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Alcohol use disorder deaths rose in the U.S. during pandemic, study finds

Alcohol use disorder deaths rose in the U.S. during pandemic, study finds
The United States saw a rise in deaths related to alcohol use disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study says. Photo by lgbsneak/Flickr

May 4 (UPI) -- Deaths related to alcohol addiction in the United States were higher than expected during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

Based on figures from the previous eight years, deaths caused by alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, nationally were 22% higher than projected last year, the data, published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open, showed.

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They were 25% higher in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the researchers said.

This is despite deaths caused by alcohol use disorder across the country rising steadily during the eight years before the pandemic, 2012 to 2019, they said.

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In 2019, an estimated 52,500 people in the United States died from alcohol-related causes. For 2020 and 2021, or the pandemic years, that figure exceeded 70,000 each year, the researchers said.

"Alcohol use disorder-related mortality increased significantly during the pandemic," Dr. Yee Hui Yeo, a co-author of the study, told UPI in an email.

This represents "yet another tragic societal consequence of the pandemic," said Yeo, a general internal medicine specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

RELATED Study: Binge drinking up among older men, but not women

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition in which sufferers have an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Up to 30% of adults in the United States have drinking behaviors that meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetimes, the institute estimates.

Sales of alcoholic beverages at retail locations rose nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many bars and restaurants were closed over virus fears, research indicates.

RELATED Liquor store sales rose during pandemic at rate similar to bar sales drop

For this study, Yeo and his colleagues used data on deaths in the United States as recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics System.

Deaths caused by alcohol use disorder among adults ages 25 to 44 years were 41% higher than expected in 2020 and 34% higher than expected in 2021, the data showed.

"Younger persons were disproportionately affected," Yeo said.

The findings suggest the need for "increased provision of social and medical resource for individuals with alcohol use disorder," he said.

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