Rising Alcohol-Related Deaths Prompt New Efforts
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 25% spike in alcohol-related deaths, which had already been increasing by 2% each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). While the stress of the pandemic was a clear contributor, The New York Times reports that some states made it easier for consumers to access alcohol during lockdown seasons, increasing the likelihood of heavy drinking.
As alcohol abuse problems haunt communities across the US, lawmakers explore ways to combat the alcohol crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Alcohol is Killing Americans
Alcohol-related deaths are rising. Will new state rules help? The problem is severe, and solutions are urgently needed. The NIAAA shared the following facts about alcohol-related deaths from 2019-2020:
- Deaths involving alcohol increased by 25%, which translated into more than 99,000 casualties.
- Alcohol-associated liver disease deaths increased by 22%.
- The 25-44 age group saw the largest change in alcohol-associated liver disease deaths.
- The number of deaths involving a combination of alcohol and opioids jumped by 40%.
- Deaths involving alcohol and synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) rose by 59%.
As alcohol consumption has gone up, drinking and driving deaths per year have also increased.
Alcohol abuse can increase the incidence of physical violence, injury, and accidents. As alcohol consumption has gone up, drinking and driving deaths per year have also increased. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drinking greatly affects a person’s driving ability and is responsible for disturbing statistics such as the following:
- Each day, an average of 32 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents, which is one person every 45 minutes.
- Alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased by 14% between 2019-2020.
- In 2020, over 11,000 people died in traffic accidents where someone was driving under the influence.
- In 2020, over 2,000 people died in alcohol-related crashes where the impaired driver’s blood alcohol concentration was under the legal limit.
Alcohol Is More Affordable and Available
One of the reasons alcohol-related deaths have escalated is not just because of pandemic stress and the mental health crisis in America. It’s because alcohol is more affordable and available than ever.
The NIAAA reports that during the early part of the pandemic, alcohol sales increased by roughly 3%, the largest single-year increase in half a century. People were stressed-out or bored at the same time alcohol laws and prices became more permissive.
The New York Times says that prior to the pandemic, bars and restaurants weren’t permitted to deliver liquor to customers at home; today, over half of the country allows it. They also compared alcohol prices between 1950 and 2010 and found alcohol cheaper than ever to buy.
An Alcohol Tax Increase and Other Solutions
What solutions can help us curb alcohol-related deaths? Below are some suggestions and efforts, some of which are already being implemented:
- Lower the legal blood alcohol level
Utah lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration for driving to 0.5 (compared to the 0.8 level in New Mexico). According to the Las Cruces Sun News, the percentage of fatal car accidents dropped by 20% as a result.
- Increase alcohol tax
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), increasing the cost of alcohol by 10% could cut overall consumption by 7%.
- Rezone to limit alcohol sales
By enacting zoning laws, the concentration of establishments selling alcohol within the same communities could be reduced. Both Maryland and Colorado have already reduced the density of alcohol outlets within their cities and are seeing the impact.
- Reduce minors’ exposure
According to the CDC, studies show that the earlier you start drinking, the more likely you are to develop an alcohol use disorder later in life. Enforcing penalties for alcohol sales to minors and reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising can help.
- Reverse pandemic concessions
States could prohibit restaurant home delivery of alcohol and reduce the number of cases of alcohol that can be shipped directly to consumers, returning to pre-pandemic regulations.
The accessibility, affordability, and availability of alcohol — in addition to stressful global events, conflicts, and disasters — has contributed significantly to the alcohol-related deaths and harms that we have experienced in the US in recent years. While it may be unpopular at first, instituting some of these changes would save thousands of lives every year.
The accessibility, affordability, and availability of alcohol — in addition to stressful global events, conflicts, and disasters — has contributed significantly to the alcohol-related deaths and harms that we have experienced in the US in recent years.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, we can help. At The Meadows Outpatient Center, we provide research-backed programs and compassionate support to help you find the path to healing. Through groups, training, and expert treatment, you can rediscover your true self and live a fulfilling life in recovery. We also address mental health issues in the same setting so that you have the best chance of maintaining your long-term sobriety. To find out more about how we can help, contact our team today.