Unprecedented Rise in Alcohol-Related Deaths During Pandemic

Grave Tombstone with R.I.P.

Contributor: Staff at Sierra Tucson

Having a beer or a glass of wine to take the edge off has become even more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. A single drink often turns into many in an effort to numb the fear and stress of living through such uncertain times.

Over the past few years, weekly alcohol sales have jumped by as much as 400% throughout the U.S. and haven’t declined [1]. And a nationally representative survey showed that alcohol consumption has also surged, with excessive drinking increasing by 21% among U.S. adults during the pandemic [2].

Alcohol-Related Deaths and Other Deadly Health Consequences

Heavy drinking comes with a bevy of risks, including getting into car crashes, suffering from injuries, developing behavioral health concerns and physical health conditions, and, in the worst cases, dying from any of these situations.

From 2019-2020, deaths involving alcohol jumped by 25%, surpassing the rate of deaths attributed to any cause. The largest spikes in alcohol-related deaths impacted people ages 35-44 (39.7%) and 25-34 (37%), with both men and women affected about the same [3].

Aaron White, study co-author and senior scientific advisor to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism director, told Yahoo Finance that such a large increase in alcohol-related deaths was “unprecedented.”

“We know that any time there’s a major crisis, whether it’s national or regional, the U.S. and other countries see an uptick in mortality from alcohol,” White said. “We know that’s a pattern that happens, but to see such a large increase in one year, it was very stunning to us. It’s not directly related to the pandemic.”

That may be because alcohol-related deaths were already on the rise for the past 20 years [5, 6]. Add the lost lives, isolation, financial stressors and service disruptions amid the pandemic, and the situation was bound to reach a tipping point.

Sierra Tucson Banner


Call Sierra Tucson for Help 844-203-4784

“When people are struggling, they look for things they can do to help reduce their discomfort,” White told Yahoo Finance. “Stress is incredibly uncomfortable. Uncertainty, worry, these are very uncomfortable emotional states. People are just trying to cope. We look at the increase in deaths from alcohol as an indicator that people were really under a lot of stress during the pandemic, and they were trying to cope.”

Harmful Effects on the Body

Without healthy ways to ease those distressing feelings, many Americans have been left to find other means of simply getting through the day. But continuing to drink heavily may put many people on a path to long-term physical health problems.

Experts estimate that the one-year jump in alcohol consumption during the pandemic will likely result in 18,700 cases of liver failure, 8,000 more deaths from alcohol-related liver disease and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040 [2].

When someone drinks a lot of alcohol, it can cause fatty tissue to build up on their liver. Although they may not experience any symptoms at this point, this is usually the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease [7].

Over time, the liver can also become inflamed and swollen, which is called alcoholic hepatitis. The more severe this becomes, the more likely it is that the person may start to feel abdominal pain or suffer from nausea, vomiting, fever or jaundice.

Those who have been drinking heavily for more than ten years can develop scar tissue on their liver, which is known as liver cirrhosis. Because the scar tissue replaces healthy liver cells, this condition cannot be reversed through treatment.

A Need for Early Intervention to Prevent Alcohol-Related Deaths

Travelling out-of-state for alcohol rehab treatment to prevent Alcohol-Related DeathsWhat is the key to preventing these severe health outcomes? Get professional help for alcohol addiction or alcohol misuse as early as possible.

Reaching out for support can start in a few different ways, such as making an appointment with your primary care physician or finding an alcohol addiction treatment center. Wherever your recovery journey begins, this is a personal decision you should base on whatever is best for you.

Trying to find ways to manage intense emotions has been central to the upswing in alcohol consumption in the U.S., particularly at the height of the pandemic. One of the many benefits of getting alcohol addiction treatment is that you can learn healthier ways to cope with painful situations and emotions.

Alcohol addiction treatment may involve identifying the reasons why you might have started abusing alcohol in the first place. This might have started with the pandemic, or it might involve something from earlier in your life. Whatever the case, you may have the chance to process those memories and experiences, which can allow you to move forward in your recovery.

You’ll also most likely work with your care team to create a plan to help you resist relapse after you transition out of treatment for alcohol addiction. This may involve identifying who is in your support network, what support groups you may turn to and what coping tools work best for you.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused pain and distress for people across the country and around the world. Finding healthy ways to cope can be essential to your physical and mental health.


[1] Julien, J., Ayer, T., Tapper, E.B., Barbosa, C., Dowd, W.N., & Chhatwa, J. (2021). Effect of increased alcohol consumption during COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol-associated liver disease: A modeling study. Hepatology. 75(6), 1,480-1,490. https://doi.org/10.1002/hep.32272

[2] Hampton, T. (2022, January 4). Researchers model short- and long-term health toll amid rise in U.S. consumption. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/01/covid-related-drinking-linked-to-rise-in-liver-disease/

[3] White, A.M., Castle, I., Powell, P., Hingson, R.W., & Koob, R. (2022). Alcohol-related deaths during the covid-19 pandemic. JAMA. 327(17), 1,704-1,706. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2790491

[4] Belmonte, A. (2022, April 20). U.S. rise in alcohol deaths reflects ‘hidden tolls of the pandemic,’ study finds. Yahoo Finance. Retrieved from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-alcohol-deaths-pandemic-study-153120363.html

[5] Stonehill, M. (2022, May). Surge in alcohol-related disease during pandemic reveals unmet need for treatment. Healio. Retrieved from https://www.healio.com/news/gastroenterology/20220524/surge-in-alcoholrelated-disease-during-pandemic-reveals-unmet-need-for-treatment

[6] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Director’s Blog: Alcohol poses different challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/directors-blog-alcohol-poses-different-challenges-during-covid-19-pandemic

[7] Mousa, O. (2021, September 3). What effect does alcohol have on your health — and your liver? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/effects-of-alcohol-on-your-health-and-liver

About Our Sponsor:

Sierra Tucson BannerLocated in Tucson, Arizona, Sierra Tucson is the nation’s leading residential and outpatient treatment center for substance use disorders, trauma-related conditions, chronic pain, mood and anxiety disorders, and co-occurring concerns. We provide integrated, holistic care for adults age 18 and older of all genders, including specialized programs for military members, first responders, and healthcare workers. Sierra Tucson was ranked No. 1 in Newsweek’s list of Best Addiction Treatment Centers in Arizona for 2020.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 6, 2022
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 6, 2022
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.