social and economic changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to alcohol and other drugs to cope with those stressors. Unfortunately, the pandemic also made accessing substance use disorder treatment more difficult. This research suggests that these issues are reflected in deaths related to alcohol use. Future research can focus on addressing the mental health needs of people with alcoholism or substance use disorders and people prone to it, especially during very stressful events.
Where can I go to learn more?
NIAAA provides resources on alcohol misuse for the public, clinicians, and researchers.
SAMHSA shares information on mental health and substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP for information about and referrals to treatment for mental and/or substance use disorders.
Grossman, E. R., Benjamin-Neelson, S. E., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional survey of US adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24), 9189. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17249189
Mellis, A. M., Potenza, M. N., & Hulsey, J. N. (2020). COVID-19-related treatment service disruptions among people with single- and polysubstance use concerns. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 121, 108180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108180
Pelham, W. E., Yuksel, D., Tapert, S. F., Baker, F. C., Pohl, K. M., Thompson, W. K., Podhajsky, S., Reuter, C., Zhao, Q., Eberson-Shumate, S. C., Clark, D. B., Golston, D. B., Nooner, K. B., & Brown, S. A. (2022). Did the acute impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drinking or nicotine use persist? Evidence from a cohort of emerging adults followed for up to nine years. Addictive Behaviors, 131, 107313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2022.107313
White, A. M., Castle, I. P., Powell, P. A., Hingson, R. W., & Koob, G. F. (2022). Alcohol-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA, 327(17), 1704–1706. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2022.4308
NIH COVID-19 Resources by Topic
COVID-19 research information and resources by topic from NIH institutes and centers