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  • Writer's pictureAdele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP

Alcohol Caused More Deaths than COVID in 2020

A new federal study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found a 25.5 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020, compared with 2019 – whereas the increase from 1999 to 2019 had been just 3.6 perecent. This startling data showed that more adults under age 65 died from alcohol-related factors (74,408) than died from COVID-19 (74,075) in 2020. Overall, just under 100,000 Americans (99,017) died from alcohol-related factors in 2020 – representing 3 percent of all deaths that year.

Most studies, including this one that appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have observed an increase in alcohol and drug abuse and deaths related to substance abuse since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Mental health issues, including use of substances in response to stress, anxiety or depression, and lack of access to treatment programs were factors in these increased deaths, but the JAMA study notes that other causes of alcohol-related death included alcohol withdrawal and issues with transplants for alcohol-associated liver disease. The study authors also assumed that many people who were in recovery but who had reduced access to support systems such as AA and NA relapsed during this period.

Alcohol sales were at the highest level in 18 years during 2020, and consumption in the U.S. that year represented the largest year-over-year increase since 2002. Online alcohol sales quadrupled as well – from $441 million in 2019 to $1.87 billion in 2022.

Meanwhile, fentanyl became the top cause of death for Americans in the 18-45 age bracked in both 2021 and in 2022 to date, with 64,178 deaths in 2021 compared with 32,754 for 2019. The fentanyl deaths in that age group exceeded the number of deaths caused by car accidents, suicides, cancer or COVID-19.

Employers can play a key role in substance abuse prevention, by supporting recovery efforts through medical insurance and Employee Assistance Programs, and through education and outreach in the workplace. Substance abuse – both alcohol and (legal and illegal) drugs -- impacts worker health and safety, on and off the job! For assistance in crafting legally effective substance abuse prevention and drug testing programs, contact Adele Abrams at

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