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Study shows sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths during pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A recent study shows a sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-related deaths jumped more than 25% between 2019 and 2020. In previous years, the annual increase was around 2%. The numbers are still coming in for 2021, but the study’s lead author told the The Washington Post he expects the numbers to be even higher for 2021.

Health experts say alcohol abuse is a growing problem, even as the pandemic wanes.

Sarah O’Brien, a treatment advocate at ARK Behavioral Health, says they’re seeing more people realize they have a substance abuse issue now that things are getting back to normal and people are out in public more often.

“People are starting to get back to their normal lives and those drinking habits can’t continue. So, what we have seen is that people–now more so than ever–are checking into treatment because they can’t continue to drink at home during the day. Or, they can’t continue to work from home and have a glass of wine or have a drink prior to 5 o’clock now that they have to attend in-person work. What we have seen is that people are continuously checking in,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien urges people to watch their drinking habits. She said to pay attention to any feelings of constantly needing or wanting a drink.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines levels of drinking as:

  • Moderate drinking: One drink for a woman or two drinks for a man on a single day
  • Binge drinking: Four drinks for a woman and five drinks for a man within two hours
  • Heavy drinking: Eight drinks for a woman or 15 drinks for a man within one week

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “drink” is measured differently depending on the alcohol content:

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 8-9 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol)

Treatment advocates like O’Brien say people can learn to live without drinking. They suggest meditation, healthy eating, getting exercise, and spending more time outside. There are also resources all over the country, including meetings and therapy.

Substance abuse resources