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Alcohol-induced deaths jumped 26% in 2020, showing possible impact of pandemic

Springfield News-Sun - 11/9/2022

Nov. 9—Alcohol-induced deaths increased 26% from 2019 to 2020 in the U.S., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, revealing increased alcohol consumption as a potential unhealthy coping mechanism early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With the pandemic, people experienced a lot of vicarious trauma," said William Roberts, senior manager at Public Health- Dayton and Montgomery County's Recovery Services. "As a result, they turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism."

Rates of alcohol-induced deaths have increased since 2000 and rose sharply in 2020. Rates saw annual increases of 7% or less between 2000 and 2018, but the overall age-adjusted rate of alcohol-induced deaths increased 26%, from 10.4 per 100,000 Americans in 2019 to 13.1 in 2020, according to the CDC.

"Alcohol has always been the top substance that's taken more lives than any other substance," Roberts said.

In 2020, the rate of alcohol-induced deaths was highest for those aged 55 — 64 for both men and women, according to the CDC. The rates then declined for age groups 65 and over.

From 2019 to 2020, deaths from alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis increased 50% from 0.1 per 100,000 individuals to 0.2, 33% for deaths from mental and behavioral disorders due to use of alcohol from 3.0 to 4.0, and 23% for deaths from alcoholic liver disease from 6.4 to 7.9.

"Alcohol can cause death directly because of the impacts it has to the body," said Dr. Laura Gottron, a board-certified emergency physician and chair of the emergency department at Miami Valley Hospital.

Alcohol can impact the heart, nervous system, liver, and also the pancreas.

Individuals also face indirect impacts of excessive alcohol use, Gottron said, such heavy motor vehicle accidents. Excessive drinking can also put those individuals in situations that are more violent.

"There's a lot of violence that goes around with people who are drinking," Gottron said.

Alcoholic liver disease was the most frequent underlying cause for deaths directly linked to alcohol, the CDC said.

There are different stages to alcoholic liver disease, and some people may not even know if they are in the first stage, which is fatty liver disease, Gottron said. If an individual has this disease from alcohol use, Gottron said they can cut back on drinking alcohol and possibly not have any long-term impacts.

The next phase is alcoholic hepatitis, where the liver starts swelling and getting inflammation. The swelling and inflammation then leads to scarring and cirrhosis of the liver, which is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease. The damage from cirrhosis is irreversible.

The impacts of excessive alcohol consumption is something health officials commonly see in the emergency department, Gottron said.

"I'm seeing the direct effects and the indirect effects," Gottron said.

Alcoholism is also a medical condition doctors refer to as alcohol use disorder.

"If you have a concern you're drinking too much alcohol, you need to reach out to your primary care physician," Gottron said.

Public Health's Recovery Services addresses a variety of addictions, including alcohol, drug or gambling problems. Recovery Services also recently changed its name from Addiction Services to help fight the stigma associated with addiction and acknowledge that recovery is a life-long commitment.

Recovery Services provides substance use and disorder screening and treatment, problem gambling treatment, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and trauma informed practices, prevention and intervention services that help individuals and families find what works for them.

"For those suffering from addiction, there are many barriers to their path to recovery, and living with the stigma of addiction should not be one of them," Roberts said. "The name change helps reaffirm to individuals seeking help that they will be valued and supported along their path to recovery."

For more information, call Recovery Services at (937) 461-5223 to schedule an assessment for alcohol, drug, or gambling problems or walk in and receive immediate access to services. It is located at One Elizabeth Place SE and is open Monday to Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

"We want people to learn how to live good sober clean lives," Roberts said.


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