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Alcohol-related deaths skyrocketed during pandemic, especially among 35 to 44-year-olds, study finds

Study finds increase in alcohol-related deaths linked to pandemic 02:13

NEW YORK -- During the pandemic, alcohol became the drink of choice for many adults. Some drank to cope with loneliness, some with stress, and some to escape the monotony. 

New data suggests Americans paid the price for imbibing. Alcohol-related deaths increased dramatically in 2020. 

For Ruth Peltason, living through the pandemic on the Upper East Side near Mt. Sinai meant witnessing a daily dose of tragedy. 

"It was very, very upsetting," she told CBS2's Vanessa Murdock. 

Her favorite respite -- Central Park -- transformed into a makeshift hospital. To escape reality, she said it was "cocktail hour every day."

Thankfully, two years later, no more daily dose of alcohol, but not all can say the same. 

"We did not expect the increase would be this large," said Dr. Aaron White, senior scientific advisor at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Dr. White is the lead author of the just released Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, article titled, "Alcohol-Related Deaths During the COVID-19 Pandemic," which shares a graph showing pre-pandemic alcohol-related deaths increased by 2-3% per year. Then between 2019 and 2020, the increase was 25.5%

Rates increased across all age groups, but most significantly for those 35 to 44 years old at nearly 40% and for 25 to 34 years old at 37.0%.  

"If you look at rates of emergency department visits for alcohol reasons, hospitalizations or deaths in general, they've been going up faster for women," Dr. White said. 

The rates increased about 2% faster than men. 

President of Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. David L. Reich read the article and shared his thoughts. Beyond the percentage increase, consider the number of deaths – about 20,000 more. 

"In the old days, we considered bad flu epidemic years one that would kill more than 10,000 people in any particular year, and so if you consider that ... it's still a very strong signal," he said. 

He said it's a signal that needs further study and more attention from all of us.

"When you're seeing someone whose drinking might have increased in a way that's concerning is what we broadly refer to in mental health as functional impairment," said Dr. Alexandra Stratyner, psychologist with Stratyner and Associates.

Dr. Stratyner said someone might struggle with the day to day, with taking care of themselves, making it to work. 

"That's an opportunity to step in and sit down and have a conversation," she said. 

Let them know there is help and hope. 

"There are people who go into recovery every day, they save their lives, they save their health," she said. 

So they don't become another statistic. If you need to break a bad habit, Dr. Stratyner encourages you to start by taking an objective look at yourself and be curious about your behavior. 

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