Research Suggests a Link Between Pandemic Drinking and Alcohol-Related Deaths

Woman at home

Alcohol consumption spiked during the pandemic, and such was known almost immediately due to soaring alcohol sales. Now that CDC toxicology reports from 2020 have been fully finalized, researchers were able to analyze and prove a massive increase in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic. Interestingly, the death rate spiked almost exactly in tandem with increased alcohol consumption, suggesting a direct connection between increases in alcohol consumption and increases in alcohol-related fatalities.

Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol Deaths Increased During the Pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings on alcohol-caused fatalities for 2020. The figures are grim. According to CDC data, alcohol-induced deaths jumped 26% from 2019 to 2020, rivaling the 30% increase in fatal drug overdoses that occurred during the same period. According to the data, about 49,000 Americans died directly from consuming alcohol in 2020. If the data is tabulated to include alcohol-related deaths, closer to 150,000 Americans died from alcohol causes in 2020, the highest number ever recorded since recording began.

“We know that in large-scale traumatic events to the population – like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina – people historically start drinking more. The pandemic has been, as we all know, a major stressor to our lives.”

One does not have to look far to find the reason for this. George Koob, director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, commented on the findings. “We know that in large-scale traumatic events to the population—like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina – people historically start drinking more. The pandemic has been, as we all know, a major stressor to our lives.” The Covid-19 pandemic, a once-in-a-century health crisis, caused massive disruption in American life, creating stressors and day-to-day hardships most had never experienced before.

The CDC report suggests a connection between the spike in alcohol consumption in 2020 and the high fatalities that followed (and that continue to occur). The researchers at the NIAAA who analyzed the CDC data indicated that the 25% of the American population who dramatically increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic are also the group that is suffering health crises and fatalities. Again quoting Kool, “What we’ve been picking up with numerous small studies is that about 25% of the population increased their drinking, and these individuals were people who were drinking to cope with stress. And many people who drink to cope with stress inevitably go on to have an alcohol use disorder.”

The Worst May be Yet to Come

Grave flower

Even though the hard data on alcohol abuse during the pandemic and the deaths that followed are painful enough, that last line quoted from George Koob may be the most concerning yet. The CDC findings suggest that this spike in alcohol-related fatalities is just the beginning of a severe, years-to-come spike in deaths.

Millions of Americans drank to excess during the pandemic. Thousands have already died. But there are millions more who started drinking heavily during the pandemic, who have not died, but who may have since developed an addiction. These individuals are at high risk for alcohol-related injuries and deaths in the coming years.

During the pandemic, not only did alcohol consumption soar, but drinking habits changed. People drank at home more, drank alone, and used delivery services to have alcohol brought to them. All of these changes in how alcohol is consumed are dangerous, as people who drink alone, at home, with an unlimited supply at their fingertips are at far greater risk for an alcohol-related emergency and potential fatality.

The spike in 2020’s alcohol-related consumption and deaths and the change in how people misuse alcohol will almost certainly continue and become not just a spike but an ongoing trend if those who are now hooked on alcohol do not seek professional help.

Young man is worrying about his dad addict

People Who Drink Excessively Must Seek Help Before It’s Too Late

Alcohol causes more deaths than all drugs combined, yet the substance is highly normalized and socially accepted. Marvin Ventrell, chief executive officer of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, commented on the insidious nature of America’s relationship with alcohol. “What’s a word bigger than crisis? What was already a crisis, has exploded. If a substance is harmful, the greater the access there is to that substance, the more harm it will create. What is the most accessible substance? Alcohol. And what is the substance with the least social stigma relative to using it? Alcohol. You might say ‘Joe drinks a little too much, but that’s just Joe.’ But no one says, ‘Joe uses a little too much meth, but he’s a good dad.’” Ventrell clearly illustrates the dire need for Americans to shift their perspective on alcohol. In many ways, alcohol is just as bad as hard drugs, but it’s not treated like a hard drug.

People who drank too much during the pandemic probably still drink too much today. The spike in alcohol consumption in the first six months of 2020, followed by a stark increase in alcohol-related fatalities in 2020 and 2021, is evidence of that. Sadly, 2022 will almost certainly reflect the same sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths.

However, alcohol fatalities and the serious health problems that precede them are preventable. Alcohol addiction is treatable. If someone you know cannot control their drinking, please get in touch with an alcohol treatment center today. Please don’t wait until it is too late.

Sources Cited:

  • CDC. “Alcohol-induced Death Rates in the United States, 2019–2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  • USNews. “Alcohol-Linked Deaths Soared During Pandemic, CDC Says.” U.S. News, 2022.
  • NIAAA. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.