Alcohol-related deaths increased 25 percent from 2019 to 2020, with alcohol-related deaths among adults younger than 65 outnumbering deaths from Covid-19 in the same age group in 2020, a new study found.
Alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, increased to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 the year prior, according to the study performed by researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
While 74,408 Americans ages 16 to 64 died of alcohol-related causes, 74,075 individuals under 65 died of Covid-19, the study found. The rate of increase for alcohol-related deaths in 2020 (25 percent) was greater than the rate of increase of deaths from all causes (16.6 percent).
The study shows just another unintended consequence of Covid-19 lockdowns and mitigation measures.
Although national figures are not available, admissions for alcoholic liver disease at Keck Hospital of the University of Southern California were up 30% in 2020 compared with 2019, said Dr. Brian Lee, a transplant hepatologist who treats the condition in alcoholics. Specialists at hospitals affiliated with the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Harvard University and Mount Sinai Health System in New York City said rates of admissions for alcoholic liver disease have leapt by up to 50% since March.
Across these institutions, the age of patients hospitalized for alcoholic liver disease has dropped. A trend toward increased disease in people under 40 “has been alarming for years,” said Dr. Raymond Chung, a hepatologist at Harvard University and president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease. “But what we’re seeing now is truly dramatic.”
Maddur has also treated numerous young adults hospitalized with the jaundice and abdominal distension emblematic of the disease — a pattern she attributes to the pandemic-era intensification of economic struggles faced by the demographic. At the same time these young adults may be entering the housing market or starting a family, entry-level employment, particularly in the vast, crippled hospitality industry, is increasingly hard to come by. “They have mouths to feed and bills to pay, but no job,” she said, “so they turn to booze as the last coping mechanism remaining.”